You can add Houston to the list of potential markets, as new Houston Rockets (NBA) owner Tilman Fertitta is open to bringing a Houston NHL team to Toyota Center, either moving an existing team or evaluating an expansion bid.
You can say this about Fertitta: he’s aggressive, and he’s not afraid of the big move. And while former Rockets owner Les Alexander was never thrilled about the idea of NHL hockey in Toyota Center, Fertitta told the Houston Chronicle he’s open to the idea of another sport filling the arena schedule (“I would put an NHL team here tomorrow”). His stance was later amplified by Rockets CEO Tad Brown:
“Tilman and I already talked about a number of different things, the optionality going forward that he wants to look at,” Brown said. “We’re going to look at everything that makes sense for this building, for his companies, for the city of Houston. But like anything, if the numbers don’t work and the deal doesn’t work, I’m not going to recommend it to him.
“We’ve looked at many NHL teams. It’s not a matter of not wanting to bring in somebody, whether they want to be a tenant or not. It’s just the deals didn’t work. Leslie was always looking forward to opportunities that could make the city better, the sports scene better and Toyota Center more effective and fill more dates. The NHL at the time, the teams that he looked at and we looked at, the CBA didn’t work and numbers didn’t work. It just didn’t work in the structure we had in place.”
Brown said he has spoken to Larry Tanenbaum, the CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the company that owns the Raptors and Maple Leafs, about an NHL team in Houston.
Whether or not the market could support NHL hockey is another issue. The Houston Aeros were never a major draw in the old WHA, peaking at 9,190 fans a game, while the AHL’s Aeros were even less successful and ended up being moved to Des Moines as a Minnesota Wild farm team. There’s a very vocal set of of hockey fans in Houston, however, who are undoubtedly heartened by Fertitta’s comments. There is a lot of activity on the NHL expansion front these days, with both Seattle and Quebec City waiting in the wings for a future team.