Above the 49: Plenty of interest in Vancouver for new Seattle arena

The sports fans of Seattle aren't the only ones rejoicing after Monday's announcement that the Seattle City Council has approved a $490 million arena project with the hope to lure back the NBA and attract an NHL franchise in the near future.

Just a couple hours up the Interstate 5, you can bet the sports fans in Vancouver and its surrounding areas were equally thrilled at the prospect of having one or perhaps two more major league franchises join the sports scene in the Pacific Northwest somewhere in the near future.

Border hopping to indulge in one of Seattle's major league sports franchises is a common pastime among Vancouverites with the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Mariners being the most popular draws given the absence of the NFL and Major League Baseball, respectively, in Vancouver.

In fact, the Seahawks and Mariners are not only considered alternative sporting options for a fan base that already has several major league teams of its own in the form of the NHL's Canucks, Major League Soccer's Whitecaps and CFL's B.C. Lions, but have been adopted by many fans in the area as their own home team.

That's especially the case for the Seahawks who have gone above and beyond to extend their reach into Western Canada by setting up a regional marketing office in Vancouver, running clinics for amateur football players featuring appearances by Seahawks players, cheerleaders and mascots, as well as having an annual dedicated "Canada Day" game on their regular-season schedule, where an amateur team from B.C. is invited to take part in the festivities and O Canada is sung as part of the pre-game.

It's seems unlikely a second incarnation of the SuperSonics will manage to have the same impact as the Seahawks are currently making, although their arrival will certainly be a welcome one for the long-suffering basketball fans of Vancouver who had their own NBA team, the club formerly known as the Vancouver Grizzlies, ripped away from them in 2001 and then lost further touch with the league when the Sonics uprooted to Oklahoma City to become the Thunder in 2008.

The next closest NBA city to Vancouver is Portland, which is over a five-hour drive. Seattle is less than three hours away by car.

Perhaps the most intriguing notion for Vancouver sports fans in light of the Seattle arena announcement is the possibility that an NHL franchise could soon be on its way as well, giving the Canucks and their fans something they haven't had since entering the NHL: a true regional rival. The Calgary Flames, the Canucks' closest division rival, are roughly 12 hours away by car.

The Canucks certainly don't need the existence of a regional rival to fill their building - they already own the longest active sellout streak in the NHL and have capped their season ticket base at 17,000 - but having another NHL team in the region would give their own fans plenty of opportunity to invade the opposing arena in a similar fashion as soccer fans from Seattle have done in Vancouver whenever the Sounders travel up the interstate to play at BC Place.

A second NHL team in the region - although preferably one that doesn't involve a relocated Edmonton Oilers' franchise, as has been speculated in recent days - also would give many of the underserved hockey fans in the area, specifically those who either aren't able to access Canucks tickets due to their scarcity and cost, the opportunity to watch NHL hockey just down the road at likely a much less price point.

Of course, there's still a long way to go before a professional basketball or hockey team can potentially call the new arena home, but that hasn't stopped Seattle's neighbors to the north, who are perhaps even keener than Seattle residents themselves for the new arena, from laying claim to it as their home away from home.

It may be Seattle's arena, but there would no doubt be a heavy Vancouver flavor to it once the doors are open.