The owner of the NBA's Rockets is interested in bringing hockey to Houston.
On Thursday, Tilman Fertitta, who gained ownership of the Rockets in September, confirmed his interest to the Associated Press following a recent meeting with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, where the two discussed the possibility of the NHL coming to Houston.
However, the process remains in the early stages.
"I'm very interested in the possibility of bringing the NHL to Houston, but it will have to be a deal that works for my organization, the city, fans of the NHL throughout the region, and the NHL Board of Governors," Fertitta said in a statement on Thursday.
"We are in the very early stage of evaluating what opportunities may exist but look forward to a thorough process."
Should the NHL expand to Houston, or relocate an existing franchise, the team could share the Rockets' home arena, the Toyota Center, which seats 17,800 for hockey.
Houston was previously home to pro hockey with the AHL's Aeros, who left for Iowa in 2013 after a 19-year run in the Texas city.
As recently as 2015, the NHL's board of governors, chaired by Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, expressed interest in Houston, but the idea was unable to gain momentum as former Rockets owner Les Alexander was unwilling to allow a hockey team to share the Toyota Center.
That possibility may have changed with Fertitta now holding ownership of the Rockets, and the NHL has undoubtedly noted the interest.
"If Houston were to express an interest in having an NHL franchise, under the right circumstances, it's something we might want to consider," Bettman said.
Home to about 2.3 million people, Houston is the fourth-largest city in the United States and offers a natural in-state rival to the Dallas Stars. Houston would also balance the Western Conference by adding an eighth team in the Central Division.
The NHL expanded to Las Vegas this season with the Golden Knights, while a bid from Quebec City was deferred. It was the NHL's first introduction of new teams since the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild joined in 2000.