RMHC Hockey Challenge 2016

Once again I have the honor of playing in the Ronald McDonald House Hockey Challenge. This is an annual event put on by the Seattle Thunderbirds and the Ronald McDonald House of Western Washington and Alaska. If you don’t know what the Ronald McDonald House is all about, you should. 1063679_100150506978_990452666_nThe Seattle Ronald McDonald House is a home-away-from-home for 700 families each year while their seriously ill child receives medical treatment at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Some families stay for nights, some for months. The House is a warm, supportive and safe place during a very difficult time. Over the years I’ve met with families and discussed their stories and I can tell you it is one amazing charity that has a real impact on people’s lives.

The purpose of the Hockey Challenge is to raise money from the RMHC. This is the one time of year I ask for a little help. I am willing to match up to $1,000 of whatever is contributed in the next two weeks. As a bonus, if I can get over 100 donors, I will be putting in an additional $500. If I can get 100 people to put in just $10, I will match $1,500. Let’s make it happen.  

 The Hockey Challenge is held on February 27th at ShoWare Arena in conjunction with the Seattle Thunderbirds-Everett Silvertips game. After the Thunderbirds game, a group of all-stars will take the ice for a fun game between local celebrities, former Thunderbirds and some former NHLs. I will be one of the pylons in the all-star game watching the former NHLs skate circles around me.

 Please help me out by contributing here at my fundraising page.

 Just $10 dollars can go a long way.

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Seattle is not part of the expansion process..but we knew that already

In Gary Bettman’s annual state of the league address he said in no uncertain terms that Seattle will not be getting a team in the current expansion process. This was known and bettman_gary640the league message has been consistent from the very  beginning. This expansion process is about Quebec and Las Vegas, not Seattle. There have been several stories that bubble up from time to time that speculate that the league is dragging its feet on expansion while waiting on Seattle, but every time a story comes up the league denies it.

If you are with me and rooting for a team in Seattle, then our hope would be that the NHL chooses to expand by one team in this round of expansion, which would open the door for another team down the road. Several media outlets are “predicting” (aka speculating) that the scenario could play out with Las Vegas landing a franchise and Quebec City being left out in the cold as a relocation option. The Canadian Dollar is just too weak for an expansion team in Quebec City. It wasn’t too long ago when the NHL was assisting all Canadian teams outside of Montreal and Toronto.

What does this all mean for Seattle? Not much. Nothing has materially changed since the 3 potential ownership groups in Seattle missed the NHL expansion application deadline last July. It appears that there are still groups trying to get an NHL team in Seattle, but we’ve heard very little from any of the camps, so it is not clear if any option will emerge anytime soon.

Bettman’s comments yesterday have changed nothing since Seattle missed the deadline and was consistent with the grades I handed out for the year. I know this will be a great market for the NHL and I am optimistic that the Greater Seattle Area will land an NHL screen-shot-2015-06-03-at-91053-amteam eventually. The biggest hurdle to landing a team has always been an arena. Without a clear arena solution in either SoDo, Tukwila, Bellevue, or who knows where else, this remains the major blocker for even the optimist in me. This news cycle can be brutal on us at times, but NHL-to-Seattle remains committed for the long haul and is not going away anytime soon. We continue to provide fair and balanced assessments of our situation as the NHL-to-Seattle community continues to grow and thrive.

2015 NHL to Seattle Report Card

I am giving out grades for 2015 and it is not pretty. I am optimistic on Seattle getting an NHL team but we have work to do.

Last year at this time the outlook for a potential NHL franchise in Seattle was looking promising. The NHL approved Las Vegas to begin a Season Ticket drive. And the Sodo arena process was expected to wrap up during the first part of the year.

Owner:

At the start of 2015, Victor Coleman was the only known prospective NHL owner for a Seattle franchise with a likely partnership with Chris Hansen’s Sodo project. The optimists were convinced that Hansen and Coleman were working on an agreement and the moment the NHL decides to expand, they would go public with their plan. As the year would go on,raybartoszek-300x285 two additional ownership groups would emerge. In the first quarter of 2015, Ray Bartoszek would reemerge as a potential NHL owner in Seattle but it would not be at the Sodo location. Instead, his focus was on the Tukwila location. Shortly after the Bartoszek group news, another interested group in team ownership in Bellevue headed by Jac Sperling was reportedly looking to build an arena in Bellevue. The NHL season would go on with very few details or public comments from any of the 3 reported ownership groups. In mid-June, just after the Season concluded, the NHL would formally announce that they would enter an expansion process. It was reported that 4 groups from the Seattle area requested an NHL Expansion application. It was assumed that 3 of the 4 would be Coleman, Bartozek, and Sperling. The 4th ownership group would never be identified. The NHL Expansion Application deadline came and went with exactly zero application submissions from the Seattle area. The Sperling group disappeared or more accurately never really fully appeared. In spite of missing the NHL expansion deadline, both Bartoszek and Coleman pledged their commitment to bring a team to the area. Neither group was very publicly transparent in their progress throughout the year. Towards the end of 2015, the prospects of a Bartoszek group and Tukwila location coming together start to fade with a report that a major investor walkedColemanVictor8475_sb10_750 away on the Tukwila plan. This would end 2015 just like we started. All hope lives and dies with Victor Coleman, who we can only hope remains convicted on his plans to bring an NHL team to Seattle.

Grade: I (for incomplete) It remains unclear on the progress and potential of any of these ownership groups. The optimists says, there is no need for Coleman to reveal his progress and he will emerge when he needs to come public. The pessimists says the silence is defining…this project is dead.

Arena:

2015 was supposed to be the year the Sodo Arena ran through all their final approvals, studies and the “Seattle process”. Early in the year, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray would renew his support for the Sodo arena. He would make a visit to New York to meet with Gary Bettman and Adam Silver to give an update on Sodo and pledge support to bring an NHL and/or NBA team to Seattle. Meanwhile, high-level arena proposals would be reported for Tukwila and Bellevue. These new arenas would be noticeably behind in the approval process compared to the Seattle arena, but both Populationmunicipalities have a quicker approval process, thus giving both locations have a legitimate chance at competing with Sodo. Noticeable progress would be made on the Tukwila option which would start to emerge as a front runner to be the future home of a NHL franchise. Similar to Bellevue ownership group, details on the Bellevue arena option would never emerge. The thought of a Bellevue Arena had Eastsiders salivating and could have been the best unicorn that ever unicorned in this storyline. By year’s end, the Tukwila arena progress would slow and appears to be dying a slow death.

On the Sodo front, the final Environmental Impact Study was published with glowing reviews of public benefit and no material impact to port traffic. The Port of Seattle would continue their anti-Arena campaigning without any supporting evidence. Sodo would obtain necessary approvals from the Design Commission and Mayor Murray would end the year by sending the project to the Seattle City Council for final approval of vacating a side street necessary for the Arena. Although the final approval of the Sodo arena took much longer than expected, it appears it is on the final approach. Once it clears this final political hurdle, unfortunately, the path to build remains muddy without the prospects of either an NBA or NHL team.

Grade: D  I respect all the work that was done by Hansen and Bartoszek but like the ownership group, we start 2016 exactly how we started 2015. With a reported 3 different options you would have expected at least one to emerge to be shovel ready or at least have a clear path to completion. It is still not clear how Sodo gets done without an NBA Team coming first and an NBA team seems over 5 years away.

Team:

The third pillar to getting a NHL team is actually landing a team. This can be done either through relocation or expansion. People that know me or have followed me long enough know that I have never been a fan of relocation. I believe in this sport too much to concede a market due to an ownership setback or poor performance on the ice. That said, it would be a disservice to ignore the potential of relocation.

Relocation – Entering the year, the public perception was that the Coyotes and the Panthers were potential relocation targets. The Coyotes were mid-way through their second year of 10 year agreement (with an out clause 200px-Phoenix_Coyotes.svgafter 5 years). Meanwhile, the Florida Panthers were in the middle of their first full season with their new ownership group headed by Vincent Viola. The Coyotes were making progress on their turnaround, but struggles on the ice would make things tougher to hit the forecasted revenues that would be paid back to the City of Glendale. Although not directly tied to the Glendale revenue shortcomings, the City would cancel their 10-year agreement with the Arizona Coyotes leaving the future of the team in limbo. The city and team would eventually sign a 2 year agreement that would enable the team to continue playing at Gila River Casino Arena. Where the team plays after that remains unclear, but odds are they stay in the desert and play in a new arena in either Scottsdale or downtown Phoenix. Back to Florida, the Panthers ownership group remained committed to staying in South Florida. The group began seeing improvements in attendance and remained committed to building a solid team on the ice. Separately, the Panthers negotiated a new agreement with Broward County that would keep the Panthers in Florida through 2028. The year would end with neither team looking like relocation candidates for the immediate term.

 Expansion – They NHL would formally launch an expansion process over the summer. As noted above, the deadline would come and go without a potential Seattle area ownership group applying for expansion. This was the opportunity Seattle was waiting for and by all intents and purposes, ready for. The awarding of expansion franchises has been slower than the public (aka media) expected, leaving some folks to speculate that the NHL is waiting for a group in Seattle to develop a legitimate plan. This seems like a little bit of wishful thinking, but the longer the NHL drags out its decision on expansion, the more opportunity it gives Seattle to get their arena and ownership ducks in a row.

Grade: B+  There are teams (via expansion) available. Has the door shut on Seattle for one of those teams? Maybe, but time will tell.

Community

The NHL to Seattle community had a great year. This scrappy grassroots community continues to evolve, which surprises me every year. We received check-ins from several rinks across the league (and world). The final 20151012bcommunity practically demanded t-shirts and I’ve had to reorder multiple times and have expanded “product lines” based on community interest. We had our first annual playoff viewing party, expanded our opening day challenge, and had our first holiday party.

Grade: A+  I may be biased here, but seeing how this community has grown and evolved since 2012, there is no other grade possible.

We had some rather big expectations but this is tremendously complex. A lot of work has been done to get us to this point and without a viable arena plan, the path to landing a franchise remains unclear. I remain optimistic but I also don’t want people assuming this is going to happen anytime soon. This community has been outstanding and we need to continue to grow to make our voices heard to local politicians, the NHL, and potential owners.

NHL to Seattle 2015 News in Review

As we close the books on 2015, I thought it would be a good time to review the year in NHL to Seattle news.

January 15th  While speaking with Yahoo Sports’ Greg Wyshynski, Jeremy Roenick mentions that he is still pursuing an NHL franchise in Seattle and he says, “Key Arena is there. It’s old, and it’s decrepit, and you can’t refurbish it to have what the NHL calls a first-class facility.”  (remember that last part

January 16th The Final EIS on the Seattle’s Sodo Arena is pushed back another 3 months.

January 22nd Mayor Ed Murray confirms that he met with Gary Bettman and Adam Silver in New York to give an update on the arena and to show support for brining NHL and NBA franchise to Seattle. Although always pledging support for the existing Sodo Arena project/MOU, it was the first time Mayor Murray showed that it was a priority. To quote Chris Daniels from Channel 5, Seattle’s local NBC affiliate, “The one thing you can glean from Ed Murray’s comments tonight – is that the door is wide open for an NHL investor.”

January 24th NHL Deputy Commissioner, Bill Daly weighs in on Seattle and implies that there are a “couple of variations that are interesting in 2012+NHL+Entry+Draft+Rounds+2+7+lyfx4JlSpv9lthe Seattle mix”. Hmmm…what could he mean by variations? (Keep reading)

February 3rd While speaking with a radio station in Vancouver, Gary Bettman mentions that they are getting interest from separate groups to put an arena in Bellevue and Tukwila. This is the first we hear of either of those cities as possible destinations.

February 10th Las Vegas launches their season ticket drive. This is the first official sign that the NHL is getting ready to start an expansion process. Puget Sound Population Map3

February 13th Geoff Baker from the Seattle Times breaks down the three arena options with names. (things are getting real)

April 9th We launched our NHL to Seattle community store. This was practically demanded by you, the community. Sales have exceeded expectations and we love just getting the word out there. The NHL to Seattle community starts showing up everywhere.

April 28th Tukwila details continue to emerge and appears to be the front runner in the arena race. I take a shot on how the Tukwila option stacks up here.

May 1st Tukwila group files SEPA paperwork.

May 7th Final EIS for Sodo Arena released. Seattle Mayor, Ed Murray: “No major findings stand in the way of arena construction” and “We’re one step closer to bringing NHL hockey & NBA basketball to Seattle.” The SonicsArena group releases a statement on the Final EIS statement: “We also wanted to take the opportunity to reiterate that we remain 100% supportive of the NHL returning to Seattle and playing in the Arena — and are completely open to the prospect of that occurring prior to the NBA.”

May 26th While speaking with someone from the Associated Press, Chris Hansen says that in spite of all the speculation, there has yet to be a formal proposal for an NHL first plan from a potential NHL franchise owner. This puts a dark cloud on the prospects of a potential NHL Sodo scenario. (as a reminder, Chris Hansen has no interest in being an NHL team owner, but is supportive of working with a potential owner.)

June 10th The City of Glendale (AZ) kills the existing agreement with the Coyotes which leaves some doubt on the future of the Coyotes playing in Arizona.

June 24th The NHL announces that they will begin a formal expansion process. Seattle, Las Vegas and Quebec are early favorites.

June 30th Geoff Baker reports that the Tukwila group plans on submitting an expansion application to NHL.

July 7th Milwaukee Bucks’ president says if their ongoing quest for a new arena does not get approved, then the team will relocate. Most people see this as a leverage play used by the owners against the state to fund a large portion of a new arena.

July 20th In a brutal blow to Seattle’s NHL hopes and in spite of 4 separate NHL expansion application requests from the Seattle area, no group actually submitted their application at the deadline.  Only Las Vegas and Quebec City submit applications to the NHL.

July 26th The City of Glendale and the Arizona Coyotes sign a 2 year agreement that will allow the Coyotes to play in Gila River arena.

August 26th With a sliding currency exchange rate, doubt starts to creep in about Quebec City. This doubt would continue to the end of the year.

September 3rd Sodo Arena clears some final approvals from the Seattle Design Commission. Too little too late? We shall see.

November 3rd Seattle City Council elections go as well as they could for the pro Sodo arena fans as a majority of new city council members are supportive of Sodo Arena initiative.

November 11th Report from the Seattle Times says that a group wants to overhaul KeyArena for NBA and NHL franchise. Days later, details emerge that this group is more of a high interest lender and would gladly loan money to those willing to pay high interest rates.

November 23rd The Seattle Times runs a piece that speculates that the NHL is delaying the expansion process to give Seattle more time to get their house in order.

November 30th Mayor Ed Murray and SDOT recommend Seattle City Council approve the street vacation for Sodo arena. Inching ever closer to final approval.

December 3rd Emails with members of the Mayor’s staff indicate that previous identified potential NHL owner & potential Chris Hansen ColemanVictor8475_sb10_750partner, Victor Coleman, is still pursuing the Sodo arena for an NHL team in spite of missing NHL application deadline.

December 8th The NHL confirms that they continue to be in contact with Seattle groups to bring a team there.

December 15th Outlook on Tukwila arena appears to fade.

NHL Expansion & Seattle Update

It’s been a while since I have posted anything here. I figured we all needed a cooling off period after the NHL application deadline came and passed with no Seattle applicants. It was rumored (but not confirmed) that 4 of the 16 NHL expansion application requests came from the Seattle area. The details of why no one from the region actually applied for expansion were never revealed. Revealed through spokespersons and local press, at least 2 Seattle parties (Coleman/Sodo & Bartoszek/Tukwilla) of the 4 vowed to continue their pursuit of an Arena/NHL franchise.

At the end of the deadline, only Quebec City and Las Vegas submitted their applications by the league mandated deadline of July 20th. It looked as if all was lost for Seattle and yet another chapter of our unsuccessful attempts at landing an NHL team could be written. However…there have been a couple items of interest that have popped up recently.

Seattle Arena

The Seattle arena project located in SoDo (Hansen/Coleman) cleared some expected, but critical hurdles. Early last month, the Seattle Downtown Design Review Board gave final approval on the Seattle Arena and 2 days later the Seattle Design Commission unanimously approved the public benefit of the project. This will require a final vote by Seattle City Council which should occur sometime in December. This should not be a contentious issue as the City Council usually takes the recommendation of the Design Review Board. Too little, too late? Maybe…but moving forward reduces any friction for any future opportunities. One thing we might get out of this final vote is to hear if Hansen and/or Coleman have a strategy to make the NHL or NBA team happen. As far as I know, the MOU is written for a basketball-first scenario, but that is only upon the condition of funding, so technically, Hansen (with help) could start building as soon as this final city council vote is made (and passed).

Key Arena study

Last week King5 reported that the Seattle City Council commissioned a study (back in 2012) to look at options on what to do with Key Arena. One of those potential options was to renovate the Key to make it compliant to both NHL and NBA standards for an estimated price tag of $285M. This was just one of the options the consulting firm came up with regarding the site. With more questions than answers, I think it is safe to say this probably won’t happen for a variety of reasons. Who pays the $285M? Would a potential NBA or NHL owner want to play at the Key? Would the league(s) even approve it as a potential site? Oh, and there is that entire traffic thing. I give this a generous 5% chance of getting legs, so don’t get that wound up about the Seattle City Council (of 2012) for just doing some level of due diligence.

NHL Expansion

In spite of Gary Bettman’s attempts to lower NHL fans expectations for expansion, most of us assumed that expanding by two was pretty much a done deal. With two strong applicants, it appeared that Quebec City and Las Vegas shooting on empty nets to get teams. They both have a great shot of getting teams, but skepticism started creeping in the media in early September. Sportsnet, The Globe and Mail and Washington Post ran stories on why NHL expansion is no done deal. After the BOG meeting this week, Bettman reaffirmed the “no timetable”, “lot of work” & “no guarantee” regarding expansion. This triggered Seattle to start bleeding back into the conversation.

Pierre Lebrun ran a story that theorized Seattle could get back into the race with this little snippet.

“the NHL has said that if it does expand, it could be by only one team (read: Las Vegas) for now. Which, by the way, would give Seattle more time to get its act together.”

Then, Boston Bruins outspoken owner Jeremy Jacobs threw a little more cold water at the expansion talk with a little complimentary statement about Seattle.

“I’d love to see us in the West to be up in Seattle. Seattle’s a natural, and I would love to see one in Houston, but we can’t get into that building.”

The big question around Quebec appears to be if the market can handle the weak Canadian Dollar. It wasn’t too long ago that the NHL was offering up financial relief to all Canadian teams outside of the Montreal and Toronto. To be clear, I would still prefer to be in Quebec or Las Vegas shoes so don’t get your hopes up here.

We will need to wait and see on how these things shake out. I am convinced that the longer this thing drags out, the better Seattle’s chances. In the meantime, let’s rally this hockey community and try to enjoy the WHL and NHL seasons for a while before we start speculating on what is going on behind the scenes.

The Vancouver rivalry

Over the years we have heard multiple NHL brass reference the natural rivalry a team in Seattle would have with Vancouver. I take a stab at quantifying the rivalry below by looking at the attendance for the Sounders and Mariners attendance when the Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto Blue Jays are visiting Seattle.

Vancouver Whitecaps

Sounders

It should be noted that the Sounders have opened up more capacity when the Whitecaps have come to town. They only do this a couple games a year when they know they can sell that additional capacity.

Toronto Blue Jays

Anyone that has been to a Toronto Blue Jays game against the Mariners knows the impact of Jays fans when they invade Safeco every year. This year, the Blue Jays-Mariners fell on a weekend and the series was the highest average attendance of a series since 2011. Below is the average attendance of each Mariner series since 2012.

Mariners attendance by series

As you can see, the most recent Toronto series had the highest attendance out of 95 unique series since 2012. The Blue Jays comparison is not perfect, it’s baseball, Canada has one MLB team, and it is one series a year.

One thing that is not known is how many people travel across the border vs. Canadians living in the area. I end up going with a few of my Canadian friends every year to experience the visiting fan impact on the game and I also have talked to several folks that travel down every year for the series. Again, this is not scientific but it does provide a leading indicator on what demand would look like when some of the more popular Canadian teams visit Seattle.

The Pitch

As the first stage of the NHL Expansion process nears, I thought it would be a good opportunity to review Seattle’s case for an expansion franchise.

Population

Seattle is estimated to be the 15th highest populated US Metropolitan Statistical Area and the third biggest city without an NHL team.

Population

Seattle also continues to grow faster than any other large city in the US. On a side note, Seattle is also the largest city without either an NBA or NHL franchise.

TV Market

According to Neilsen TV rating system, Seattle is in the top 15 largest US TV market with 1,802,920 homes. That is impressive and when you consider the Dallas Stars Regional Sports Network, Fox Sports Southwest, services the Houston Area. Seattle is the second largest US market that does not have a local NHL team served on a local Regional Sports Network. Also worth considering is that a NHL team in Seattle would likely serve the Portland, Oregon market, giving them a combined TV household market of 2.9Million TV Household which would put that served market in the top 5 biggest TV reach in the US. (Of course if Portland were to get a team, it would compete with the local team.)

NHLDemoincomeandTVmarketHousehold income

The green bar chart above shows Seattle has the second highest US city average income without an NHL team (behind Hartford). In order to really analyze household income you need to see how many households exist inside the customer demographic.

Early last year, Nielsen published the Year in Sports Media Report: 2013. In it, there was a little profile on the NHL Fan Demographic.

NielsenReport

53% of NHL Fans have a household income of over $75K a year. That number is the largest % in that bracket of all big 5 leagues. When business owners or potential business owners are looking to expand, they will look at these key figures to determine the potential of the market. According to the Census data, King and the surround counties, 45% of households have income over $75K a year. I then pulled data for a couple other metropolitan areas to see how we stack up. (Update: This chart has been updated from its original post. There was a miscalculation in the census data displayed that was overstating the # of households “Over $75K” for all cities. Thanks to the community over at hockeysfuture, particularly AdmiralsFan24 for raising the issue that led me to go audit my numbers.)

income update

I am not saying we should relocate the Coyotes, Blues or Avalanche. Nor am I saying Las Vegas will not work. I am just illustrating the potential customer market by similar sized markets and Las Vegas.

Hockey community already exists

Similar to the soccer community before the Sounders (MLS version) moved in, hockey has a passionate presence here. There are 2 WHL teams that play in the Seattle area. One team is 30 miles to the north in Everett, the Everett Silvertips and the Seattle Thunderbirds play in Kent which is 30 miles to the south. Both have passionate fan bases in their respective communities.

Puget Sound Population

Additionally, Seattle also has one of the largest Adult hockey leagues in the United States. Youth hockey is also strong in the area and anyone who has tried to find ice time in one of the local rinks knows we clearly need more ice time. The following graphic is the number of USA Hockey Player memberships for the state of Washington since 1998-99 season. If an NHL team were to move into the Seattle area, I would anticipate the local hockey player numbers to double within 15 years.

WA_Memberships

Proximity to Canada

Seattle will be able to sustain as a hockey market on their own but having a Vancouver just 2 hours away will drive up demand. Additionally, a lot of Canadians choose to live in Seattle to work in the US while being close to their home country. This is evident for anyone who has been to a Mariners game when the Toronto Blue Jays are in town. Safeco almost turns into an away game for the Mariners. Consider the chart below, Toronto Blue Jays have 4 of the top 15 most attended midweek games over the summer months since 2010.

Top15 Games

It was revealed that roughly 5% of the Seahawks season ticket holders are from Canada and the Canucks tickets are one of the most expensive tickets in the league, you can imagine there will be several folks making the trip down from Vancouver when the Canucks are in town. This effect can be seen in the first 3 years of the Whitecaps-Sounders rivalry in the MLS.

MLS Attendance

Corporate Presence

The greater Seattle area is home to large brand companies. Microsoft, Amazon.com, Alaska Airlines, Nordstroms, Expedia, Costco, Starbucks, Tableau Software, Slalom Consulting, Safeco, RealNetworks, Zillow.com, Zulily, Clearwire, Eddie Bauer, Nintendo, & R.E.I. just to name a few. Tech is also booming in Seattle that is becoming an alternative to the San Francisco/Silicon Valley area for creating new tech startups.

Loyal Fan Base

Seattle is an extremely loyal sports town which is obvious when looking at Sounders & Seahawks games. Critics are quick to point out the Mariners lagging in Attendance (18th in the MLB) but keep in mind the Mariners have the second longest Playoff drought in Major League Baseball. In spite of 13 seasons without a playoff appearance, the Mariners attendance is up 22% through the end of June.

Summary

Not one of these metrics is a silver bullet for the region but the combination of these key attributes is testimony on what makes this market so ripe for the NHL. It would also be nice to see professional hockey return to the home of the first US Stanley Cup victory.

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