The Seattle City Council has approved the Key Arena redevelopment Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Oak View Group (OVG) today with a vote of 7-1. This is a MONUMENTAL milestone to bringing the NHL to Seattle. If you have been off the grid the last 6 months or just new here, OVG is planning a $600M remodel of Key Arena to make it a modern, world-class arena to attract the NHL and NBA. In addition, OVG has already named the potential NHL franchise owners: David Bonderman and Jerry Bruckheimer.
A change of tone from the league
To date, the NHL has dismissed the thought of another expansion process while the league sits at 31 teams (16 teams in the Eastern Conference and 15 in the Western Conference). Commissioner Bettman has stated multiple times that they are not going to expand for sake of symmetry. When there aren’t any potential expansion cities in the western part of North America, then the statement is a fair one. But with the approval of the MOU, I am now looking for a change of tone from the league on expansion. As Chris Johnston reported over the weekend, expansion is not formally on the agenda, but there is a strong feeling that “..the Oak View Group could have its $600M arena proposal approved by council to get things going.” Johnston continues “that will obviously get the attention of the NHL owners should that go through.” I expect to hear some acknowledgment of Seattle by the NHL through their approval to perform a season ticket drive to gauge the market or opening up the expansion process. This is what they did in 2015 prior to Vegas being approved for expansion. As a reminder, Las Vegas ran their ticket drive in February 2015, completed it in April 2015. The league then opened their expansion process in late June 2015, with the application due by mid-July. The actual Vegas expansion franchise was then approved in June 2016, pretty much a year after the process began.
OVG still has plenty of work in front of them. Once the MOU is approved they will then need to continue down the Environmental Impact Study process as they drive toward obtaining all the necessary building permits. There are several long form agreements that they will need to be completed. We should expect to hear some news as all those items progress. I also expect to see more renderings of the Arena as OVG iterates the physical plan for inside and around the arena.
NHL Ownership Group
David Bonderman and Jerry Bruckheimer have been the reported (potential) NHL Seattle franchise owners for the last 6 months, but they have been fairly silent in this entire process. This seems rather deliberate to avoid creating public pressures and to allow the NHL to conduct the order of events as they deem appropriate. If the league gives them a little longer leash, we could start seeing this NHL Seattle ownership group being a little more public. By comparison, well before the expansion process began, Bill Foley, owner of the Vegas Golden Knights, would often make public appearances and comments about his desire to bring a team to Las Vegas. So it may just be a matter of time before this group starts to be more public facing.