Quick thoughts on Ballmer’s pursuit of the Clippers

As most of you are aware, Steve Ballmer is placing a bid on the Los Angeles Clippers. I have had some discussions in various social networksbllmnba9087 and “real world” conversations about it and figured I should jot something down. There are two schools of thought on the impact that a successful purchase of the Clippers will have on the return of the Sonics: 1) Hurts the bid to bring the NBA back to Seattle and 2) No impact to the SoDo Arena plans. To get the narrative on those two opinions, enter our two favorite journalists, Geoff Baker with the first perspective and Chris Daniels issuing the later point of view. One thing I would like to call out is that it is great to have two people covering this story with a somewhat different approach. I saw somewhat because they are not contradicting, they are just coming from two different angles, both of which can and are probably right. Both articles (and video) are worth reading but at a high level, Baker says that if Ballmer’s bid for the Clippers is successful, that investment gap will need to be filled. Meanwhile Daniel’s suggest that gap will not be too hard to fill.

My take

The likely scenario is somewhere in the middle. There aren’t too many people in the world worth $20 Billion that can fill Ballmer’s shoes, actually there are only 35 of them in the world and only two that live in the Puget Sound. Obviously it is not a requirement to find someone worth $20 Billion but it was nice to have that kind of backstop behind you for the franchise. The bigger issue to me is what that says about the prospects of the Sonics returning to Seattle. Baring a failure of an Arena plan in Milwaukee, this implies we are probably over 4 years away from seeing the Sonics in Seattle. If the outlook was better, I think Ballmer would have waited. The positive of Ballmer becoming the owner of LA Clippers is he would have a vote on expansion and/or relocation of a team for Seattle. All that said, what I will miss most about the departure of Ballmer from the Sonics Ownership group is his local ties and civic leadership. The man was passionate about the Sonics before they left and would have loved to see him be involved in the team.

Wait….this isn’t NBAtoSeattle.

Damn…you got me. You are right, this is not NBAtoSeattle. We know the Seattle NBA Group has been driving the bus on this project for a while they have welcomed us hockey fans for the ride from the very beginning. The potential Ballmer departure from the project is probably a net neutral. I think the prospects of the NBA returning to Seattle only helps the NHLtoSeattle’s chances so if it is a slight negative for NBA, it is a slight negative for the NHL. Oh and we still have the issue of the MOU that will still need to be changed for an NHL first scenario. Which leads me to think of the positive spin on this scenario. The departure of Ballmer could open the door for an NHL friendly partner to fill the gap left by Ballmer that might help kick start the NHL first Arena process. Either way, I am supportive of all SonicsArena efforts and will continue to support them regardless if and when the NHL comes to Seattle in the process.

Population Density and NHL Arenas: Seattle vs Bellevue

Last week, the US census bureau releases population data that stated Seattle has the biggest population boom of any major US city. Most of us Seattle hockey fans pointed to the data as another indicator of the opportunity for the NHL that lies in our region. We have also heard that most of the potential Seattle NHL ownership groups are only interested in a Seattle arena versus a Bellevue solution. I looked across the league to see where arenas were placed compared to the densest cities in the area. Excluding the New York Islanders who are moving to Brooklyn, only 3 teams play in arenas that are not located in the largest city (population) in the area: Florida Panthers, Arizona Coyotes and the Minnesota Wild. Everyone that has been following me knows that I am not Anti-Panthers or Anti-Coyotes. I believe in this sport very much and for the most part, think it can thrive anywhere with the right ownership team. That said, I would be negligent if I did not acknowledge that both the Panthers and Coyotes have both had some attendance issues as of late. I will come back to the Wild in a second but first lets dig into the arena location of the Panthers and the Coyotes.

Florida Panthers

Population of South Florida

As you can tell by looking at the map above, Florida plays in the city of Sunrise, which has a population of 90K and is about 30 miles away from the biggest metropolitan city in the area, Miami. You can also tell by looking at the map, Sunrise isn’t exactly surrounded by a bunch of medium size cities which cuts down on their potential customer base, particularly for mid week games. Observe the average attendance by Day of the week for the Florida Panthers. Generally speaking, mid week games are the lowest attended games. (The exception here is Wednesdays for 2013-14 season. The Panthers only had one Wednesday game this year and it was the day before Thanksgiving on November 27th.)

Attendance-PanthersDOW

Arizona Coyotes

Population-Coyotes

As most of you know, the Arizona (formally Phoenix) Coyotes play in Glendale, which is only about 10 miles from downtown Phoenix which has a whopping 1.5 Million people living in the area. I would argue that the Coyotes are actually better positioned in Glendale than the Panthers are in Sunrise. After being sold to new ownership group last summer, attendance was up 13% this year compared to 2011-12 (last full NHL Season).

Minnesota Wild

populationWild

The Minnesota wild play in St. Paul which is about 10 miles away from Minneapolis, the largest city in the area. Throwing the Minnesota Wild in this bucket is a bit of a stretch since the size of the cities are not that significant compared to Glendale or Sunrise but I think the Twin Cities are the closest comparison we have to the Puget Sound. The Twin Cities market is also roughly the same size as Seattle/Bellevue/Tacoma and has all four major professional sports teams*, something we anticipate or anticipated getting here in Seattle. The Wild have never struggled for attendance and is probably a tough to compare hockey crazy Minnesotans to people in Florida and Arizona. It is also worth pointing out that Wild and Timberwolves play in different arenas. (*No disrespect to the Sounders, they are major in Seattle but very few markets have demonstrated even half the support we give it here so I am excluding them from the comparison since they are very unique to Seattle).

Puget Sound

Puget Sound Population

As you can see, Seattle is much bigger than Bellevue. Even if you add the surrounding suburban cities such as Redmond, Sammamish and Kirkland, you still only have 50% of the population of Seattle. Now the one thing that Bellevue has which is similar to St. Paul, several companies including Microsoft are located on the east side which would make going to a midweek game easy for the employees of those companies. I believe Bellevue can work but this might explain the strong preference for exploring a Seattle arena solution.

Making sense of the last 48 hours

We have received quite a bit of information in the last 48 hours and for those of us who hang on every word mentioned, it has given us plenty of material to over analyze. As a whole,

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray

the recent news over the last 48 hours should be perceived as a very very good sign. In case you have been in the dark, the week started with the report that Bettman & Daly were in town last week to meet with King County Executive Dow Constantine & Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, then sometime in the afternoon yesterday, it was reported that the mayor told Bettman and Daly that the Seattle City Council would be uninterested in reopening the executed MOU to enable an NHL first scenario. If that was not enough news to digest, a potential ownership group was identified and that same group accompanied Bettman and Daly in these meetings. (head explodes)

Here is my suggested reading list as the source for the information:

There is a lot of info in there and plenty said between the lines and additional information shared that was shared on Radio interviews and twitter accounts of both Daniels and Baker. Here are my main takeaways.

  • The meeting with NHL Brass and Constantine & Murray is the “strongest sign yet” of the league’s interest in placing a team in Seattle.
  • The no changes to the MOU is not as negative as it appears.Murray can’t show all his cards and needs to watch his words carefully. It is premature to direct any negative commentary to Murray or anyone on the City Council until this thing has time to breath. It could be a timing situation as well or early negotiations. Geoff Baker tweeted that Murray did not shut the door on an NHL first scenario.
  • The Coleman group appears to be the lead candidate to be the potential owner of the NHL franchise in Seattle.
  • According to Baker, that group has been communicating with Hansen since last October. I think it is reasonable to conclude that both Hansen and Coleman group have a good understanding on what it will take to partner on the arena deal (Number 2 below).

This is my updated diagram on what needs to happen. The order is numbered but you should not think of it as purely linear. It is fairly obvious to me that the discussions are happening in parallel for the league to get a reasonable confidence level that all stages can be completed and issues resolved.

ArenaSituation20140516

 

Bettman and Daly visit with Seattle Mayor and King County Executive

If you have been paying any attention to any hockey news in the last 24 hours, you may have heard that Gary Bettman & Bill Daly, visited Seattle last week to meet with King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray. Both sides are saying the meeting was informal and the NHL wanted to check the status of the meeting.

 

The original news broke from our local man Chris Daniels here:  http://www.king5.com/news/arena/NHL-Commissioner-makes-personal-visit-to-KC-Exec-and-Seattle-Mayor-259126371.html

 

Then everyone piled on citing the same report: tsn.ca, The Hockey News & myNorthwest bettman_gary640all pretty much say the same thing Daniels said.

 

OK, this is great news but before we get too excited, the hurdles still remain. I love that Bettman took the time to visit our local officials and it sends a great message how seriously he values Seattle as a potential hockey market. If nothing else, he is building a relationship and relationships take time. It is clear that the NHL really likes the Seattle market, a comment that was stated by Daniels, Geoff Baker and Brian Robinson last Saturday at our Hockey Hangout media panel at the Angry Beaver.

 

The Hurdles

The Arena. The Arena is still the largest hurdle facing the prospects of landing an NHL team in Seattle. Actual next step is under debate. Brian Robinson from ArenaSolution seems to think the Letter of Intent (LOI) must be signed with the NHL and prospective ownership groups. Geoff Baker believes that a conditional LOI can be signed to begin the steps of negotiating with Hansen/Ballmer to partner on the arena. I tend to lean in the camp that says if an LOI is signed with the NHL and prospective NHL ownership group, chances are they are already close on a deal with Hansen/Ballmer and all parties are reasonably confident that opening the MOU for an NHL first scenario can and will be achievable.

 

Next Board of Governors Meeting

This might be all leading up to some kind of proposal, announcement or resolution at the next NHL Board of Governors meeting that will take place during the Stanley Cup Finals. Is it possible that we hear something come out of the BOG meeting?  Perhaps, but I think it is a relatively low probability of happening. Probably the same odds I would have given the New York Rangers  in coming back from a 3-1 deficit to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Interactive CHL attendance report for last 3 years

Not directly related the NHL to Seattle Mission but since the WHL is one of the biggest things we have here I thought I would share the CHL Attendance Dashboard I put together. You can filter by league and teams to get a look at how many teams have done over the last 3 years.

CHL Attendance Dashboard2011-12, 2012-13 & 2013-14: Regular Season

CHL Attendance Dashboard2011-12, 2012-13 & 2013-14: Regular Season
CHL Attendance Dashboard2011-12, 2012-13 & 2013-14: Regular Season