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Organizational Structure of Seattle Center Arena

There has been some dialogue on how the Seattle Center Arena plan can attract both the NBA and NHL in relation to the organizational structure of the plan. A few people claim there isn’t enough money to go around to lure two major sports anchor tenants. With that said, I researched the organizational structure of ‘arena ownership’ and arena operator’ in the NBA/NHL to understand how the Seattle Center Arena plan compares relative to existing arenas across North America. Arena operations is relevant to analyze since this is how we begin to follow the money.

For starters, organizational structure can be thought of as two primary entities, arena ownership and the arena operator. As shown below, arena ownership can be by the municipality OR NHL Owner OR NBA Owner OR a combination of all those listed. Similarly, the arena operator can be a 3rd Party OR NHL Interest OR NBA Interest or a combination. I define “interest” as the majority owner of the operating company is also majority owner of the NHL or NBA franchise. (i.e. Boston Bruins are owned by Jeremy Jacobs. Jeremy Jacobs is also the owner of TD Garden operator, Delaware North. This would be an NHL interest owned operator.)

Seattle Center Arena plan

The Seattle Center proposal will be 100% Municipality owned arena with OVG operating the arena by creating a partnership with an NHL and NBA owner (“Joint NHL/NBA”). David Bonderman and Jerry Bruckheimer have already committed money to that partnership for the NHL side of the deal, while the NBA group will be added once the NBA signals they are ready to expand (or relocate).

To review, the Seattle Center Arena plan is a Municipal owned building with a joint arena operator partnership.

In analyzing how other arenas are run…

Arena Ownership

Based on the data, 63% of the 49 NHL/NBA arenas in North America are Municipality owned arenas. In this scenario, the Seattle Center plan is consistent with the norm across North America.

Arena Operator Structure

On the surface, the Seattle Center Arena plan of joint operations appears to be rare for the arena business, but this data is for all 49 arenas, most of which do not have both NBA and NHL teams as anchor winter tenants making “joint arena operator” scenario impossible, so filtering on just arenas with 2 or more winter sports anchor teams.

There are 11 arenas that have both NHL and NBA tenants. Seven out of these 11 arenas also work as joint arena operators. So now it appears the Seattle Center Arena plan is in line with other organization structures across the NHL and NBA.
I could end the analysis there, but I would be remiss if I didn’t also point out that in 4 of the 7 joint operated arenas the arena owners also own both teams that play in the arena: MSG (Rangers/Knicks), Capital One (Caps/Wizards), Air Canada Centre (Leafs/Raptors), Pepsi Center (Avs/Nuggets). If you exclude those 4 arenas, you are down to 3 arenas that have NBA and NHL tenants that have different owners for their respective teams: American Airlines Arena (Stars/Mavericks), United Center (Blackhawks/Bulls), Barclays (Islanders/Nets).
Also, note that 3 out of the 11 arenas operators only have NHL ownership without the NBA. That is to say that the NBA takes no part in arena operations or its revenue. I’d like to surmise that in these cases the NBA relies heavily on TV revenues, but that is an analysis for another day. This does show that the NBA can exist in a dual anchor tenant arena without being part of the Arena Operations. However, this is moot for this argument, since the Seattle Center Arena deal has already been determined to be a joint ownership.
To summarize, for the 11 arenas that exist that have both NBA and NHL tenants, there are 7 cases where both the NBA and NHL franchises take part in arena operations. Then excluding dual franchise ownership, there are 3 arenas from which the Seattle Center Arena plan can emulate.

With such a small sample size it is a bit of a stretch to draw any conclusions, but at least we know there are scenarios that fit the Seattle Center Arena organizational structure.
Chalk this one up to the more you know with no hard and fast conclusions.

John Barr
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