Q&A: Bill Chapin discussion on business side of NHL Seattle

Starting a new sports franchise from scratch requires a lot of sports business smarts and knowledge of the new marketplace.

Luckily for NHL Seattle, they’ve brought in someone with both.

The organization has hired Bill Chapin to work with Tod and Tim Leiweke on premium revenue initiatives regarding both the arena project and potential NHL franchise.

Chapin comes to NHL Seattle after a stint with the Kansas City Chiefs as Senior Vice President of Business Operations, but he is a local at heart as he previously worked for the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Sounders FC.

Recently, he chatted on the phone about his experience and what he hopes to bring to potential Seattle franchise.

Cutler Klein: What drew you back to the Pacific Northwest after your time in Kansas City?

Bill Chapin: Good question. Multiple factors. But one is the vision, what Tod and Tim Leiweke laid out about a catalytic immersion of not only a new arena but the catalyst of what a new arena could be in the 74-acre campus of Seattle Center. And both the cultural, economic and fan experience opportunities that an arena of this magnitude could bring to this area and region. These guys are visionaries if you think about all of the factors that could make this indelible mark in Seattle history. It was so exciting to hear about the vision, so exciting to hear about the opportunity and I’ve had the privilege of working for Tim in Los Angeles when we helped convert the idea of an arena, the Staples Center, from the Great Western Forum. And then I had the privilege of working for Tod in Seattle with the Seahawks and the way he reinvigorated the whole concept of the 12th Man and the way we were able to tell that story with the most amazing fans. I think the fans here are the most amazing fans in the world. And to be able to be a part of a team that brings this dynamic vision of an arena, hockey and this cultural, iconic catalyst into the heart of the city, it was just too good to pass up.

CK: What exactly will your role be with the team?

BC: I think what’s so great right now is that we’re all part of a team and there’s no one person bigger than anybody else. I’ll be in charge of our revenue initiatives and our customer service initiatives as it relates to our fan experience and our partnership experiences. So ticket sales and our premium offerings, our sponsorship servicing, also all of our partners who come along with this incredible journey and the incredible customer journey as people experience it, whether as fans or guests that come into a concert or family event and the experience they have at the new arena.

CK: You spent the last few years in Kansas City with the Chiefs, another fantastic sports town. What are some of the things that you are most proud of there that you hope to transition over to Seattle?

BC: I think I’ve been fortunate to work in some incredible marketplaces that have very passionate fans. Clearly we all had some fun with the contest back and forth between Seahawks fans and Chiefs fans on who was the loudest. I can tell you incredible things about Chiefs and how they’re as loud and as boisterous as anybody and yet I think we have the most incredible fanbase in Seattle. They’re very similar in the fact that they’re passionate about their teams and I expect and project that our fanbases for NHL in Seattle that this place is going to be a tough place for opponents to come play. Because they’re going to be loud, they’re going to create the most significant home ice advantage in the NHL. Teams will not want to come play here because it’ll be an intimidating place because I know Seattle fans and they’ll make it intimidating for the other teams to come in. They will not want to come here, but they will have to, and that will create this incredible sense of pride for our players, our community, our organization about what these fans can do here. Super excited about that opportunity. And then the rivalry, right? With Vancouver, LA, other teams, San Jose, Anaheim because of the division itself will be awesome to watch.

CK: Like you mentioned, Seattle fans are notorious for how loud they are. The 12th Man for the Seahawks, Sounders fans are pretty raucous and have created a great atmosphere in MLS. What makes the Seattle sports market such a special place?

BC: There’s this incredible part of Seattle that we are so proud of where we live. I think it’s deeply ingrained into everybody here because it offers so much and yet I think there’s just a little chip on everybody’s shoulder. The other markets, maybe LA or New York that have more attention, but I think we’re all okay with that. But when we have the chance to show on a national stage or on a stage, whether it’s arts or sports or entertainment, how great this place is, this place shines with pride, with unity, to show that Seattle and the people that live here are special. They’re different. We embrace our differences and yet when we come together, whether it’s in an arena or a stadium, we show what we are made of, which is that we love where we live, we think this place is special, we’re unique and we want to show the world that.

CK: What are the unique benefits and challenges about being in the business of hockey specifically?

BC: To me, it’s truly an international game. Look at just any of the lineups of any of the teams currently in the 2019 season. Whether it’s from Russia or Eastern Europe or the Northern part of Europe, Canada, the United States. Now we have players from the East in Asia and Korea and China. It’s truly an international game. It’s clearly the fastest game, and the non-stop action, the incredible ability to see it also every four years on the true international stage of the Olympics makes this sport dynamic. It’s the ultimate team game where they’re all working together. So there’s a lot of factors that make this sport growing. I think it creates character within those kids who play it, and we’ve got to grow that and we get an opportunity to do that here in Seattle. Yet, it is super entertaining and new and fresh for some eyes that may never have seen it, but once they see it in-person, they feel the passion, they feel the coolness, they feel the speed, the grace, the elegance and the power of the game. They become hooked. What’s not to like about a game that offers all of those qualities when you see it?

CK: Are you excited for the challenge of not only working for a hockey team, but working for a new expansion hockey team that you will be able to build from the ground up?

BC: It was a privilege, as I mentioned before, to build a new arena in Staples Center and to see that. But to have the opportunity to do both: build a hockey team from the ground up and build an arena from the ground up. There’s very few opportunities ever in anyone’s lifetime to be a part of such a special, unique moment in time. It’s an indelible moment in time to be able to say ‘wow, we were able to build something together from scratch.’ There’s, I think, 132 professional teams and I was trying to think back the other day to when a team started from scratch and had a building from scratch. I think it’s the Houston Texans. I’ve got to do the research on that, but they don’t happen very often and when you have the opportunity to be a part of something special like that. And I have to emphasize the ownership here and Tim and Tod Leiweke, they’re visionaries to be able to get this done in this day and age in this marketplace at this time. It’s a special, unique window of opportunity within Seattle, so if graced with the opportunity to do that by the NHL, it certainly should be special. I think that providing incredible customer care experiences and incredible customer service to provide everybody who experiences it, to be stewards of that is a privilege.

CK: When you look around the NHL, are there any clubs that stand out to you in terms of providing the best fan experience for their fans as a benchmark for you?

BC: I think that’s the beauty of our league, that when we are all in a room together and I can meet with my colleagues from the Maple Leafs or the Kings or the Sharks or the Golden Knights, you can take best practices from every one of those teams. Every team does something extremely well and so we’ll take the best practices and hopefully fluff them up from every team, whether it’s customer service or the customer journey or the suites and premium processes or the general ticketing, and look to put our own Seattle unique flavor on that. To be able to say we’re unique, not just the best practices of the NHL, but special and unique to the fans here. Because they deserve that. Our fans, as I said, are the best in the world and will be the best in the world and we want to provide a localized version of the best practices. Not just the best practices that work in Anaheim, Las Vegas or other clubs, but what’s unique and specific to the Seattle market, because we are a little bit different and we embrace that.

CK: Last year, Vegas was able to bring the local flavor to the rink there with glitz and glam and entertainment. One thing that is unique to Seattle is the incredible tech industry in the town. Is tech something you’re looking to incorporate into the fan experience to be able to push the envelope?

BC: You hit the nail on the head. I think technology is just one aspect of where we can be completely different than any other club. By having a building that we’re building from scratch where we can build all of the walls with technology and the features into that, the customer journey and that experience can be uniquely different than what we’re seeing in the marketplace today. I think being one of the technological hotbeds of the entire world, quite frankly, we are having access and conversations that will allow us to stretch the envelope in every area, to be able to be breaking new ground on whether it’s arena developments, fan experience or other offerings. You hit the nail on the head and I’m not at liberty to go in-depth on all of those conversations, but I will certainly say that there’ll be a marked opportunity for us that we’ll take full advantage of.

CK: Seattle and the Pacific Northwest has established hockey with WHL teams in the area. Is that an opportunity you see to build on the existing hockey culture there?

BC: I’ll draw upon just the Sounders. So when Tod launched the Sounders with Adrian Hanauer and that group, Joe Roth and Drew Carey, we drew upon the incredible history and legacy of the NASL and the Sounders brand and vision and the fans spoke loudly with democracy in sports and we drew upon that history and legacy. We’ll be able to do the same here, not only as the Thunderbirds have done and what the Silvertips are doing, but also the fact that the first Stanley Cup in the United States of America was the Seattle Metropolitans in 1917, right? So, I think we’re going to try and steward this extremely well by being inclusive of the entire hockey community. By being inclusive with our friends in those two teams and draw up on their expertise in the marketplace, as well to be able to create a hockey hotbed in the Pacific Northwest that will not only change today, but change tomorrow as we hope we get a team and move into our space in the Pacific Division.

Cutler Klein
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