By Andy Eide
SEATTLE – Perched high up in the Space Needle, overlooking the site that they hope will soon house a new arena and NHL Hockey team, the Seattle Hockey Partners and Oak View Group announced they have added seven local investors to their organization on Wednesday morning.
One of those new investors has been a lifelong hockey fan.
Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy grew up cheering on an original-six franchise and now will be part of what he hopes will be the league’s 32nd team.
“My Dad had season tickets to the Rangers since 1960,” Jassy said on Wednesday. “So, he grew up a fanatical hockey fan and naturally brought us up as fanatical hockey fans. I love the game, I think it’s the best live game and I think the Seattle community is going to love it.”
Jassy joins five other investors who are now part of the NHL Seattle effort.
Along with him, David Wright of Grousemont Associates and the Space Needle, Majority Owner of the Seattle Sounders Adrian Hanauer, CEO and Co-Founder of Bensussen Deutsch & Associates Jay Deutsch, Director of Washington State Bank and Chairman of the Space Needle Jeffrey Wright, and Co-Founders of Ackerly Partners Christopher and Ted Ackerly are all on board to bring NHL hockey to Seattle.
“Today is an epic day in the development of our enterprise,” President and CEO of Seattle Hockey Partners Tod Leiweke said. “It will be a day that we will never, ever forget. Because today is the day that will really go down in the history of this franchise. We are joined in our journey by an incredible group of local leaders.”
Lewieke introduced each new member and added that David Wright will become the new Vice Chairman of the organization. All of the owners are local and have been involved in the Seattle sport and Seattle Center scene for some time.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan was on hand and announced that the Oak View Group and the city had taken critical steps forward on the new Seattle Center Arena. The key agreements include a development agreement for the new arena, a long-term lease agreement, and an integration agreement.
All three agreements have been sent to the Seattle City Council for review and approval. The review of these agreements is to begin on September 7th with a final vote expected on the 24th of September. If approved, construction of the $700 million privately funded arena could begin during the month of October.
Seattle Hockey Partners Majority Owner David Bonderman spoke Wednesday to the necessity of adding local owners to the group.
“I think ‘necessity’ is the wrong word,” he said. “’Intelligence’ is the right word. This is a Seattle based team, it’s all about Seattle and the arena is about Seattle. Having people that live here is a good thing for the enterprise as a whole.”
The announcement Wednesday adds more momentum towards a meeting on October 2nd with the NHL to present Seattle’s full bid for expansion. The delegation presenting to the NHL will include Mayor Durkan and Bonderman and the belief is that having local investors will only strengthen the case for the NHL to come to Seattle.
“I think it’s very important that everybody understands that this is all about hockey, for now,” Bonderman said. “I stress ‘for now’ but we’re going to make this work and we have the ambitions to bring the Stanley Cup home.”
The Stanley Cup is something that Jassy is familiar with.
Attending New York Rangers games on Sunday’s at Madison Square Garden with his Dad began at age three for Jassy and is a treasured memory. He speaks fondly of the 45-minute drive each way and how the conversations were always about analyzing the game and that night’s line combinations.
The Rangers went through a long and painful Cup drought. They won it in 1940 and had to endure decades of taunting from opposing fans. The chant ‘1940’ would echo in their rivals’ arenas, reminding the boys in blue about just how long it had been.
That changed in the 1993-1994 season with the arrival of Mark Messier to New York. Led by Messier, the Rangers not only got back to the Final but would beat the Vancouver Canucks in an epic seven-game thriller.
Jassy was there with his father.
“It was one of the best days of my life, truthfully,” he recalls. “I remember after the final buzzer, hugging my Dad and spending about 15 minutes hugging strangers in the arena. I can remember so many times, playoff games where it looked like the Rangers might break through only to blow it at the end.
“I wasn’t sure they would ever win a Stanley cup in my Dad’s lifetime, much less mine. That whole run was exciting like I think it will happen here in Seattle. Even in a city as big and as diverse as New York, the Rangers winning the Stanley Cup in ’94 really brought the city together.”
Winning the Stanley Cup for Seattle was the theme of Wednesday’s press conference and it was easy to get swept up in the day dream of watching a Seattle NHL club skate the Cup around the ice before adoring fans.
There are still hurdles to overcome before that dream can really begin to materialize but both OVG and the Seattle Hockey Partners seem confident that they will have their ducks in the proper rows.
Once all the political and bureaucratic machinations have been solved, Seattle’s hockey fans can begin the fun part of the expansion process.
“I really do think the city is going to love the sport and really rally behind the team,” Jassy said. “There was a Stanley Cup win here with the Metropolitans many years ago and I think, as Tod said, all of us are in this to build a great organization that the community can rally behind and be proud of but also is going to be a winner. I think we are participating to build a winning franchise and get to raise a Cup here.”