The Oak View Group’s Tim Leiweke was in town and made a couple key stops to speak with the Seattle Times and King5’s Chris Daniels. As you might recall, the Oak View Group is one of the two expected bidders on the KeyArena redevelopment RFP that could host both an NBA or NHL team. Before today, it was assumed that either AEG or OVG would be the operators of a remodeled KeyArena and not the owners of either an NHL or NBA franchise.
Seattle Times Article
The Seattle Times was definitely an enlightening read, filled will lots and lots of quotes from Leiweke himself. I urge you to read the entire article to make sure not to take my thoughts below out of context.
Here are some of the article’s highlights:
“We believe it’s going to take three or four years, preferably three,’’
My take: Seems pretty optimistic based on the snail’s pace that the SoDo project has gone. However, this is a project the city initiated vs a developer initiated project; the city might be a little more inclined to expedite the process to meet their timeline. There wasn’t a whole lot of urgency from Hansen after the Sacramento deal fell through. I honestly have no idea how long this will take. Seems like arenas can go up in a hurry, if the partners are motivated.
Leiweke said he’s in constant contact with Bettman and NBA commissioner Adam Silver and has been assured there is no imminent expansion or team relocation on the horizon for either league.
My take: Both Leiweke and AEG have strong relationships with both NHL & NBA and so I would expect both Oak View and AEG to be in lockstep with the leagues. I see this as a competitive advantage these guys have on bringing either an NHL or NBA team to Seattle over Hansen.
“I think that there are certain leaders in this community that finally took a step back and listened to Adam Silver when he said ‘There’s no expansion coming, and we’re not giving a team to Seattle right now because there’s no team moving.’ I don’t think that’s politics. I think that’s the reality of understanding the truth. And I personally believe you’ve been misled.”
My take: This isn’t really anything new. Other than an isolated report several months back reporting that expansion was happening, the league and owners have consistently said there will be no expansion anytime soon. Of course, we heard that for about 2 years leading up to the NHL’s expansion process, so it is within the realm of possibility that the league could do a 180 on this in one day. With no mention during Silver’s presser at the All-Star game and now this, it still feels NBA expansion is a ways out.
Speaking about Hansen’s attempt to buy and move the Sacramento Kings to Seattle, Leiweke said. “I don’t think that was a good day for Seattle, and I’m speaking just as a (Toronto Raptors) member of the board of governors at the time and watching that. … You don’t threaten (then-NBA commissioner) David Stern. And I’ll leave it at that.”
My take: Hmmm…there is some smoke there, but hard to know what Leiweke was talking about. Sounds like there might still be some fence mending that still needs to happen between Chris Hansen and the NBA. I’ve heard the NBA is still reluctant to deal with Hansen, but I never could substantiate that theory, so I’ve largely dismissed it. This does not validate it either. But there is something going on here between the NBA and Chris Hansen.
King 5 Piece
Speaking about the traffic conditions down there, Oak View Group’s Lance Lopes said, “Frankly, a lot of it is based on misperceptions. A great example: Mercer mess. If you go to Mercer at six o’clock at night and look at what the westbound traffic looks like, it actually flows quite well. Eastbound is difficult, we’re actually not going eastbound, we’re having people coming in to that area.”
My take: I travel westbound on Mercer a couple times a week between 4 and 6 from I5 to 99 and it does flow relatively well. How it will perform when there are high capacity events at KeyArena could be a different story. Then again, traffic in Sodo also increases dramatically for events at Safeco and Century link field.
“(Bettman) is fully dedicated to finding a solution in Phoenix. We cannot and we will not ultimately go prey on trying to move franchises. That was a major mistake and we will not make that mistake.”
My take: I know there has been some speculation that the Coyotes might move here, but I’ve remained pretty consistent that this will not happen. The NHL has proven that they will do everything they can to keep the team somewhere in the greater Phoenix designated market area (DMA).
Bettman in Vancouver
Coincidentally, Gary Bettman was in Vancouver last night and was asked about Seattle. Bettman says “We aren’t paying a lot of attention to it because there is no building.” He then proceeds to name all the players trying to get an arena deal done….but he’s not paying attention. This is as good as it will get from the Commissioner. I would love to hear a statement from both leagues saying that they are in regular communication with AEG or Oak View Group to ensure that the RFP responses can work as a long term home for both the NHL and NBA, but we will never get that from a commissioner until the opening faceoff or tipoff.
— Chris Daniels (@ChrisDaniels5) March 17, 2017
The arrival of Leiweke and AEG on the scene can only help the situation. Getting some honest and candid comments from any of the arena players is refreshing and I anticipate we will continue to hear more and more from AEG, Hansen, and maybe some potential NHL team owner one day.
Let’s view this as a significant progress report that people are talking to the leagues and working though some of the unique challenges with a redevelopment of Key Arena.
Yesterday, Chris Hansen and the SoDo group filed a new petition for the Occidental Street Vacation. This new proposal was consistent with their communicated plan over the last 6 months but was not formalized until Wednesday.
The big things are:
- 100% Private Financing.
- No arena gets built until a team from either the NHL or NBA is acquired.
- The Hansen Group will contribute an additional $1.3M in transit improvements.
When the SoDo group originally announced 100% privately financed model, I was optimistic but after soaking it in a bit, I am not sure that it moves the needle as much as people think it does. This might be me becoming more cynical or it could be the dose of reality we need.
It has been my belief that the 100% private financing was going to happen even if the Occidental Vacation was approved the first time. The public financing in the existing MOU would only kick in if the Hansen group procured an NBA team before the MOU expiration date in November of 2017. The NBA (& Steve Ballmer) has been very clear that they are not expanding anytime soon. This leaves only one option…lead with the NHL. Well, if they were to lead with an NHL team, there is no public financing. That said, this gives the City Council members some air cover to switch their vote.
As far as the “No arena gets built until a team is acquired” and $1.3M in transit improvements. The former seems like a no brainier, but if a council member wanted that as a condition, then let’s include it. The $1.3M is a big number, but in the grand scheme of the project, this is a relatively small number.
In the meantime, the KeyArena RFP remains open until the end April. The Mayor released a statement after the new proposal was submitted.
We have been down this road of optimism before. and in the end, any news is better than no news. My word of advice is to not get overly excited or optimistic on any one event until we are literally watching the puck drop in Seattle.
I have the honor of playing in the Ronald McDonald House Hockey Challenge. This is an annual event put on by the Seattle Thunderbirds and the Ronald McDonald House of Western Washington and Alaska. If you don’t know what the Ronald McDonald House is all about, you should. The Seattle Ronald McDonald House is a home-away-from-home for 700 families each year while their seriously ill child receives medical treatment at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Some families stay for nights, some for months. The House is a warm, supportive and safe place during a very difficult time. Over the years I’ve met with families and discussed their stories and I can tell you it is one amazing charity that has a real impact on people’s lives.
The purpose of the Hockey Challenge is to raise money from the RMHC. This is the one time of year I ask for a little help. I am willing to match up to $1,000 of whatever is contributed in the next two weeks. As a bonus, if I can get over 100 donors, I will be putting in an additional $500. If I can get 100 people to put in just $10, I will match $1,500. Let’s make it happen.
The Hockey Challenge is held on February 18th at ShoWare Arena in conjunction with the Seattle Thunderbirds-Portland Winterhawks Ronald McDonald House Hockey Challenge game. After the Thunderbirds game, a group of all-stars will take the ice for a fun game between local celebrities, former Thunderbirds and some former NHLs. I will be one of the pylons in the all-star game watching the former NHLs skate circles around me.
Key Arena RFP
“Provide a world-class civic arena to attract and present music, entertainment, and sports events, potentially including NBA and NHL events, to Seattle and the region.”
Complete Teardown could be an option.
One of the more interesting pieces of the RFP is that the KeyArena structure could qualify
as an historic structure. If the arena is not determined to be a historical landmark, then responders can submit an alternative plan, which would open up the opportunity for a complete teardown. This would give the winning developer an opportunity to maximize the space, which would probably be more compelling to the leagues.
Compliance with NHL and NBA requirements
AEG and Oak View Group expected to respond
Both AEG and the Oak View group, led by former MLSE CEO Tim Leiweke, have confirmed they intend to respond to the RFP and and have said that they can rework the arena to
accommodate the NHL. AEG and Oak View Group have deep relationships with the NHL and should be considered very positive players in the pursuit of bringing the NHL and NBA to Seattle. It should be pointed out that neither of them will be owners of the NHL team in Seattle. (AEG owns the Kings and Oak View Group has financial ties to MSG, owners of the New York Rangers.) The leadership team at these organizations are as connected as it gets and could broker deals for would-be tenants at a remodeled KeyArena site.
As I do every year, I give out grades on how we did for the year across the three pillars of landing an NHL franchise, plus I throw in a bonus category of community. The categories are listed in priority order. A strong potential owner is the most important piece because they can influence the other categories.
We entered the year with only small rumblings of Victor Coleman still being involved in bringing the NHL to Seattle. (Victor Coleman first surfaced as a potential owner in May of 2014.) That about sums up where we are today. Victor Coleman has revealed that he is still interested in bringing a team to the Seattle area, but beyond that, we know nothing. The rumor is that Coleman and Hansen are no longer working together, but I‘ve never seen anything confirming that out of either Hansen or Coleman; so let’s just call it a unsubstantiated rumor…but more than likely true. Beyond that, the league has acknowledged that they are in contact with (undisclosed) potential NHL owners in Seattle. The reality is that there is very little incentive for an owner to go public until there is a reason to do so i.e. PR push to influence local municipalities to approve, oh, let’s say a street vacation. The fact that no potential NHL owner was advocating for the Occidental Street vacation makes me think that there is no real prospective NHL owner in on the SoDo project. I’ve heard of another group out there, but I’m not sure if these are early 2015 groups that bailed when the NHL opened up the expansion process back in mid-2015 or maybe a new group tied to the Leiwike-KeyArena remodel. Either way, it’s hard to dispute the old “Big hat, no cattle” reference by Elliott Friedman.
Grade: I (Incomplete) – With literally no (publically disclosed) progress since this time last year, I can’t give this grade anything but an Incomplete. The most discouraging piece of this is that a strong potential owner can influence everything in this entire process. This leaves us very little reason to be optimistic.
At the beginning of 2016, the Sodo arena was slowly marching toward the final stages to be shovel ready. The Final Environmental Impact Statement revealed no material issues and the project received approvals from the Design Commission and the Mayor of Seattle. Street vacations are common. The City has granted 32 street vacations to the Port of Seattle alone. Certainly a glowing FEIS, Design Commission and Mayor approval would certainly make this a slam dunk. As most you know by now, in a stunning blow to Seattle Basketball fans, the street vacation failed by a vote of 4-5. With a M.O.U. (Memorandum of Understand) expiring in less than 18 months and no team in site, the future of the SoDo arena appears in jeopardy. I claimed the Sodo Arena dead shortly after the vote since I saw no clear way how the city council might be convinced to approve the street vacation. In spite of this, the Hansen group appears to be determined to push onward in Sodo. Since the vote, the group has purchased two additional parcels of land, offered to go 100% private financing, and added Russell Wilson as a partner to the group.
None of this has really changed my stance on the prospects in Sodo. The 100% private finance offer to the City is much ado about nothing. The MOU already called for public financing on a condition that an NBA team is acquired. Since the NBA has been fairly clear that an NBA team is not coming to Seattle anytime soon, the project would have already needed to be 100% private. Wilson could help the PR efforts, but it seems a little foolish that a quarterback in the NFL could influence the City Council to approve the street more so than the residents.
Meanwhile, the Mayor acknowledge that he will be opening up the RFP process for a major remodel of the former home of the Seattle Supersonics, KeyArena, that could accommodate the standards of both the NBA and NHL. AEG and the Oakview group have acknowledged that they intend to bid on the RFP. The Oakview group is led by sports executive veteran, Tim Leiweke who back in 2013 while working for Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment said, “NHL has to get into Seattle when its arena built.” It appears he is taking matters into his own hands. The jury is still out if KeyArena could be retrofitted to a level that it could accommodate the NBA and NHL, but Leiweke acknowledged that he has been in contact with both the NBA & NHL on the plans for the KeyArena RFP.
On the positive side, it would appear that the failed street vacation vote could open opportunity for other options, whether it be KeyArena or some other location to be named later. The outcome is anyone’s guess.
Grade D – There are arena options. But after 5 years, Sodo feels dead and KeyArena seems very challenged to put it mildly. I would like to think that the arena options should shakeout in 2017, but I think I’ve been saying that for a couple years.
The NHL awarded an expansion team to Las Vegas in June and declined on Quebec City’s expansion bid. The Las Vegas franchise will begin play in the 2016-17 season, it will create a 31 team league with 16 in the Eastern and 15 in the Western Conference. Although the league will deny they need balance, a 31 team league doesn’t seem complete. Why the league declined Quebec City’s bid is not clear. Several articles referenced the weak Canadian dollar and at one time, Bill Daly referenced the league imbalance. Either way, the league is not going to wait forever on Seattle (or some other western team…i.e. Houston, Portland or Kansas City) and If the Canadian Dollar eventually improves against the US dollar, then Quebec City could be added to the league in short order.
Meanwhile, the future of the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh seems less stable every year which could provide a good solution for Quebec should Peter Karmanos not find a buyer willing to keep the team in Raleigh. Relocation will probably be a last resort considering the efforts the league made in keeping the Coyotes in Arizona.
Grade C – There is clearly a spot available for a 32nd team should an ownership group be able to figure out an arena solution in the Puget Sound. The exact path to getting an expansion team will remain unclear until some ownership group materializes.
First the downside: We’ve become cynical of city politics and alternative arena plans. A good portion of us have lost faith in landing an NHL franchise. Some of us love Sodo and think that Chris Hansen’s plan is the only chance we get while others think that Chris Hansen and is NBA focused Sodo arena are preventing us from landing a franchise. None of us really know what has been communicated between Hansen, the leagues, the city, etc. We are told to trust the process and be patient, but no one speaks to us, the hockey community. The Hansen group’s messaging has include references to landing an NHL team, but they very much speak to the Sonics fans. I get it, the rollercoaster ride has been nauseating and it has challenged our conviction.
Now the positive. This community continues to grow and a lot of us will see this thing through to the end, regardless how frustrated we might get. The NHL to Seattle
community visited 27 out of 30 arena’s last season and we continue to participate in the public hearing process. We also see our USA Hockey numbers in Washington state continue to climb, even when we have a severe shortage of rinks in the area. It is hard to quantify it, but the hockey and NHL fan community is gaining momentum.
Grade B – We are being tested by the process and it has become a challenge to see how an NHL team lands in Seattle. In spite of that, we are gaining momentum and the NHL is becoming a bigger part of the lexicon in the Seattle sports community. We lack the leadership that Hansen, the Nordstroms, and now Russell Wilson provide to the Sonics fans.