Roughly 6 months ago, the Seattle City Council declined the street vacation request by Chris Hansen by a vote of 5-4 that would have cleared the last governmental hurdle for the SoDo arena to become a reality. As you may recall, council members cited the amount of public financing as their reason for rejecting the street vacation. Yesterday, the Hansen group, in attempt to alleviate the city council concerns, proposed a plan that is seen by many as a possible game changer in the quest to bring the NBA back and the NHL to Seattle. The Hansen Group sent a letter to the Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, Seattle City Council, and King County Executive, Dow Constantine, that proposes to go 100% private for the arena and make up the short fall in the Lander overpass project. The proposal would essentially eliminate the MOU between Hansen, City of Seattle and King County which was dependent on public financing.
Eliminates the NBA first requirement
One of a conditions in the current MOU is that the public financing was conditional on the Hansen group procuring an NBA franchise. This was commonly referred to as the “NBA First” clause. Without the need for public financing, the NBA first scenario is no longer a requirement. This would be more of a symbolic change than an actual change since Hansen could have started building the Arena without a team and without the public financing….assuming he was successful in getting the street vacated. For the NHL first scenario, the bigger question is if Hansen can find a potential NHL owner/partner that would be able to take on more risk of the arena in case the NBA never pans out. Former Seattle Sonics owner and one of the partners in the Hansen Group, Wally Walker confirmed on KJR Sports Radio yesterday that he guesses (with a big emphasis on guess) that the NHL would more than likely come before the NBA expands to Seattle. Walker mentioned that the group continues to have preliminary talks with prospective NHL ownership groups.
The details on next steps are a little murky, but all signs point to another round of city council meetings and re-vote on the street vacation. Early estimates peg this City Council vote in December but in the history of this project, rarely do things hit the early estimates. I anticipate mid-January before this sees the inside of the City Council chambers. These news cycles go in waves so I would anticipate we will hear more from the Hansen camp over the next several weeks.
“The City will review the letter sent by a group of stakeholders, including Chris Hansen, suggesting a revision to the previous SODO arena proposal. We share the goal of bringing the NBA and NHL to Seattle. The City will continue to consider all options to build a new, state of the art arena that will accomplish that goal and that can serve the city for years to come.” – Seattle Mayor Ed Murray
Hearing progress on any arena plan is great news after the quietest 6 month period over the last 5 years of arena news. Even if the Mayor, City Council, and County agree to Hansen’s new proposal, that doesn’t guarantee us an NHL (or NBA) team. If they do start building without an NBA team, a potential NHL owner will more than likely need to take on significant risk on construction of the building. As far as we can tell, 3 potential NHL owners (Levin, Bartoszek, and Coleman) have not been able to agree to terms with Hansen so this appears to be a significant hurdle. Victor Coleman’s current status on this project remains unclear. He popped up in the news cycle about 2 years ago and we have heard very little about him since. The point is, it’s fine to have hope but we’ve been down this road a couple times, let’s not pop any champagne bottles just yet.
- Chris Daniels/King5 (first Reported): Seattle Arena group offers to privately finance arena, fix Lander Street
- Elliotte Friedman/Sportsnet: 30 Thoughts: A game-changing move in Seattle’s NHL bid?
- Greg Wyshynski/Yahoo: Chris Hansen will privately finance Seattle arena; NHL back in play?
The short answer is ‘Yes, SoDo arena is dead.’
As many of you know by now the Seattle City Council rejected the Occidental Street vacation in the SoDo district. This was largely thought to be the final hurdle in a 4-year process for Chris Hansen to have a shovel-ready arena site just south of Safeco field. Traditionally, street vacation votes with such a glowing Environmental Impact Statement are seen as formalities. But that was not the case…
City council members that voted against the street vacation claimed the threat to Port of Seattle jobs without any data or explanation on how the arena would impact their jobs. The council members that voted no on the street vacation also claimed that since there is no NBA team in site, that there is no need to vacate the street to Chris Hansen. This is circular logic since we will never get a team if we don’t have a clear path for an arena. The entire vote was just political theater to say ‘no’ and I feel that Councilmember Sawant’s statement was the only ‘no’ vote that was sincere and transparent. As much as I disagree with her vote, I respect her honesty.
When everything was said and done, you have a City Council that refused to approve a street vacation for an Arena that had an overwhelmingly positive Environmental Impact Study in a location has the land and infrastructure to support large events. There is no realistic scenario I can see the city council reversing course on that location. Unless there is some kind of Lord of Light possibility I don’t see, I am declaring the SoDo location dead. Additionally, I am fairly convinced that if the Seattle City Council won’t approve the SoDo site, there is a slim to none chance that they will approve any other site in the City limits.
As crazy as it sounds, the ‘no’ vote could be a blessing for an NHL team coming to Seattle. Chris Hansen has made it clear that he doesn’t want to own an NHL team, but he is open to partnering with a potential NHL owner for a possible NHL first scenario in regards to the arena. There are/were 3 potential ownership groups (Levin, Bartoszek, and Coleman), but none of them have been able to reach terms. Without the prospects of an NBA team coming to Seattle anytime soon, an NHL owner would be at the mercy of the NBA expansion/relocation plans. With the SoDo arena plans dead, this could enabled other potential NHL ownership groups and local municipalities to come up with alternative plans. If you recall, last summer there were 4 potential NHL expansion application requests from the Seattle area. It is possible that one or more of those groups have been waiting to see how the Sodo arena plans played out to determine their next move?
NHL Expansion Process
It is true that no Seattle group submitted an expansion application last June and that Bettman has been consistent in his messaging that Seattle will not be part of this expansion process. It is unclear how Seattle could get back in the discussion. The NHL is expected to announce expansion to Las Vegas and Las Vegas only which would create a league of 31 teams, 16 in the Eastern conference and 15 in the Western conference. This would give Seattle (or any other city) time to get their collective…stuff together for an arena plan and apply to the NHL to be that 32nd team. Wishful thinking, maybe but certainly a possibility.
In Gary Bettman’s annual state of the league address he said in no uncertain terms that Seattle will not be getting a team in the current expansion process. This was known and the league message has been consistent from the very beginning. This expansion process is about Quebec and Las Vegas, not Seattle. There have been several stories that bubble up from time to time that speculate that the league is dragging its feet on expansion while waiting on Seattle, but every time a story comes up the league denies it.
If you are with me and rooting for a team in Seattle, then our hope would be that the NHL chooses to expand by one team in this round of expansion, which would open the door for another team down the road. Several media outlets are “predicting” (aka speculating) that the scenario could play out with Las Vegas landing a franchise and Quebec City being left out in the cold as a relocation option. The Canadian Dollar is just too weak for an expansion team in Quebec City. It wasn’t too long ago when the NHL was assisting all Canadian teams outside of Montreal and Toronto.
What does this all mean for Seattle? Not much. Nothing has materially changed since the 3 potential ownership groups in Seattle missed the NHL expansion application deadline last July. It appears that there are still groups trying to get an NHL team in Seattle, but we’ve heard very little from any of the camps, so it is not clear if any option will emerge anytime soon.
Bettman’s comments yesterday have changed nothing since Seattle missed the deadline and was consistent with the grades I handed out for the year. I know this will be a great market for the NHL and I am optimistic that the Greater Seattle Area will land an NHL team eventually. The biggest hurdle to landing a team has always been an arena. Without a clear arena solution in either SoDo, Tukwila, Bellevue, or who knows where else, this remains the major blocker for even the optimist in me. This news cycle can be brutal on us at times, but NHL-to-Seattle remains committed for the long haul and is not going away anytime soon. We continue to provide fair and balanced assessments of our situation as the NHL-to-Seattle community continues to grow and thrive.
I am giving out grades for 2015 and it is not pretty. I am optimistic on Seattle getting an NHL team but we have work to do.
Last year at this time the outlook for a potential NHL franchise in Seattle was looking promising. The NHL approved Las Vegas to begin a Season Ticket drive. And the Sodo arena process was expected to wrap up during the first part of the year.
At the start of 2015, Victor Coleman was the only known prospective NHL owner for a Seattle franchise with a likely partnership with Chris Hansen’s Sodo project. The optimists were convinced that Hansen and Coleman were working on an agreement and the moment the NHL decides to expand, they would go public with their plan. As the year would go on, two additional ownership groups would emerge. In the first quarter of 2015, Ray Bartoszek would reemerge as a potential NHL owner in Seattle but it would not be at the Sodo location. Instead, his focus was on the Tukwila location. Shortly after the Bartoszek group news, another interested group in team ownership in Bellevue headed by Jac Sperling was reportedly looking to build an arena in Bellevue. The NHL season would go on with very few details or public comments from any of the 3 reported ownership groups. In mid-June, just after the Season concluded, the NHL would formally announce that they would enter an expansion process. It was reported that 4 groups from the Seattle area requested an NHL Expansion application. It was assumed that 3 of the 4 would be Coleman, Bartozek, and Sperling. The 4th ownership group would never be identified. The NHL Expansion Application deadline came and went with exactly zero application submissions from the Seattle area. The Sperling group disappeared or more accurately never really fully appeared. In spite of missing the NHL expansion deadline, both Bartoszek and Coleman pledged their commitment to bring a team to the area. Neither group was very publicly transparent in their progress throughout the year. Towards the end of 2015, the prospects of a Bartoszek group and Tukwila location coming together start to fade with a report that a major investor walked away on the Tukwila plan. This would end 2015 just like we started. All hope lives and dies with Victor Coleman, who we can only hope remains convicted on his plans to bring an NHL team to Seattle.
Grade: I (for incomplete) It remains unclear on the progress and potential of any of these ownership groups. The optimists says, there is no need for Coleman to reveal his progress and he will emerge when he needs to come public. The pessimists says the silence is defining…this project is dead.
2015 was supposed to be the year the Sodo Arena ran through all their final approvals, studies and the “Seattle process”. Early in the year, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray would renew his support for the Sodo arena. He would make a visit to New York to meet with Gary Bettman and Adam Silver to give an update on Sodo and pledge support to bring an NHL and/or NBA team to Seattle. Meanwhile, high-level arena proposals would be reported for Tukwila and Bellevue. These new arenas would be noticeably behind in the approval process compared to the Seattle arena, but both municipalities have a quicker approval process, thus giving both locations have a legitimate chance at competing with Sodo. Noticeable progress would be made on the Tukwila option which would start to emerge as a front runner to be the future home of a NHL franchise. Similar to Bellevue ownership group, details on the Bellevue arena option would never emerge. The thought of a Bellevue Arena had Eastsiders salivating and could have been the best unicorn that ever unicorned in this storyline. By year’s end, the Tukwila arena progress would slow and appears to be dying a slow death.
On the Sodo front, the final Environmental Impact Study was published with glowing reviews of public benefit and no material impact to port traffic. The Port of Seattle would continue their anti-Arena campaigning without any supporting evidence. Sodo would obtain necessary approvals from the Design Commission and Mayor Murray would end the year by sending the project to the Seattle City Council for final approval of vacating a side street necessary for the Arena. Although the final approval of the Sodo arena took much longer than expected, it appears it is on the final approach. Once it clears this final political hurdle, unfortunately, the path to build remains muddy without the prospects of either an NBA or NHL team.
Grade: D I respect all the work that was done by Hansen and Bartoszek but like the ownership group, we start 2016 exactly how we started 2015. With a reported 3 different options you would have expected at least one to emerge to be shovel ready or at least have a clear path to completion. It is still not clear how Sodo gets done without an NBA Team coming first and an NBA team seems over 5 years away.
The third pillar to getting a NHL team is actually landing a team. This can be done either through relocation or expansion. People that know me or have followed me long enough know that I have never been a fan of relocation. I believe in this sport too much to concede a market due to an ownership setback or poor performance on the ice. That said, it would be a disservice to ignore the potential of relocation.
Relocation – Entering the year, the public perception was that the Coyotes and the Panthers were potential relocation targets. The Coyotes were mid-way through their second year of 10 year agreement (with an out clause after 5 years). Meanwhile, the Florida Panthers were in the middle of their first full season with their new ownership group headed by Vincent Viola. The Coyotes were making progress on their turnaround, but struggles on the ice would make things tougher to hit the forecasted revenues that would be paid back to the City of Glendale. Although not directly tied to the Glendale revenue shortcomings, the City would cancel their 10-year agreement with the Arizona Coyotes leaving the future of the team in limbo. The city and team would eventually sign a 2 year agreement that would enable the team to continue playing at Gila River Casino Arena. Where the team plays after that remains unclear, but odds are they stay in the desert and play in a new arena in either Scottsdale or downtown Phoenix. Back to Florida, the Panthers ownership group remained committed to staying in South Florida. The group began seeing improvements in attendance and remained committed to building a solid team on the ice. Separately, the Panthers negotiated a new agreement with Broward County that would keep the Panthers in Florida through 2028. The year would end with neither team looking like relocation candidates for the immediate term.
Expansion – They NHL would formally launch an expansion process over the summer. As noted above, the deadline would come and go without a potential Seattle area ownership group applying for expansion. This was the opportunity Seattle was waiting for and by all intents and purposes, ready for. The awarding of expansion franchises has been slower than the public (aka media) expected, leaving some folks to speculate that the NHL is waiting for a group in Seattle to develop a legitimate plan. This seems like a little bit of wishful thinking, but the longer the NHL drags out its decision on expansion, the more opportunity it gives Seattle to get their arena and ownership ducks in a row.
Grade: B+ There are teams (via expansion) available. Has the door shut on Seattle for one of those teams? Maybe, but time will tell.
The NHL to Seattle community had a great year. This scrappy grassroots community continues to evolve, which surprises me every year. We received check-ins from several rinks across the league (and world). The community practically demanded t-shirts and I’ve had to reorder multiple times and have expanded “product lines” based on community interest. We had our first annual playoff viewing party, expanded our opening day challenge, and had our first holiday party.
Grade: A+ I may be biased here, but seeing how this community has grown and evolved since 2012, there is no other grade possible.
We had some rather big expectations but this is tremendously complex. A lot of work has been done to get us to this point and without a viable arena plan, the path to landing a franchise remains unclear. I remain optimistic but I also don’t want people assuming this is going to happen anytime soon. This community has been outstanding and we need to continue to grow to make our voices heard to local politicians, the NHL, and potential owners.
It’s been a while since I have posted anything here. I figured we all needed a cooling off period after the NHL application deadline came and passed with no Seattle applicants. It was rumored (but not confirmed) that 4 of the 16 NHL expansion application requests came from the Seattle area. The details of why no one from the region actually applied for expansion were never revealed. Revealed through spokespersons and local press, at least 2 Seattle parties (Coleman/Sodo & Bartoszek/Tukwilla) of the 4 vowed to continue their pursuit of an Arena/NHL franchise.
At the end of the deadline, only Quebec City and Las Vegas submitted their applications by the league mandated deadline of July 20th. It looked as if all was lost for Seattle and yet another chapter of our unsuccessful attempts at landing an NHL team could be written. However…there have been a couple items of interest that have popped up recently.
The Seattle arena project located in SoDo (Hansen/Coleman) cleared some expected, but critical hurdles. Early last month, the Seattle Downtown Design Review Board gave final approval on the Seattle Arena and 2 days later the Seattle Design Commission unanimously approved the public benefit of the project. This will require a final vote by Seattle City Council which should occur sometime in December. This should not be a contentious issue as the City Council usually takes the recommendation of the Design Review Board. Too little, too late? Maybe…but moving forward reduces any friction for any future opportunities. One thing we might get out of this final vote is to hear if Hansen and/or Coleman have a strategy to make the NHL or NBA team happen. As far as I know, the MOU is written for a basketball-first scenario, but that is only upon the condition of funding, so technically, Hansen (with help) could start building as soon as this final city council vote is made (and passed).
Key Arena study
Last week King5 reported that the Seattle City Council commissioned a study (back in 2012) to look at options on what to do with Key Arena. One of those potential options was to renovate the Key to make it compliant to both NHL and NBA standards for an estimated price tag of $285M. This was just one of the options the consulting firm came up with regarding the site. With more questions than answers, I think it is safe to say this probably won’t happen for a variety of reasons. Who pays the $285M? Would a potential NBA or NHL owner want to play at the Key? Would the league(s) even approve it as a potential site? Oh, and there is that entire traffic thing. I give this a generous 5% chance of getting legs, so don’t get that wound up about the Seattle City Council (of 2012) for just doing some level of due diligence.
In spite of Gary Bettman’s attempts to lower NHL fans expectations for expansion, most of us assumed that expanding by two was pretty much a done deal. With two strong applicants, it appeared that Quebec City and Las Vegas shooting on empty nets to get teams. They both have a great shot of getting teams, but skepticism started creeping in the media in early September. Sportsnet, The Globe and Mail and Washington Post ran stories on why NHL expansion is no done deal. After the BOG meeting this week, Bettman reaffirmed the “no timetable”, “lot of work” & “no guarantee” regarding expansion. This triggered Seattle to start bleeding back into the conversation.
Pierre Lebrun ran a story that theorized Seattle could get back into the race with this little snippet.
“the NHL has said that if it does expand, it could be by only one team (read: Las Vegas) for now. Which, by the way, would give Seattle more time to get its act together.”
Then, Boston Bruins outspoken owner Jeremy Jacobs threw a little more cold water at the expansion talk with a little complimentary statement about Seattle.
“I’d love to see us in the West to be up in Seattle. Seattle’s a natural, and I would love to see one in Houston, but we can’t get into that building.”
The big question around Quebec appears to be if the market can handle the weak Canadian Dollar. It wasn’t too long ago that the NHL was offering up financial relief to all Canadian teams outside of the Montreal and Toronto. To be clear, I would still prefer to be in Quebec or Las Vegas shoes so don’t get your hopes up here.
We will need to wait and see on how these things shake out. I am convinced that the longer this thing drags out, the better Seattle’s chances. In the meantime, let’s rally this hockey community and try to enjoy the WHL and NHL seasons for a while before we start speculating on what is going on behind the scenes.
Full disclosure: This is somewhat recycled content but wanted to update some of the maps I have done with the news from yesterday.
As most of you know, the bulk of the population is located in Seattle and the East Side (Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Sammamish). The Tukwila site is roughly equal distance for the two locations. One clear advantage is the ability to tap into the Tacoma market (the third biggest city in Washington State).
Now population does not create a market itself. You need customers that fit the demographic and one of those core components is income. I have already established that NHL fans tend to be wealthier compared to other sports fans. Similar to an approach I did a few months ago, I overlaid income levels by looking at tax returns by zip code. Below is a map of the # of returns that had an Adjusted Gross Income over $75,000.
Travel distance tolerance
As luck would have it, I conducted a survey about a month ago and asked the following question: If Seattle were to get an NHL team, how many miles would you be willing to travel (drive, public transit, etc.) to a game? To my surprise, a majority of respondents said they would travel over 15 miles (red box in dashboard below). Here is the break down by county:
Here are a few of the distances to some of the proxy arenas in the NHL and NBA.
- 11 Miles from downtown Seattle.
- 14 Miles from downtown Bellevue.
- 23 Miles from downtown Tacoma.
Canadian Tire Center, home of the Ottawa Senators:
- 16.6 Miles from downtown Ottawa
St. Paul MN, home of the Minnesota Wild:
- 12.4 Miles from Minneapolis
The Palace at Auburn Hills, home of the Detroit Pistons:
- 33 Miles from Detroit
Glendale AZ, home of the Arizona Coyotes:
- 10 Miles from Phoenix
- 21 Miles from Scottsdale
- 27 Miles from Mesa
Sunrise FL, home of the Florida Panthers
- Sunrise, FL is 31.2 Miles from Miami
On a personal note, I grew up going to Oakland A’s games, a lot of them. The distance we traveled seemed very reasonable. Traffic seemed bad but just something we lived with to go to games. I looked up the distance and it was 20 miles with a good stretch on the parking lot known as I-680. I did not live in San Francisco Area when the Sharks moved to San Jose but occasionally I would be visiting my family while the Sharks were in town and we would catch a game. That distance we would drive was 55 Miles. This just seemed like a normal distance to drive to watch a game.