A couple podcasts and YouTube video

Just a quick note that I made appearances on a couple podcast over the last two weeks to talk hockey and arenas. If you are like me and itching for any and all hockey news out of Seattle, this might help fill the void because things are pretty quiet right now.

Hockey talk in Seattle

The first podcast was on Chris Cashman and Chris Daniels “The Next Best Podcast”.

The second podcast was segment of a longer podcast on the Seattle Growth Podcast.

If you like local podcasts, you should definitely subscribe to both of them.

Hockey history in Seattle

A friend sent me this video that has a lot of archived footage and information on the history of pro hockey in Seattle. Very cool and gets me pretty pumped up to see the NHL come here.

KeyArena remodel will support NBA/NHL

There has been some concerns raised about KeyArena becoming a music only venue that would essentially lock out the Sonics and the NHL. The concern appeared to originate from a Wall Street Journal article that was quoted and magnified by a local article.
The Oak View Group’s Lance Lopes addressed some concerns raised by the WSJ article:
“Our long term vision includes music, professional sports, and special events,” Lance Lopes, director of special projects for the Oak View Group, who is leading local efforts on the bid, said Friday in response to the article. “The new arena at Seattle Center will accommodate and seek out a wide variety of entertainment rich experiences. Music though is the programming we can count on when we open the doors to the new arena at Seattle Center.”
There still seems to be a little fear by a small percent of fans that worry this could be a ruse to be a music only venue, but I figured I would address it.

The RFP

First of all, the KeyArena RFP calls out NBA and NHL in the first sentence of the City-of-Seattle-Logointroduction and called out on the first objective of the list of City’s Arena Objectives. so clearly the city is making that a priority when seeking proposals.  The RFP also calls for “Confirmation that the proposed conceptual design(s) are intended to comply with NBA and NHL requirements for potential future tenancy.” It seems counterproductive to think that Seattle Partners and OVG would go to great lengths (and cost) to be NBA and NHL compliant, with the intent to never housing teams from those leagues.

Expectations from the leagues

As much as we would love to have the leagues come out and say “If you build it, we will come”, we all know that will never happen. In fact, both leagues are probably tired of answering questions about Seattle. It’s noise that takes away from their product. They want fans and journalists talking about the Stanley Cup Playoffs and NBA playoffs; not franchises that don’t exist and might never exist, if we don’t get an arena. It is crystal clear that the leagues will expand when they are ready and without a built (or half-built) arena we don’t stand a chance of getting a team. Although we have not seen anything directly, we have heard that the bidders (Seattle Partners & OVG) have been in regular contact with both leagues to make sure they are meeting the league requirements in the RFP. It might be wishful thinking, but my hope is that both bidders have validation of compliance with league requirements with a letter from both the NBA and NHL.

The top grossing concert venues.

According to this article from Billboard Magazine in 2015 of the list of the world’s 10 Top-Grossing Concert Venues, 4 of the 6 North American properties on the list have both NBA and NHL franchise.
Top grossing venues
I am not an expert in Arena economics but I think it is fair to say that having only a few tenants (NHL, Sonics & Storm) that book half the calendar is a good thing and the list of top grossing concert venues supports that claim.

Oak View Group round up and Bettman comments on Seattle

The Oak View Group’s Tim Leiweke was in town and made a couple key stops to speak with sea_key_arena_entrthe 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 horizontimliewikeandgb 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

Later in the day, Chris Daniels from King5 published this article. The story line was similar to the Times piece with a couple added thoughts. (full interview posted here.)

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.

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.

The homestretch for the Sodo Arena

I will cut to the chase really quickly. The SoDo Arena project has one last hurdle to be shovel ready. Here are two things you can do to help out:

  1. Sign the SonicsArena petition.
  2. Show up to the Seattle City Council public hearing on the Street Vacation at Occidental on March 15th.

For a little more narrative…keep reading.

The Seattle Arena project in SoDo that was kicked off around December of 2011 is closing in on the final steps for approval. The only remaining obstacle is a city council vote on a street vacation of a stretch of Occidental just south of Safeco field. The city council vote is being projected on an estimated date of April 24th with an important public hearing on March 15th.  The street vacation was part of the 2-year Environmental Impact Study (EIS) that found no major findings that would stand in the way of arena construction. The streetSeattleArena vacation has already received recommendations / approvals from the Seattle Design Commission, Downtown Design Review Board, Seattle Department of Transportation, and the Mayor as part of the normal process with the City Council vote. It is seen as the last step before filing for a Master Use Permit to begin construction. Sonics Rising published an great article on what being shovel ready means to the leagues.

The Port of Seattle and the Mariners claim that vacating that block will have a big impact on traffic. I ventured down there to snap some photos over the course of a couple days of all the traffic on that street that will be diverted elsewhere.

 

As you can see, there is not much, if any, traffic that will be impacted, but you should not take a post of phone pictures as proof there is no traffic. You should take the word of a 600+ page Final Environmental Impact study that took close to 2 years that says with some mitigations that there will be minimal economic impact.

NHL impacts

Even though the SoDo arena is being driven by an NBA group led by Chris Hansen, that group has maintained a desire to house an NHL team, as well. Over a year ago, it was reported that Victor Coleman is the potential NHL franchise owner that was looking to partner with Hansen. Coleman has remained quiet on his intentions and dealings with Hansen. Less than 30 days ago he pretty much said no comment to a Business Journal interview on the status of his desire to bring an NHL team to Seattle, but it is clear he has not abandoned the efforts. There has been some speculation that Coleman is waiting for the final vote before going public with his intentions of reaching a deal with Chris Hansen. This might be a little wishful thinking, but we should find out soon.

The bottom line is that the only way Seattle gets a team is if they have a solid arena plan. The Sodo site remains the furthest arena project along and the only one that appears to be moving forward.

 MOU and an NHL first scenario

As many of you are aware, the current Memorandum of Understanding calls for an NBA team before any of the $120M in city bond funding will kick in. What that means in a case of an NHL first scenario is still an open question. It could mean that under the current MOU, an NHL first scenario the arena would need to be entirely privately financed. It could also mean that the MOU would need to be amended to accommodate an NHL first scenario. I am certain the players involved certainly know the steps required to start building and are keeping the matter quiet until we get passed the street vacation vote.

RMHC Hockey Challenge 2016

Once again 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. 1063679_100150506978_990452666_nThe 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 27th at ShoWare Arena in conjunction with the Seattle Thunderbirds-Everett Silvertips 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.

 Please help me out by contributing here at my fundraising page.

 Just $10 dollars can go a long way.

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Seattle is not part of the expansion process..but we knew that already

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 bettman_gary640the 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 screen-shot-2015-06-03-at-91053-amteam 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.

2015 NHL to Seattle Report Card

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.

Owner:

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,raybartoszek-300x285 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 walkedColemanVictor8475_sb10_750 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.

Arena:

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 Populationmunicipalities 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.

Team:

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 200px-Phoenix_Coyotes.svgafter 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.

Community

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 final 20151012bcommunity 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.