Seattle is ready for the NBA and NHL

From Brian Robinson and John Barr

Seattle’s rapid and inspiring growth over the last decade has placed our city atop many important lists. For example:

Even as we enjoy this unprecedented regional growth and the opportunities it has brought, we still find ourselves with another very dubious distinction: Seattle is the largest city in the United States without a winter professional sports franchise. It is long past time for this to change.

The City of Seattle is very close to formalizing an agreement with the Oak View Group (OVG) that would transform historic Key Arena into a world-class modern sports venue, paving the way for the return of the NBA and the introduction of an NHL team. The City Council will vote on a proposed memorandum of understanding (MOU) on December 4.

After years of waiting, Seattle sports fans, and countless businesses that will benefit from our new teams, should be ready to celebrate.

Why now?

 Seattle is an ideal location for an NHL franchise. It’s bigger than 15 of the current 31 cities with NHL teams. A Seattle franchise would also add geographical balance. The league’s recent expansion to Las Vegas leaves the NHL with 15 teams in the Western Conference, compared to 16 in the Eastern Conference.   Meanwhile, Seattle’s growing economy, and its strong basketball tradition, will ultimately call for a return of the NBA.

However, the commissioners of both the NHL and NBA have made it clear in their public statements that Seattle must build a world-class arena to house any prospective new franchises.

“I have no concern that the building proper won’t meet our requirements,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver told the Seattle Times in a recent interview, adding that serious discussions can’t begin until an arena gets built.  The article goes on to say that Silver wouldn’t bet against Leiweke getting something done. “He’s always delivered in all of my business dealings with him.”

Knowing that time is of the essence, OVG’s construction schedule will result in the new building opening in October of 2020.  And OVG’s rebuild would produce a facility capable of attracting the NBA when a franchise becomes available.

Why Seattle Center?

Seattle Center is a cherished historic showcase for our city. A new arena on the campus would fit the broader revitalization that city leaders have envisioned for many years. Along with Seattle Storm basketball, an NHL and NBA team will complement the vibrant music, theater, and performing arts events at Seattle Center, expanding the versatile spectrum of activity that reflects Seattle’s diverse community and lively culture. The OVG project has the support of surrounding communities and local government.  After years of conflict with potential arena neighbors it is exciting to see neighborhoods including Uptown, SLU, Queen Anne, and Belltown engaged in a thoughtful process aimed at building the community’s support and expectations into the revitalization of Seattle Center campus.

Why OVG?

 OVG is a world leader in the arena, sports and entertainment industries. Few people in the world possess the deep relationships across the NHL, the NBA, and the music industry that Tim Leiweke and his team bring to the table.  OVG’s point person in Seattle is Lance Lopes who has been in leadership roles with the Seahawks, Sounders and Huskies since 2001.  Lopes is a great leader for this effort who knows the Seattle sports landscape as well as anyone.

OVG has demonstrated the ability to deliver a world-class arena that will be successful for decades to come. Perhaps most importantly, OVG has proactively reached out to community members to build collaborative relationships. The OVG team in Seattle has hosted and attended several public events to hear input and concerns of neighborhoods, Seattle Center tenants, labor unions, local businesses, fans, and other stakeholders.

Over the last decade, we have seen that building a world-class arena capable of bringing back the NBA and attracting the NHL is an incredibly difficult and complex task.  OVG has the expertise and business savvy required to work with the City’s multiple constituencies and address the specific needs of major sports leagues.

The OVG team is ready to take the first step toward restoring Seattle’s place among the ranks of great American sports towns. Fans of pro basketball and hockey should recognize this great opportunity and look forward to many nights of professional basketball and hockey in the years ahead.

-Brian Robinson and John Barr

An open letter to Chris Hansen: Please openly endorse the Seattle Center Arena Plan

Dear Mr. Hansen,

I’ve been attending your rallies, participating at City and County Council meetings, and supporting your efforts online for the better part of the last 6 years. I was at the unfortunate Occidental Street vacation vote. And, like a lot of Sonics and hockey fans in the area, I was devastated by the outcome.  

Tuesday night, I could not make it to the City Council meeting. I was in Las Vegas attending the first ever Las Vegas Golden Knights home opener game and it was an amazing experience. I had goose bumps from the second they took the ice. It was also very emotional for all the locals as they looked to hockey to help them heal. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as the announcer named the first responders accompanied by the Golden Knight players. I’ve been to a lot of great sporting events in my life including a Super Bowl, World Series and NBA Playoff game, but none that compared to that game. It reminded me how powerful sports can be in bringing people together.

Your priority is the Sonics and mine is bringing an NHL team to Seattle. I have no issues with our differences in priorities, which made it so refreshing to hear you say that you are open to two arenas. Which is why I am asking you to openly endorse the Seattle Center Arena Plan by OVG and not request any further postponements by the City Council.  

As you may not know, I am on the city’s Arena Community Advisory group for the Seattle Center Arena Plan I am familiar with the process and OVG’s MOU.  In addition to suggesting a delay in the City Council vote on the OVG MOU, some of the comments made by you during your Seattle visit earlier in the week are not correct.  Namely, your statement about OVG’s proposal including a “fair amount of public financing.”

Because OVG has been able to identify NHL owners and because the Seattle Center Arena Plan is under serious consideration because it’s a strong proposal, Seattle is so very close to gaining the interest of the NHL to expand a team here. By openly endorsing the Seattle Center Arena Plan and not delaying voting, you will build some goodwill with the City Council and it could buy you some time to address the outstanding issues with your SoDo Project. A Seattle Center Arena could also provide an opportunity with a shorter runway of time to bringing the Sonics back should a team become available. Isn’t that what you have said your primary goal is – to bring back the Sonics? Additionally, by supporting Seattle hockey fans by helping them bring a team to town you will surely win their support in your continued efforts to bring the Sonics back.

Please don’t hinder Seattle’s chances of getting an NHL franchise. The league will eventually look for other options, if we fail to start building an arena. I love the Seahawks, Storm, Sounders, Reign, and Mariners, but the NHL is my passion. I am not alone. Please give NHL fans in the area the sense of community that sports provide.

If you are truly open to two arenas, as you mentioned, then I encourage you to send a letter to the City Council in immediate support of the Seattle Center Arena Plan.

Sincerely,

John Barr

NHLtoSeattle

Bigger than Hockey. #vegasstrong

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SoDo is Dead

I know there are a lot of folks that wanted to see the SoDo site be the location of Seattle’s arena to host NHL and NBA teams, but the door seems to have been closed indefinitely as the City of Seattle shared that they will not be re-voting on the Occidental Street Vacation that the Hansen would need to build their arena in SoDo.SeattleArena

I have said SoDo is dead before and nothing has really changed my mind since I originally posted in May of 2016. That post was before KeyArena was brought up as an option. It was clear to me that the current City Council decided that SoDo is not where they wanted another sports facility to be built. Since that post, nothing has materially changed. Hansen offered to forego his $130M in public financing for the street vacation, but that was much ado about nothing. It didn’t go over well, but I chalked this up as “no news” news. The financing has always been tied to Hansen procuring an NBA team and since the NBA has made it clear that they were not expanding before the MOU was set to expire, the financing was a non-issue.

The reasons for the unwillingness for the city to revisit the street vacation could be any combination of the following reasons:

  1. No money. When Ballmer left the group that eliminated Hansen’s majority owner/partner. Hansen could have addressed this, but, for whatever reason, hasn’t added any investors to his group. Now it is relatively impossible to replace a significant partner, like Ballmer, with over a billion in net worth. As far as I can tell, the City doesn’t grant street vacation on speculation that a company, organization or individual can attract more investors. The city expects to see all the financing in order before a street is vacated.
  2. No NHL partner. It’s no secret that the NHL is ready to expand before the NBA. Many sources have made that clear. Over a year ago, Hansen’s partner, Wally Walker confirmed that the Hansen group has continued to talk to prospective NHL owners but in 6+ years, they have not been able to bring any of them on board.
  3. Politics. Yep, flat out politics. It is easy to blame the Port of Seattle, since they were the most vocal opponent over the last 5 years. The Mariners & Seahawks were also quiet opponents of the SoDo arena plans. Those are 3 powerful groups that are difficult to overcome.
  4. Relationship with the NBA. For years there have been rumors & reports that Hansen’s relationship with the NBA has some challenges. The city has acknowledged that they have been in communication with both the NBA and NHL during the KeyArena RFP process to make sure it is viable. If this relationship issue did exist, it is certainly conceivable that the NBA would have confirmed it to the City of Seattle during these conversations.
  5. KeyArena has become viable. At the time of the Occidental Street Vacation vote, KeyArena was not really talked about as a viable option to host the NBA and NHL. outsideSince then, the City issued an RFP and got two responses to redevelop KeyArena from two power houses in the industry that have deep ties to the NBA and NHL, AEG and OVG. Both RFP responses confirmed that KeyArena could be redeveloped into a building to support NHL and NBA. The city confirmed that the Mayor’s Office were in communication with both leagues on the viability of the proposals.

KeyArena or Bust

The demise of SoDo leaves only one option for an NHL/NBA arena, a revamped KeyArena. NBA aside and focusing on the NHL, with the addition of Vegas this year, the NHL is set at 31 teams with 15 teams in the west and 16 in the east. This would imply 1 additional opening for an expansion franchise. The league will not wait for Seattle forever, especially with interest starting to percolate in Houston and Kansas City, both of which could plug and play fairly easily in the western conference and already have existing arenas. With no other options in the Seattle area, it looks like KeyArena is our only hope to see the NHL here anytime soon. There are certainly other scenarios that could play out, but it feels like our window of opportunity is now, otherwise we might be waiting a long time for an NHL team.

inside-Hockey

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.

Seattle Partners pull out of KeyArena bid process

Seattle Partners, a partnership between AEG and Hudson Pacific, announced in a formal letter to the City of Seattle that they would be pulling out of the KeyArena remodel process. On the surface, it appeared to be a surprise, but to those of us that have been following the story for a while know that AEG was on the cusp of losing the bid anyway. They could have bowed out gracefully, but they decided to take a scorched earth approach to announcing their exit.

The mayor responded to the letter with a statement of his own:

Ed Murray

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray

“It is unfortunate Seattle Partners chose to pull their proposal. As recently as May 19th, Seattle Partners stated in a mass email: ‘We applaud the City for executing a thoughtful public process. Engaging with teams from the City and the public has strengthened our proposal and crystallized our approach.’ We hope to continue our current relationship with AEG and look forward to addressing our path forward on KeyArena, as well as our commitment to engage the community, in the coming days.”

 

And then there was one…at KeyArena

That leaves OVG as the remaining bidder on the KeyArena remodel. It has been rumored that we were going to hear an announcement as early as this week. John Shannon from Sportsnet tweeted that OVG would be in town on Monday (the 5th).

Sodo and KeyArena

Assuming OVG can strike a deal with the City, this will now set the stage for a SoDo/KeyArena showdown that should really be interesting. There are so many differentoutside dynamics at play here; it is impossible to predict. Ultimately, I believe it will come down to the following questions:

Who has the money to build the arena? As part of the KeyArena RFP process, OVG needed to demonstrate the financial means to deliver on the project. Meanwhile, the Hansen group has not revealed how they are financially structured since Ballmer left the group.

Which arena group has support of the leagues? There has been a lot of speculation that Hansen does not have the support of the NBA, but that has never been confirmed by the NBA. Time heals all wounds, so if this really is an issue, it could be fixed. OVG’s CEO, Tim Leiweke has deep ties to both the NBA and NHL, so his relationships seem solid. That said, I expect the City of Seattle to be in contact with both leagues to confirm either or both potential arena partners have the support from both leagues.

Who has a potential NHL ownership group? Both groups have acknowledged that they are talking to potential NHL ownership groups and for all we know, they could be talking to the same groups. Maybe a bigger question is how much this needs to be solidified to decide SoDo vs. KeyArena.SeattleArena

Has Hansen done enough to alter the vote on a street vacation? Since the street vacation vote was denied by the city council last year, Hansen has announced his intent to pull the need for public financing. In my eyes, that is a moot point since the public financing was always tied to procuring an NBA franchise, which was not going to happen before the MOU expires in December.

How this all plays out is anyone’s guess, but it certainly feels like we are closer to getting a viable arena plan that can support an NBA and NHL team. Take that last sentence with a grain of salt, since I’ve said that before.

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.

Sodo opponents still lack facts

Since the very beginning of the Seattle Arena plan, the most vocal opponents have been the Port of Seattle and Seattle Mariners.  In the 3 years I have been following the story, they have never produced one piece of data or evidence that the Stadium district cannot sustain a pro sports arena.

Port of Seattle

The port claims that the street vacation will negatively affect the flow of traffic for shipments in and out of terminal 46. In the 3 years of their opposition, we have never seen any data to support their claims of rhetoric and objections.

Here are some ideas we should be asking the port:

  • What does the seasonality look like of your container traffic at terminal allegedly impacted by the street vacation?
  • What does daily traffic flow look like by hour?
  • How long does it take to get a container off a boat? how long does it take to get loaded on a truck? How does this compare to the potential traffic caused by vacating Occidental Ave?
  • How long does it take a loaded truck to get in and out of the port, once inside? How far is the typical distance a truck takes the container once outside the port? How long does that take?
  • How does the port function during the 81 Mariner games a year?

The Mariners

The Mariners opposition is disheartening to say the least. Obviously the NBA and NHL play opposite of baseball season and the overlap can be mitigated like it is done in Philadelphia where all 4 teams play in one location. Additionally, the Mariners average sodosports comps50% higher than projected arena attendance than the Sodo Arena so it is illogical to think that a Mariner game of 30,000 can work in Sodo but a basketball or hockey game of 17,000 would impact the Port. The reality is the Mariners are scared. They’ve had continued sliding attendance and realize that another sports team in town could and should be considered a competitive threat to their marginal product.

SonicsArena Group

In the meantime, the SonicsArena group has gone in front of countless city council and committee meetings, gone through a 2 year Environmental Impact Study with public transparency through the entire process. The results of the study have concluded that the Sodo Arena will have no material impact on the Port that is supported by data.