Seattle Thunderbirds are WHL Champions

Not much to do with brining the NHL to Seattle but as anyone who follows me on twitter or facebook, knows I love promoting local hockey including our 2 WHL teams. I thought I would do a quick shout out to our Seattle Thunderbirds on winning their first WHL championship in their 40 year franchise history. Tim Pigulski had a great write up of the thrilling game 6 of the Final.

Love seeing the twitter love for the Thunderbirds.


NHL teams got in on the action.

Even the Governor and Mayor offered up their congratulations…

Let’s not forget some Tbird alumni…


2 proposals for KeyArena RFP process

As you have probably seen by now, two groups have submitted their responses to the City of Seattle’s Request for Proposal (RFP) to renovate KeyArena into a world-class entertainment facility that could someday accommodate the return of the Sonics and the arrival of an NHL franchise. Seattle Partners (AEG & Hudson Pacific) and Oak View Group delivered some stunning proposals; exceeding most people’s expectations on what could be done with the KeyArena site. It would be premature to do so, but neither group announced any potential NBA and NHL ownership groups. I am sure neither league would appreciate implying expansion while both leagues have said (at least publicly) that they are not expanding.

Oak View Group

The Oak View Group is spearheaded by none other than Tim Leiweke who has a long and healthy resume working for NBA and NHL clubs. Most notably he was the CEO and President of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment, the parent organization of the Toronto Raptors and Maple Leaf Sports.

Their proposal:

  • Cost of Project: $564M
  • Square Footage: 660,000
  • NBA Capacity: 18,350
  • NHL Capacity: 17,100
  • Public Financing: None

Seattle Partners

AEG & Hudson Pacific have come together to submit a bid as Seattle Partners. If you recall, AEG is majority owner of the Los Angeles Kings and minority interest owner in the Los Angeles Lakers. Victor Coleman, CEO of Hudson Pacific, has been clear on his intent to bring an NHL team to Seattle.
Their proposal:
  • Cost of Project: $520M
  • Square Footage: 600,000
  • NBA Capacity: 18,113
  • NHL Capacity: 17,120
  • Public Financing: $250M in public bonding (They have recently backed off on this “suggestion,” so it is unclear the current state of this piece of the response)


I cannot summarize the proposals any better than executive summaries themselves and a lot of the details have not been revealed, so here are some links to the proposals and the better articles I’ve read on those proposals.

What is next?

Brian Surratt, Director of Office of Economic Development laid out the evaluation criteria to the Seattle City Council and the timeline with the following slides:
KeyArena RFP Eval Criteria 2017-04-17

KeyArena RFP Overview 2017-04-17

My Take

Both proposals look promising and would appear to be able to bring the NHL to Seattle and bring the Sonics back as well. People still seemed concerned about traffic and parking but it is a very subjective piece to measure. Especially when you consider the traffic patterns will be shifting once the 99 tunnel is completed and the 2 additional streets open up. Additionally, the density is changing while car ownership decreases in more urban areas.  How the Mayor & City Council weigh all the pros and cons of KeyArena is anyone’s guess. I appreciate the evaluation criteria but it seems very unclear on how it all comes together. The hope is that one of these options will be recommended to the City Council. One thing is for sure, it is going to be a busy 3 months.

SoDo Group files new petition for Occidental Street Vacation

Yesterday, Chris Hansen and the SoDo group filed a new petition for the Occidental Street Vacation. arenarenderingoThis new proposal was consistent with their communicated plan over the last 6 months but was not formalized until Wednesday.

The big things are:

  1. 100% Private Financing.
  2. No arena gets built until a team from either the NHL or NBA is acquired.
  3. 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.

Raising Funds for the RMHC Hockey Challenge

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 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.


City of Seattle RFP for KeyArena gets released

Key Arena RFP

There was a swirl of NHL/NBA Seattle news this week when the City of Seattle released the much anticipated RFP for the redevelopment of KeyArena. Inside the RFP, the first listed objective is to:
“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.”
Chris Daniels has a lengthy article on the topic with a lot of valuable information.
(Update: Geoff Baker wrote this on 1/16. It offers a different perspective. Instead of attacking the validity of some of the content, just try reading it to get a different point of view.)

Complete Teardown could be an option.

One of the more interesting pieces of the RFP is that the KeyArena structure could qualify


Key Arena is the oldest active arena in the top 30 metro areas. Blue shading represents period of use for NHL/NBA team.

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

In the Development Agreement and Lease Agreement Terms section of the RFP, it is noted that the responses must include “Confirmation that the proposed concept design(s) are intended to comply with NBA and NHL requirements for potential future tenancy” If I am interpreting this clause correctly, I would expect that both leagues would agree that the submitted RFPs would work for each respective leagues.

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


Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke with Gary Bettman

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.



My take…

This might go nowhere, but it should be perceived as a positive, since the SoDo arena is limping along and may never get the street vacation required for an arena. If SoDo never happens, we need options and Seattle Center is a much better place than Tukwila (which I think is dead). I do my best to be open minded to alternatives and I have the same concerns as a lot of you: NHL compliance, parking, traffic, etc., but I am not an expert in any of those categories. That said, I’ve been to a lot of arenas that are in denser locations than Lower Queen Anne and if an Arena can work in downtown Manhattan (or Brooklyn), then surely someone can make it work at Seattle Center. Having it all pencil out for all parties might be my biggest question.

2016 NHL to Seattle Report Card

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 ColemanVictor8475_sb10_750bringing 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 sea_key_arena_entrexecutive 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


NHL to Seattle Check-ins across NHL arenas during 2015-16 Season

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.