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.

NHL To Seattle 2016 News in Review

From a league level, we entered the beginning of 2016 with some outstanding questions on the two NHL expansion applications from Quebec and Las Vegas. Meanwhile, locally we were still waiting on the outcome of the final street vacation on the SoDo arena.
January 14th Rumors start to circulate that the falling Canadian Dollar could adversely impact Quebec City’s NHL Expansion bid. In hindsight, this is early foreshadowing that would slowly gain steam as the league got closer to the final expansion announcement.
January 25th Slowly but surely, the final stages of the SoDo Arena street vacation vote start to materialize.
January 27th Gary Bettman references Seattle as an intriguing NHL market. At this point, the ship had sailed on expansion for this round but encouraging to know that Bettman still acknowledges Seattle as a solid market for an NHL franchise.
February 13th  Reports come out that the KeyArena could be remodeled to accommodate both NHL and NBA. Seattle times begins to push this as a better option than SoDo.
February 22nd In a response to the Seattle Times editorial, council member Tim Burgess sharply response and criticizes the Seattle Times for inaccurate reporting.
March 15th The city council conducts a public hearing on the Sodo Arena Occidental Street Vacation.
March 16th In a small blurb of Elliote Friedmans weekly column, it is revealed that Chris Hansen remains in contact with the NHL. This isn’t a game changer but important to know that communication lines remain open.
April 6th City of Seattle Transportation committee hears final presentation on Occidental Ave street vacation for the SoDo Arena. SeattleArena
April 20th Occidental Ave street vacation vote scheduled for Seattle City Council on May 2nd.
May 2nd The Occidental street vacation fails in full City Council meeting by a vote of 4 to 5. The street vacation would have been the last hurdle to have a shovel ready SoDo arena.
May 4th Theories start to circulate that the failed street vacation might break the implied monopoly the Hansen group had on arena options in the area.
May 23rd After the fallout of the denied Occidental street vacation, I claim the SoDo arena dead. (I hope I am wrong. Even though there has been plenty of activity in SoDo over the second half of 2016, it is still not clear how this street gets approved.)
June 22nd NHL awards the 31st franchise in league history to the Las Vegas for play to begin in the 2017-18 Season. Quebec City is not awarded a franchise. Under the circumstance this could be the best possible outcome for Seattle (or any other city looking to land an NHL team someday).
August 4th Communications between the Port of Seattle (staunch opponent of arena) and the Seattle Times Editor Frank Blethen reveal that the Times was working on a $290,000 PR campaign story for the Port at the same time the Seattle Times launched an editorial campaign against the SoDo Arena. If you ever wanted to know why the Seattle Times was so against the SoDo Arena, now you know.
September 22nd News reveals the Hansen group continues to accumulate land in Sodo. A strong signal that they have not given up on a SoDo arena.
October 25th Hansen group offers the City of Seattle a 100% private financing arena with more infrastructure invested in the SoDo area. (I still think this is much ado about nothing since without an NBA team the group would not get any financing anyway.)
October 27th Seattle Times reveals that the City of Seattle will open up a Request for Proposal for a (major) renovation of KeyArena that could accommodate a potential NBA or NHL team.
October 28th A small blurb in a wrap up article of the week reveals that Victor Coleman is still interested in bringing the NHL to Seattle area.
November 14th In an announcement that will certainly help the PR efforts in SoDo, Seahawks Quarterback Russell Wilson announces that he has joined the Hansen Group to bring the NBA and NHL to Seattle.
November 15th Bettman confirms that the NHL is not looking at Seattle without an arena. A statement that surprised absolutely no one.
November 18th News reveals that current Carolina Hurricanes owner, Peter Karmanos wants to sell the Canes, even if it means relocation. As expected, this report is quickly denied by the league and Hurricanes management. If this ever were to come to fruition, the probable landing spot would be Quebec City. This would maintain a 15 teams in the west and 16 teams in the east.
December 15th The Oak View Group, headed up by industry vet Tim Leiweke, do a PR tour with local media outlets that reveal their intent on the KeyArena RFP process. The group mentions that they are in communications with both the NBA and NHL on their plans. They also reveal that they will not be owners of either an NBA or NHL franchise at KeyArena.

Canucks game and Bender-Spooner Skate

A couple things going on over the next few weeks:

Canucks this Friday

Give away!!! I will be giving away 2 tickets to the Canucks-Tampa Bay Lightning game1_vancouover_canucks_new_logo this coming Friday, the 16th of December. Simply enter your information here and I will be giving away the tickets at the end of the day on Wednesday.

If you don’t like your chances with games of luck, the Canucks are offering a promo code for Washington residents for the same Canucks-Lightning game. Go to this site and enter the Promo Code: Washington. I will be heading up to the game as well and might need to have a little pre-func meet up before the game. If you are headed up there, send me a note and we can figure something out.

Shirt/Sticker sales benefit Broadview Women’s Shelter

Once again I will be giving $1 for each sticker order and $3 for every t-shirt order to Broadview Women’s shelter, from now until Christmas. If you have ever considered an order, now would be the time.

Bender and Natalie Spooner Holiday Skate

On December 23rd, I have set up an exciting free opportunity for girls, age 13 – 22, in the area to skate with Boston Pride defenseman, Lexi Bender, and Canadian National Team Player, Natalie Spooner. This should be a great experience for the girls. Register Here.


Russell Wilson joins SoDo Group

Russell Wilson…yes Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, has joined the Hansen Group in pursuit of the Arena in Sodo.

Yesterday afternoon, Wilson announced it in twitter.

Chris Daniels quickly followed the announcement with a story on King5.

So what?

Other than being a wonderful personality that is loved by everyone in this city, this really has no direct impact on Seattle’s chances of getting either an NHL or NBA team. SeattleArenaIndirectly, it is very likely this will put further pressure on the Seattle City Council to approve the Occidental street vacation to green light the SoDo arena plan. It could also deter AEG and Oak View Group from responding to the KeyArena RFP with a proposal that would accommodate an NHL and NBA team. If it were to ever be approved, an NHL/NBA solution at KeyArena is being estimated at 5 to 10 years down the road while the SoDo arena could begin construction within 6 months of getting the street vacated.

Wilson is an outstanding human being and it would be great to have in as part of any Pro Sports ownership group in Seattle. It should be noted that the Hansen-Wilson-Nordstrom SoDo group, still remains focused on NBA. They are very open to the NHL but will more than likely need an passionate NHL dancing partner that is willing to pitch in for the building and bring an NHL team here. Time will tell on how this shakes out but this certainly should be viewed as a positive for the SoDo arena efforts.

Players’ Tribune

Wilson wrote an article for the Players Tribune on why bring the Sonics back and the NHL to Seattle is important to him. One thing that struck a cord with me was this:

We live in divisive times, and sports have a way of bringing people closer together. They allow us all — children and adults — to use our imaginations and dream. I want kids in Seattle to grow up dreaming of playing basketball or hockey for their hometown team.

Not to get political, but at a time when the country seems to be more divided then ever, playing and cheering for sports has a way to bring us together and build long and trusting relationships with people of diverse backgrounds.

Game Changer in SoDo?

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 SeattleArenarejecting 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.

 Next Steps

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

Temper enthusiasm

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 ColemanVictor8475_sb10_750owner 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.

Additional Reading:


USA Hockey numbers are up

Continuing the steady growth of USA hockey memberships, the 2015-16 season saw close nationwideto 2% over last year. This is according to the USA Hockey Membership report released last week. Specifically in youth participation, which is a strong indicator of overall growth in the sport, USA Hockey has seen increases in participation while other sports are seeing declines in youth participation. Overall USA Hockey has seen steady growth as seen in percentage increase 8 out of the last 10 years.

USA Hockey is not a complete number of everyone who plays hockey but it can serve as a good proxy for the health of the sport in a particular area. It should be no surprise that Minnesota leads the nation in USA hockey membership considering they are the State of Hockey and what other state can compete with the all hair team?

Washington State

USA Hockey membership in Washington State have contributed to the increase by adding 421 members, which is the 9th highest increase across the nation.

increase by raw numbersIn spite of no NHL team, Washington State hockey membership is growing faster than the national average. USA Hockey memberships in Washington have increased 24% in 10 years, which is an average of 2.6% increase a year in those 10 years. (4.5% a year over last 3 years)

WA_numbers by year

Breaking it down by age group, you can see that all age groups have increased year over year.


Percentage wise, the 12 and under age groups are increasing the most rapidly which bodes well for the future. All age groups under 12 have seen over ~5% growth year over year. WA_Dashboard

I am very familiar with the Puget Sound hockey scene and can say without a doubt that we have a severe shortage of ice rinks in the area. Adult hockey leagues regularly have games at 11pm with no real options for people to find an earlier time to get on the ice. This is preventing a lot of people from playing and joining leagues. On the youth side, the leagues are doing a great job at getting more kids involved but the ice is getting more and more crowded. This is only going to get worse as Seattle continues to be one of the fastest growing cities in the US.

If you are interested in playing in the area, here are a few links to some of the leagues around:

Youth Hockey

Adult Hockey

If you want a more state agnostic view of the USA Hockey numbers click here.

If you have any questions about hockey in the area or have additional information on some of the leagues across the state, feel free to email me at