It’s been a while since I have posted anything here. I figured we all needed a cooling off period after the NHL application deadline came and passed with no Seattle applicants. It was rumored (but not confirmed) that 4 of the 16 NHL expansion application requests came from the Seattle area. The details of why no one from the region actually applied for expansion were never revealed. Revealed through spokespersons and local press, at least 2 Seattle parties (Coleman/Sodo & Bartoszek/Tukwilla) of the 4 vowed to continue their pursuit of an Arena/NHL franchise.
At the end of the deadline, only Quebec City and Las Vegas submitted their applications by the league mandated deadline of July 20th. It looked as if all was lost for Seattle and yet another chapter of our unsuccessful attempts at landing an NHL team could be written. However…there have been a couple items of interest that have popped up recently.
The Seattle arena project located in SoDo (Hansen/Coleman) cleared some expected, but critical hurdles. Early last month, the Seattle Downtown Design Review Board gave final approval on the Seattle Arena and 2 days later the Seattle Design Commission unanimously approved the public benefit of the project. This will require a final vote by Seattle City Council which should occur sometime in December. This should not be a contentious issue as the City Council usually takes the recommendation of the Design Review Board. Too little, too late? Maybe…but moving forward reduces any friction for any future opportunities. One thing we might get out of this final vote is to hear if Hansen and/or Coleman have a strategy to make the NHL or NBA team happen. As far as I know, the MOU is written for a basketball-first scenario, but that is only upon the condition of funding, so technically, Hansen (with help) could start building as soon as this final city council vote is made (and passed).
Key Arena study
Last week King5 reported that the Seattle City Council commissioned a study (back in 2012) to look at options on what to do with Key Arena. One of those potential options was to renovate the Key to make it compliant to both NHL and NBA standards for an estimated price tag of $285M. This was just one of the options the consulting firm came up with regarding the site. With more questions than answers, I think it is safe to say this probably won’t happen for a variety of reasons. Who pays the $285M? Would a potential NBA or NHL owner want to play at the Key? Would the league(s) even approve it as a potential site? Oh, and there is that entire traffic thing. I give this a generous 5% chance of getting legs, so don’t get that wound up about the Seattle City Council (of 2012) for just doing some level of due diligence.
In spite of Gary Bettman’s attempts to lower NHL fans expectations for expansion, most of us assumed that expanding by two was pretty much a done deal. With two strong applicants, it appeared that Quebec City and Las Vegas shooting on empty nets to get teams. They both have a great shot of getting teams, but skepticism started creeping in the media in early September. Sportsnet, The Globe and Mail and Washington Post ran stories on why NHL expansion is no done deal. After the BOG meeting this week, Bettman reaffirmed the “no timetable”, “lot of work” & “no guarantee” regarding expansion. This triggered Seattle to start bleeding back into the conversation.
Pierre Lebrun ran a story that theorized Seattle could get back into the race with this little snippet.
“the NHL has said that if it does expand, it could be by only one team (read: Las Vegas) for now. Which, by the way, would give Seattle more time to get its act together.”
Then, Boston Bruins outspoken owner Jeremy Jacobs threw a little more cold water at the expansion talk with a little complimentary statement about Seattle.
“I’d love to see us in the West to be up in Seattle. Seattle’s a natural, and I would love to see one in Houston, but we can’t get into that building.”
The big question around Quebec appears to be if the market can handle the weak Canadian Dollar. It wasn’t too long ago that the NHL was offering up financial relief to all Canadian teams outside of the Montreal and Toronto. To be clear, I would still prefer to be in Quebec or Las Vegas shoes so don’t get your hopes up here.
We will need to wait and see on how these things shake out. I am convinced that the longer this thing drags out, the better Seattle’s chances. In the meantime, let’s rally this hockey community and try to enjoy the WHL and NHL seasons for a while before we start speculating on what is going on behind the scenes.
January 30th While sitting on a panel and speaking to students, the Winnipeg Jets Chairman says Seattle is a priority for the NHL via expansion or relocation. He also said Greater Toronto Area could probably hold 2 more teams & Quebec would be great, but neither are top priority for NHL. Separately, assistant GM to the Boston Celtics says the NBA expansion (in the US) is unlikely in 5 years. He later qualified the statement as his opinion and not based on any NBA HQ information.
February 1st David Stern retires. Seattle basketball fans rejoice.
February 3rd NHL Expansion talk begins to heat up. While talking to TVA Sports, Gary Bettman had some responses to expansion talk: “we aren’t there yet” “lots of places have expressed interest” “we are always listening”. (These would be common quotes over the reminder of the season).
February 12th New NBA commissioner Adam Silver clearly states there are no plans to expand.
February 13th NHL says Seattle would be a “good hockey market”. Two days later, Former Seattle Junior Hockey Player TJ Oshie wins a big Olympic game for US in a shootout against Russia.
February 26th A Seattle delegation of business folks plus city and county officials visit Vancouver and attend a Canucks game to learn more about what it would look like should Seattle land an NHL team.
March 17th The first reported delay of the current Environmental Impact Statement for the SoDo Arena. IMHO the EIS is not the long pole here but it is part of the process. The city will not kick in any financing without a team. http://www.king5.com/story/local/2014/12/29/13403682/ I posted this image on March 17th…sadly, not much has changed (except for the Ballmer thing).
March 18th Seattle City Council president, Tim Burgess states that they will not change the MOU (for a NHL first scenario) stating that the tax revenues would be 50% less. It is unclear how those numbers are calculated when the NHL has higher ticket prices and higher attendance than the NBA.
April 26th Seattle Times reports that Ray Bartoszek is looking at options since the SoDo site is tied so heavily to the NBA which doesn’t appear to be headed to Seattle anytime soon.
May 13th In one of the strongest signs of the NHL’s interest in Seattle, it is reported that Gary Bettman and Bill Daly met with City and County officials in Seattle. By all reports, it sounded like a disappointing meeting for the NHL brass as the arena situation was described as “unsettling” by Daly.
May 15th As a follow up to the NHL and mayor meeting, Victor Coleman and Jonathan Glaser emerge as a new ownership group vying for an NHL team in Seattle. Coleman and Glaser with in the meeting with the Mayor, Bettman and Daly. They appear to be the front runners for owning a team in Seattle.
May 29th Steve Ballmer starts the process of buying the Los Angeles Clippers. This should be seen as a neutral to slightly negative on Seattle’s pursuit of getting an NBA team.
June 2nd Prospective Seattle Supersonics owner and the man leading the SoDoArena, Chris Hansen sits down with Chris Daniels of King5 and says that an NHL first scenario would require a potential NHL owner to put in a combination of more money and more risk. (Sorry, link has changed since I originally posted).
June 9th Posted the results from the 1st NHL to Seattle Survey. ~35% of respondents in King, Pierce or Snohomish county say they would be season ticket holders.
June 10th Chris Hansen signs an option for more land in SoDo area near proposed Arena. It is speculated this was done to accommodate some of the EIS feedback received to accommodate more parking.
June 26th NHL Board of Governors meeting comes and goes with no expansion announcement.
July 31st Another reported delay in final EIS.
August 26th Report surfaces that the NHL will expand by 4 teams in 2017. NHL would come out to deny it and I had my doubts about the original source.
August 28th In an interview with KJR, Steve Ballmer says, “ there is a guy pushing hard for hockey (in Seattle)”. ~58 minute mark.
September 30th Chris Hansen submits final paper work for EIS.
October 24th Although rumored for months, the first legitimate report of Vegas being a potential NHL mark surfaces.
November 25th Sports Business Journal post their annual reader survey. 43% of readers think Seattle is the most viable market for an NHL team.
December 3rd I wrote this interesting post that sizes up the Seattle Market.
December 8th NHL gives approval to prospective NHL Vegas owners to begin season ticket drive. No other markets are mentioned.
That leaves us here…which is pretty much where we started the year.
From time to time I read something from NHL fans or hockey media types claiming that expansion will ruin the game because of parity or dilution of talent. I get pretty dismissive about their “arguments” as very few of these claims are based on facts or data. I decided to investigate it on my own. This will be the 1st post in a 3 part series that talks about why the league is ready for expansion. As with most of my posts, I tell the story with data.
Margin of Victory
Regular season games are getting tighter. Excluding ties, the margin of victory has declined since 97.
The standings are also getting tighter.
Some of the expansion efforts in the 90s contributed to the teams with less than 50 points in a season however if you look at the teams with 51 to 60 points between 1990 to 1997, they were well established teams (Leafs, Oilers, Islanders, Jets, Nords). Now it should also be pointed out that OT, Shootout rules and the rise of the 3 point game is also a contributing factor here.
Compared to other leagues, the NHL has produced the most unique champions over the last 15 years.
As you may have seen, Michael Russo wrote an excellent article about the prospects of putting an NHL team in Vegas. The difference between this report and earlier rumors circulating on Vegas are the quotes and confirmation from the NHL’s own Bill Daly.
When the reports started surfacing of Vegas being the location of an NHL team, I certainly had my doubts. Small city, lack of local support, lower income etc.Vegas doesn’t rank in the top 40 for TV markets and is ranked 34th in Average Income of US Cities with more than a million people.
However, Las Vegas is like no other market in the NHL and predicting the success based exclusively on conventional metrics is not realistic.Ad dollars will be huge and entertainment revenues are exceeding gaming revenue for several major hotel properties. Yes, the NHL is more dependent on Gate Revenue than any other professional sports league but does that mean it must be so for all franchises? Could being the only Pro Sports team in city be the ticket to success? I don’t know the answers. By the sounds of Daly’s quotes in the article it doesn’t sound like he is convinced either and that will be part of the due diligence. Airing it out so publicly could be a way to see how much local interest is out there.
The more important takeaways from the article is that Daly and the NHL are at least acknowledging expansion and imply that expansion will need to happen in the west. This could be off the cuff remarks or could even be negotiating tactics to extract more expansion $ out of some eastern Canadian city that is well positioned with an arena.
This certainly will not be the last we hear about Vegas and the optimist would say Vegas needs a dancing partner. My advice, don’t get let this news get you too high or too low, it’s going to be a long and bumpy road.
We had a wild week. I have highlighted some of the most impactful articles, podcasts and other content that framed the week. It might be obvious, but I don’t agree with everything I am sharing but I still wanted to show some of the more interesting articles on the topic at hand.
Two initial reports set the stage and speculation on NHL expanding to Seattle.
- Gallagher: Bettman has changed his tune on NHL expansion – This initial report seemed to reiterate a lot of what we have heard over the last 9 months with relatively no new insight with the exception of Las Vegas being a “done deal” other than picking an owner. (Let’s forgive the oxymoron in that sentence). This did not shock me or anyone else that has been all over this saga. I interpreted the done deal as maybe the NHL is convinced it could work in Vegas.
- Howard Bloom tweets that NHL will expand 4 more teams by 2017 – This tweet kicked off a ton of articles with one that seemed to give it more credibility, the SI article. My opinion is that I am sure somewhere at NHL Headquarters there is a roadmap or a strategy document that probably has all four of those cities as potential expansion and relocation targets or options, it is not necessarily the plan of record. Having looked at Howard Bloom’s content on his website and his twitter account, I do not give it a lot of weight.
Denials from the NHL
It took less than 12 hours for mainstream hockey press to get the NHL’s take on the reports. Here are some of the notable articles on the denials.
- NHL denies expansion report, including a second team in Toronto – from the Toronto Star
- ‘Just not true’: Tim Leiweke, Bill Daly shoot down reports on NHL expansion to Las Vegas, Toronto – from the National Post
The local perspective
Although other Seattle news outlets started reporting on the news, the NHL to Seattle mainstays, Geoff Baker from the Seattle Times and Chris Daniels from King5 weighed in.
- Geoff Baker wrote a nice piece that is consistent with most of his narrative over the last 9 months. NHL expansion in Seattle, Vegas? Why reports don’t hold water
- Chris Daniels took to twitter with these series of tweets
Other interesting insight and notable opinions.
- Half Of The NHL’s Rumored Expansion Cities Don’t Make Sense – article from Nate Silver’s 538 says Seattle and Vegas don’t make sense because…wait for it. Buried a link and 10 paragraphs in, people are not searching for “NHL” on google enough. Yes, that is the basis of the claim. In the referenced article, it also says “Sudbury-Thunder Bay” could better support a team. Keep in mind that those two cities are only 12 hours away from each other and have about 100,000 people in each of those cities so I am not sure where they anticipate putting an arena. Most of the people I talk to have been fairly critical of 538 since it moved over to ESPN. The unfortunate part about this article is that most people don’t read far enough to understand the methodology and/or have the time to fact check some of the claims in the article. By the way, I am sure NBC and Rogers would love a Sudbury vs Moncton Stanley Cup final matchup.
- Duhatschek: NHL shift on expansion thinking came more than a year ago – I enjoy the globe and mail (most of the time). There were several articles that validated that expansion is coming, this is just one of the better ones.
- Canzano: When the NHL is ready, Paul Allen is waiting in the ‘Shark Tank’ – I have never counted out Portland and this article sums up their position fairly nicely. My take, if Paul Allen wants an NHL team, he can probably get one. If (and that is a big If) the whole Arizona Coyotes thing does not work itself out, Portland could be a destination.
The irony of this whole week is that if news like this broke in October or November, we would not have heard 10% of the volume we heard this week. Writers are itching for some content to write about while in season I am hanging on Bettman and Daly’s every word to hear something about Seattle. We are going to be riding a rollercoaster for a while but we have to be patient. Try not to get too up or too down on these reports. It all takes time and to steal a phrase from Chris Daniels, there are lots of moving parts.
Lots of news from yesterday but I am here to throw a wet blanket on “the report” that the NHL will expand to Las Vegas, Toronto, Quebec and Seattle by 2017. Maybe I’ve seen this city get their heartbroken of the Sacramento Kings last spring, or the hockey community let down by a vote in Glendale last July. It could also be that I’ve been following every detail of this story and know how one tweet can start of firestorm of articles that multiplies by the hour.
The original “report” was really just a referenced tweet by some guy who had around 6000 followers. Most people claimed that SI (Sports Illustrated) was reporting the news but they were just reporting the report. Huh? Yep…that’s unfortunately how things happen these days. Once people saw the SI report it spread like wildfire with just about every news outlet reporting the report of the report. Don’t get me wrong, it is great to see the NHL to Seattle being discussed on the national stage. The reality is that this is not really news and not really credible.
Seattle and the NHL
Seattle is a great market for a Hockey team and the NHL knows it. In fact they have known it for a while. If you have followed King 5 Reporter, Chris Daniels or Seattle Times reporter Geoff Baker, they have made it clear that the NHL likes this market based on discussions those guys have had with NHL brass. Don’t believe me? What about these quotes from 2013:
“The research that I have seen tells me that it would be a very strong hockey market. …Obviously if there were a team in Seattle it would create a decent rivalry with their northern neighbor, namely Vancouver.” – Gary Bettman, NHL commissioner
“But I think it’s safe to say we’re very intrigued by the Pacific Northwest generally. Going forward I would expect that to the extent expansion comes into the picture or relocation is needed, I’m sure the Pacific Northwest is going to get serious consideration.” – Bill Daly, NHL Deputy Commissioner
“With the [new] arena in Seattle, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put hockey back into the Seattle/Portland marketplace and we have to make a commitment to that.” – Tim Leiweke, Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment CEO
Seattle, Las Vegas, Toronto and Quebec have probably been identified or prioritized at NHL headquarters as potential expansion or relocation markets. That is not really saying much now is it? Vegas might be the odd one in there but there might be other factors that us fans don’t see. I imagine the list includes Portland, Kansas City and Houston. As a business, the NHL needs to know what potential markets exits if a situation comes up that they want to expand or relocate a team.
Who can I trust?
That is a great question. I’ve been following this so long that I take just about everything I read with a grain of salt. Remember when Darrly Katz toured Key Arena? Well I do, so excuse my cynicism. Although they are not always right since a lot of this stuff is fluid, I go to Chris Daniels and Geoff Baker for my local perspective. On a national level, I like Elliot Freedman, Ken Campbell and James Mirtle.