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

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.

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.
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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.)
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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.)
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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.