With respect to sports and in the wake of the Seattle Seahawks’ dominating Super Bowl victory over the Denver Broncos, Seattle is now, as former ESPN anchor Dan Patrick is fond of saying, ‘en fuego’.
After all, not only does the city have the NFL’s best team, but the Washington Huskies finished ranked in the top 25 for the first time since 2001, with highly-coveted former Boise State head coach Chris Petersen poised to take the team to the next level. This offseason, the Seattle Mariners declared themselves to be ‘all in’ after years of rebuilding and reeled in the biggest fish of this year’s free agency pool — Robinson Cano — with a massive 10-year, $240 million contract. Both the Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Coyotes came within a hair’s breadth of relocating to the Emerald City in 2013, stopped only by desperate last-minute negotiations (Phoenix) and ham-handed league intervention (Sacramento). Even the Seattle Sounders of Major League Soccer remain a hot commodity, with an average attendance (44,038) more than double that of any other team in the league.
With all that said, Seattle remains without the NBA and the NHL as of this writing. If reports are true, however, change may be just around the corner.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly openly discusses expansion
According to this article, the NHL is seriously considering Seattle as an expansion target, possibly in time for the 2015-16 season. Discussing expansion with Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times, Daly said, “I think we have a belief in the Pacific Northwest, it being good hockey territory. I think, obviously, the Canucks have done a fantastic job — in Vancouver, but also throughout British Columbia and the Pacific region — at driving interest in the sport.”
He summed up his remarks by saying, “So, we think the possibility is there. It’s kind of more obvious than some of the other areas. It doesn’t mean we’ve done our due diligence. We’d need to satisfy ourselves on the marketplace, but just the objective factors around the marketplace suggest Seattle would be a good hockey market.”
A Seattle contingent visits Vancouver to learn how the Canucks do business
Next week, a group of Seattle business and political heavyweights will make a two-day trip to Vancouver, B.C. to attend a game at Rogers Arena and to see exactly how the Canucks operate. “You’ve got some people on the trip who have never been to an NHL game before,” said Ralph Morton, executive director of the Seattle Sports Commission. “So, at the very least, they’ll come back with a greater understanding of what hockey is and what it takes to present the sport to fans at the NHL level.”
The Times points out that the trip has a greater purpose than merely discussions about the NHL. Nevertheless, it would seem more than a little speculative that many of the key players necessary in the effort to bring the NHL to Seattle are heading north, spending both time and resources, unless there are forces at work behind the scenes closing in on an expansion deal for the city.
Expansion fees could reach $275 million
It has been widely reported that the league’s asking price for an expansion fee was as high as $275 million last year, but Baker suggests that it will likely end up somewhere between $200 – $250 million. The hefty expansion fee is, of course, on top of the estimated $490 million price tag for the proposed new arena. Ownership would not likely be principally the same, as the potential new NHL team has been linked to Connecticut-based investment firm partners Ray Bartoszek and Anthony Lanza, the former of which has ties to the Puget Sound region.
And there may be a third big-dollar owner: former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
Not only do the dollars and cents need to add up, but the funding mechanisms would need to be significantly tweaked if NHL expansion comes to Seattle before an NBA team is granted or relocated. The Memorandum of Understanding signed last year by the City of Seattle, King County and hedge fund manager Chris Hansen specifically called for the NBA to be the primary tenant, with the lion’s share of public financing generated as a result of that event. Assuming an NHL announcement were to come soon, the agreement would need to be changed.
The oft-cited ‘sources say’ indicate an announcement may be forthcoming
Sources have indicated that talks between the NHL and local officials were far enough along that some type of announcement could be made within weeks of the Sochi Olympics concluding. Daly told reporters in Sochi this week that no expansion announcement was imminent.
But it’s unlikely the league would delay an announcement beyond June if it intends to have new teams in 2015-16. Expansion teams typically need a couple of summers to do proper marketing and prepare temporary arena facilities.
If Seattle gets an expansion franchise, it likely won’t be the only one
Given that the NHL’s Western Conference currently has just 14 teams (versus 16 in the East) and assuming reports are true, it would seem highly unlikely that Seattle would be the only city awarded a franchise. Quebec City and Kansas City, both with arenas that will be available by 2015-16, are high on the list of expansion candidates. Several other cities in the U.S. and Canada have been mentioned as well.
No matter what, all eyes are currently on Seattle. Already the pantheon of professional football, the first American city to hoist the Stanley Cup may well be the next big thing in professional hockey. If Seattle does receive an expansion NHL franchise, the city may just party like it’s 1917.