Millions of kids grow up with dreams of playing in the NHL, but very few dream of owning an NHL team. Due to my less than spectacular skills on skates, I gave up on trying to be an NHL player a while ago. I think I’d make a good owner though, so there’s still a chance for me to get my name on the Stanley Cup.
The very exclusive fraternity of NHL owners gained a few members when Seattle was granted an expansion franchise. The official owner of the team is Seattle Hockey Partners which is backed by three people who have been handed the keys to the newest professional hockey team.
Who are they?
Behind every sports team is a billionaire. In Seattle, that man is David Bonderman. According to Forbes.com, he has a net worth of $3.7 billion, which mostly came from being a founding partner of the firm TPG Capital. Forbes also lists a $66 million investment in the now-defunct Continental Airlines as a major career accomplishment. Initial reports of the expansion franchise had him “leading” the group.
Bonderman has an impressive career resume, but with few hockey-related achievements. However, he does have an interesting connection to sports. A 2008 news article named him an investor in the Las Vegas arena that would become T-Mobile Arena (“Report: Harrah’s out as proposed arena partner”, Las Vegas Sun, 9/15/08). His investment was in the arena, and not the Vegas Golden Knights franchise that would call it home. More notably, he has been a minority owner of the NBA’s Boston Celtics for over a decade (“Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Celtics minority owner David Bonderman join KeyArena renovation group”, The Seattle Times, 6/7/2019).
Bonderman is to Seattle what Bill Foley is to the Vegas Golden Knights. Foley is worth much less, at only $517 million, and both seem to have different attitudes toward their teams. For example, Foley became the public face and persona of the Golden Knights after being awarded the franchise, while Bonderman is rarely seen. Much of what Foley has done in Vegas has been done by another member of the ownership group, Tod Leiweke, in Seattle.
Leiweke, who is the CEO of the ownership group, might be the public face of the franchise and he brings so much more to the table. Of the trifecta of Seattle owners, he also has the most extensive sports background. He has made both a name for himself and a career, in the business of professional sports.
While Bonderman’s resume a laundry list of impressive financial accomplishments, Leiweke’s seems to be twice as long and filled with more stops than you can count. His first sports job was for an indoor soccer team in Kansas City which led him to work for the NBA’s Golden State Warriors. His last stop before turning his attention to Seattle’s NHL team was as COO of the NFL (“Tod Leiweke’s Goal Is to Make Seattle’s New NHL Team Viable”, Seattle Business, 4/2019).
Before that, he was both CEO and minority owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning. His experience in Tampa Bay gives him professional experience in the NHL, which both his co-owners lack. In fact, ice hockey is his favorite sport. He grew up a St. Louis Blues fan in Missouri – no word where his hockey allegiance lies now, though.
The most impressive part of Leiweke’s career is his success in Seattle. Prior to taking the Tampa Bay job, he was named CEO of the Seattle Seahawks in 2003. Two years later, the Seahawks made their first Super Bowl appearance. Regardless of the Golden Knights, I wouldn’t expect the same timetable for Seattle’s NHL team to make a championship. Leiweke was also a major part of bringing the MLS expansion Seattle Sounders to the city. Danny O’Neil of ESPN 710 AM Seattle described his accomplishments best:
Tod Leiweke stands alone in our city’s sports history, which is littered with showmen, carpetbaggers and cheapskates. He is quite simply the most successful sports executive that this city has ever known.
The most interesting owner in hockey is in Seattle. Sure, the Pittsburgh Penguins are cool with superstar Mario Lemieux cutting the checks, but Jerry Bruckheimer is a movie-producing superstar. The man behind Top Gun and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise now has his own hockey team. It’s a team he shares with two less cool-sounding people, but still.
As one of the most recognizable names in Hollywood, Bruckheimer is also a lifelong hockey fan. He grew up in Detroit as a Red Wings fan, and saw, in person, his childhood hockey team win a Stanley Cup years ago. He wasn’t sure of the year, but based on the details, the Seattle Times guesstimates it was the 1954 Stanley Cup Final (“Jerry Bruckheimer is bringing more than Hollywood flair to NHL Seattle (but he’s got that, too)”, The Seattle Times, 7/1/2019).
After moving to Hollywood, Bruckheimer’s octopus-throwing fan tendencies were put on the back burner until the arrival of Wayne Gretzky renewed his interest in the game. He flirted with owning a franchise in the past and considered buying the Anaheim Ducks, who share the Los Angeles market with his adopted Kings, and the Pittsburgh Penguins in their lean years before the Sidney Crosby era.
Bruckheimer had previously teamed up with Bonderman to try to land the Vegas expansion team that became the Golden Knights. This third time was the charm with the addition of Leiweke. Unlike Leiweke, Bruckheimer lacks an emotional attachment to the city, but he has a valuable chip in his pocket. The same article that cited Bonderman’s minority interest in the Boston Celtics also mentioned that Bruckheimer has a long-standing friendship with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
Each owner brings something different. Bonderman brings the checkbook with his deep pockets. Leiweke brings the knowledge to navigate not only the waters of a professional sports franchise but Seattle in particular. As for Bruckheimer, you’d be lying if you said it wouldn’t be cool to see that name engraved on the Stanley Cup.