The Seattle City Council has reached an agreement with Bay Area investor Chris Hansen to build a $490 million arena in downtown Seattle. Hansen has been working with the city to negotiate this deal which he believes will bring the NBA and NHL to Seattle.
Hansen and his investors, which include the Nordstrom family and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, have agreed to pay an additional $40 million in traffic mitigation in the area along with $7 million for upgrade with the now empty Key Arena.
Seattle and the NHL have always seemed like a perfect marriage waiting to happen, but snafus have been the order of the day on the way to the altar. In the late 60’s it appeared that Seattle Totems owner Vince Abbey was awarded an NHL franchise but was unable to come up with the proper financing and the deal fell apart. In the ‘90’s Seattle was again on the short list to get an expansion team. Bill Ackerley, son of the Sonics owner Barry, led a group that was interested yet withdrew their application at the last minute.
With all the screw-ups of the past aside, the real question then is this: would Seattle be a good market?
Seattle’s rich hockey history may be a surprise to people who are not familiar with the region. Seattle has won a Stanley Cup. Yes, it’s true, the Seattle Metropolitans defeated the Montreal Canadiens in the 1917 finals and were the first US-based team to win it. Admitedly that was a long time ago but hockey has thrived in Seattle since.
The Seattle Totems arrived in Seattle in 1958 and were around until 1975. Playing in the old Western Hockey League they were very popular in Seattle, won three league championships and were one of the first North American teams to beat the Soviet Union team. After the Totems the Seattle Thunderbirds arrived and have been playing major junior hockey for years in Seattle. Ten years ago the Everett Silvertips joined the WHL giving the Seattle area two popular junior franchises.
Seattle also has one of the largest adult recreational leagues in the country, which is impressive for a city without an NHL franchise. What impact does that have? You only have to take a look at the success of the Seattle Sounders in the MLS to see. Adult recreational soccer is also very popular in Seattle and that translated into passionate MLS fans. The same will happen with the NHL.
Seattle is also the 12th largest television market and the third biggest on the West Coast which would bring in more revenue for the league. Placing a team in Seattle will also give the NHL a presence in an area of the U.S. where they currently have none. A team in Seattle could spread interest to the rest of Washington state, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. Places where other Seattle professional franchises have television and radio deals.
But is there a team and owner available?
Hansen’s main interest in building this arena is to bring back the Seattle Supersonics and the NBA. While he wants an NHL team in the arena he would not be an owner so the city would still need to find an owner and a team.
With the financial struggles in Phoenix, New York Islanders and New Jersey it seems that there may be NHL franchises available for the taking. Phoenix seems like the most likely franchise that could be plucked as the deal to have the Coyotes stay in the desert seems as shaky as a Roberto Luongo finals start in Boston.
Even if Phoenix was ripe for the picking, someone needs to buy them.
There appears to be people out there sniffing around. Don Levin, who owns the AHL Chicago Wolves, has recently come out and claimed that he has been exploring the possibility of bringing an NHL team to Seattle. Levin says that he has been working with the city of Bellevue, Wa, a Seattle suburb, about building an arena. Now that the Hansen arena deal is done you have to wonder if his plans would change.
Would there be other owners out there? Seattle is home to Microsoft, Paul Allen, Amazon, Starbucks and a multitude of other uber-rich corporations and CEO’s. Any number of people could put together the scratch needed to buy an NHL team if Levin is not for real.
During the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals in Vancouver NHL Deputy Commissonar Bill Daly told a local Seattle television channel that he had been having discussions with a Seattle ‘group’ about bringing the NHL to the Emerald City. He refused to give too much information to protect the group and the process. Who was he referring to? Levin? Another group?
With this arena deal, we may soon find out who.
Andrew writes about the WHL and NHL Draft Prospects. He also covers the Seattle Thunderbirds for 710 ESPN Seattle and spent two years with Sportsnet. Follow him on Twitter @andyeide.