NHL Expansion To Seattle Looks Inevitable

The recent news that the Seattle ownership group has filed an application with the NHL for an official expansion bid and included a $10 million deposit has been at the top of the news surrounding hockey in the past week.

The group can now begin a season ticket sales drive (begins March 1st) in a similar process to how the NHL proceeded with the Las Vegas expansion bid a couple of years ago. The ticket sales results will then be submitted to the league office so they can more adequately gauge the level of interest in the sport in the Seattle market.

The major sports media outlets as well as the local Seattle media are all essentially positioning the Seattle NHL expansion bid as a “done deal”. In my research I found one article that acknowledges that the process has some hurdles that should potentially temper the expectations for a future hockey team in Seattle.

Conversely, the fact that the NHL has coveted the Seattle market is among the worst kept secrets in the sports business news for a couple of years now. The league would benefit greatly from the geographic location, TV market/media market size, the natural regional rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks, and the noted passion of the fans of that city for their sports teams.

In fact, there are some within the sports media and sports business experts that maintain that Seattle would have been awarded an expansion franchise with Las Vegas in that last expansion cycle. Seattle did not submit a bid because they did not have an agreement on an adequate arena that was up to NHL standards.

The lack of a modern sports arena has derailed the progress of Seattle gaining an NHL or NBA franchise to replace the departed and beloved Supersonics for several years. The arena issue was the reason why the NBA bolted the city about ten years ago and it has taken all of that time to get a comprehensive plan put into action.

My earlier piece on the Seattle arena renovation of the Key Arena at Seattle Center provides the context of the details of the deal that will provide the city with a state of the art arena by 2020 or 2021. That is the earliest we can expect a hockey team to start playing in the Emerald City.

The potential approval of Seattle’s bid fixes the West-East conference imbalance the NHL has been dealing with for several years. The league would have sixteen teams in each conference, and the scheduling would be much smoother, and travel would be improved for the players as well.

The successful bid for Seattle does present some questions regarding the other cities that have been in the mix for an expansion team such as Portland, Houston, and Quebec City. Those cities are now potentially on the outside looking in, with regard to an expansion team because it is unlikely that the league will expand again beyond the 32 member franchises it will have given Seattle is successful with their bid.

The most likely logistical solution for at least two of those three cities would be to gain a team via relocation. The current situations for two or three current NHL franchises are tenuous at best at this point and that could provide the ability for one or more of those hopeful cities to gain “a seat at the table”.

The Calgary Flames, the Arizona Coyotes, and some feel the Florida Panthers all have some instability in their current markets. The relocation of an NHL team is certainly a long shot because the league prefers to keep teams in their markets unless a move is absolutely the last resort left to pursue. In fact, there are some within the hockey media that maintain that having Houston and Quebec City out there as possible alternative markets is exactly what the league office wants because it provides them leverage with the current markets in getting a favorable deal.

The league could “strong arm” a city like Calgary or Phoenix into a real estate deal with a publicly subsidy for a new hockey arena in terms that blatantly benefit the NHL because they can threaten the relocation of the team to Houston or Quebec. Those two markets, Calgary and Arizona, have been a total debacle for a while. It is becoming a major problem for the league that those cities are in limbo, and the exertion of pressure with regard to relocation is one of the few cards that the respective ownership groups of the Flames and Coyotes have left to play.

In the end, it looks like Seattle will be the next city to be awarded expansion into the NHL, and if it is anything close to the success that hockey has seen already in Las Vegas it is going to further continue the emergence of the league in new markets in the years ahead.

NHL Expansion Follow Up: The Case for Seattle

The NHL is just returning from their Olympic break where game operations were suspended so that the players could represent their respective countries in Sochi.


In a relatively slow news cycle for the NHL at this point, one story did gain some traction, and that is the discussion by NHL executives with the media regarding the potential expansion of the league to Seattle.


This is not the first time Seattle has been mentioned relative to the NHL, the city was rumored to be a potential relocation target for the struggling Phoenix Coyotes franchise prior to the start of this season. I have covered the situation surrounding the Coyotes ownership changes and potential relocation to Seattle, so this will serve as a follow up story to a situation that I have a great deal of knowledge about.


The NHL has discussed the potential for expansion recently especially after the lockout hurt revenues in 2012-13. The expansion fee for a new franchise to enter the league would represent a significant revenue injection for the other owners in the NHL.


The western United States is a target area for the league at this point with the realignment causing the Eastern Conference to have two more teams than the Western Conference. The Pacific Northwest is seen as a having significant growth potential for the NHL, and the key market in the region is Seattle.


The potential expansion of the NHL to Seattle would add a large TV market (12th largest) which will provide greater leverage for the league in their next television rights contract negotiations, and greater revenue from TV advertising.


The addition of an expansion franchise in Seattle would also bring the NHL into another large population center as Seattle has the 15th largest metropolitan area population in the United States. In fact, between the TV market and the metro area population statistics, Seattle would be a larger market for the NHL than 10 other domestic U.S. markets where the league has current franchises in operation.


Heading North


A group of business, civic, and political leaders from Seattle recently traveled north of the border to Vancouver to meet with the front office and executives from the Vancouver Canucks to learn how the team conducts the business of professional hockey.


This trip is another indication that the expansion of the NHL to Seattle is becoming more serious. The business side of an NHL franchise is very unique, and this meeting was a very good idea, especially when members of the Seattle Sports Commission told the local media that some members of the delegation travelling to Vancouver had never seen a live hockey game before.


The rumored ownership team for the prospective expansion franchise in Seattle is Ray Bartoszek and Anthony Lanza. These two businessmen were also the principal people involved when the NHL considered relocating the Phoenix Coyotes to Seattle in the summer of 2013. The qualifications of an ownership group represent a huge hurdle in the decision for a league to award an expansion franchise, it appears that Seattle has a well-financed group in place.


The other big issue in the case for Seattle to be awarded an NHL expansion franchise is the arena situation, which is another huge piece to consider in this process. The NHL has stated that if it were to expand the league, the added team or teams would begin play in 2015-16. This time frame may give Seattle enough time to gain final approvals and construct the proposed new arena near the other two sports stadiums downtown.


However, that brings a new issue to the table, the funding for the arena is based on an agreement between the City of Seattle, King County, and investor Chris Hansen that calls for an NBA team to be the primary tenant of the new arena. Therefore, the public funding agreements would need to be changed should the city be granted an NHL team before they gain an NBA franchise.



The time frame for expansion is appropriate because it will take a couple of years to hire personnel to staff the front office and the business operations side of the team, organize a marketing campaign, and sell luxury suites or season ticket plans.


The expansion fee is expected to be very large with estimates in the media of close to $250 million. Then factor in approximately $500 million for the new arena, and Seattle is poised to make a huge investment in professional hockey.


I have reported on the potential expansion of the NHL before, and the league will most likely expand by two teams in 2015-16. The media speculation is that the NHL will most likely select Seattle and then either Quebec City or Kansas City with the other expansion slot.


The result of all of this, in the end, it looks like Seattle is going to have an NHL hockey team to cheer for in the near future.

(Credit to NBC Sports.com and Seattle Times for some background information)