In a follow up to earlier posts on this topic, the bid by Seattle to become the 32nd franchise in the National Hockey League (NHL) took a crucial step forward on Tuesday.
The Seattle ownership group partners and Mayor Durkan met with a nine-member committee of NHL governors (owners) and other top league executives in New York to make a presentation essentially framing why the NHL should expand into the Seattle market.
The news comes as no real surprise because the Seattle group set records for season ticket commitments and blew away the number that Las Vegas did a couple of years ago in their respective season ticket drive. The region in the Pacific Northwest is untapped in the U.S. by the NHL, and the prospective Seattle team would have a built-in rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks about a two hour drive away to the north.
The committee yesterday voted 9-0 in favor of the Seattle bid moving forward in the expansion process. The financing of the team and the arena renovations to Key Arena at Seattle Center (which was the center of my last article on this topic) were not seen as a deterring factor.
The next step is for the NHL to vote on the formal expansion to Seattle in early December at the league meetings in Georgia. The expansion fee is expected to be (and widely reported) around $650 million. It should also be noted, for those who did not read my earlier coverage, that Seattle is the largest metro area in the United States without a major winter pro sports team.
The city is known for their passionate support of their current teams: the Seahawks in the NFL, the Sounders of MLS, the Mariners of MLB, and the Seattle Storm in the WNBA. The Seattle group used that as part of their pitch to the NHL committee on Tuesday and noted the excitement of the city, as evidenced by the season ticket drive results which were outstanding.
The addition of Seattle (it looks like a mere formality at this point) means that Quebec has no realistic prospect of entering the league unless one of the current teams decides to relocate to their city. The league, once it adds Seattle, will be balanced with 16 teams in each conference for the first time in several years. The NHL will not be looking to expand and “cut the pie” of revenue sharing again for quite some time.
The relocation targets for Quebec of the Carolina Hurricanes or Florida Panthers moving north of the border both look more unlikely. The Carolina team changes owners but the lease agreement on the arena is very friendly to the ownership. The Florida club got better, younger, and they saw their attendance improve somewhat. It seems less likely they will move or that the NHL would allow them to exit the South Florida market.
The last remaining hope is the Arizona Coyotes, but they are looking at a new arena site in The Valley and are also linked to Portland, OR if they were to relocate. I think the NHL, which wants desperately to remain in Phoenix, would more likely approve a move to Portland to keep the conferences balanced before it would vote to move the team to Quebec.
Seattle is going to be an intriguing market for the sport and for visiting teams and their respective fans. The Key Arena renovation is very ambitious and is the mitigating factor on whether the new team begins play in 2020 or 2021. That facility is going to combine the old with the new. The iconic roof will remain in place, the green space around the arena will be kept as well. The modern amenities and wider concourses will be added and the design of the new seating will provide hockey fans with great angles to view all of the action.
The talk in Seattle is that now that the NHL looks like a lock to come to the Emerald City, where is the NBA in all of this? When can the Sonics return to the hardwood? That looks rather unlikely from the standpoint and tone of the NBA and their Commissioner, Adam Silver, in recent statements.
Some people do not understand it, but in my earlier coverage of this topic and the NBA expansion bid to Seattle, it makes sense. The NBA preferred the “SoDo arena” proposal as it was known with Chris Hansen investing in all of that land downtown to build a brand-new arena for the Sonics to return. That agreement with the city was for an NBA-first facility. It would be designed with hockey as a secondary tenant.
The Key Arena proposal which the city ended up going forward with, is an NHL-first agreement which means that the NHL team will be the primary tenant and will get the better end of the revenue and gate sharing agreements in the building. The NBA expansion to that market under those conditions would limit the profitability of the Sonics. The NBA also has no imminent plans to expand and has other markets that will promise and are in better position to deliver, better profitability for the NBA in the long term than Seattle at this point.
The fans of hockey in Seattle should be thrilled, it is an exciting time for them and for hockey fans in general; especially given the success of the Golden Knights in their inaugural season last year. The next big decision once the vote comes through in December is to determine a team name. The NHL is coming to Seattle and the excitement has only just begun.
(thanks to The Seattle Times for some background information and to NHL.com as well)