Could Seattle get an NHL team to play in KeyArena? (SPOILER: no)

NHL officials may be decidedly noncommittal about putting a team in Seattle, but that isn’t stopping the sports media from getting all excited about how Seattle may be getting an NHL team, dudes! Or at least speculating where one would play, with the Seattle Times sports business writer Geoff Baker speculating that maybe a team could play at the existing KeyArena:

With no Sodo arena deal in sight to entice the NHL to award a franchise, [investment banker Ray] Bartoszek is seeking alternatives: the most eye-catching being a proposal to pump tens of millions of dollars into overhauling KeyArena into a modern, NHL-only facility.

“I think we’ve got to get away from this idea that the key to this is through that real estate,’’ Bartoszek said of the Sodo project, still awaiting political approval in a stalled process. “I assumed those guys held the keys to the city and the ability to get this all done. Now, it’s time to look at other approaches.’’

“Eye-catching” would be one word for it. “Cracktastic” would be another. Here’s a seating map of KeyArena for hockey:

That’s not easily fixed, unless you either saw the arena in half and stretch it out, or use TARDIS technology to make it bigger on the inside.

Before anyone says anything: Yes, yes, the New York Islanders are going to playing games starting next year at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, which has a similarly screwy hockey layout. But there’s a different between convincing a single NHL owner, stuck in an arena he was unhappy with, to move to a new building with lousy hockey sightlines in order to grab a piece of the lucrative Brooklyn market, and convincing the NHL to give you an expansion team over a bunch of other similar mid-sized cities without an NHL-friendly arena.

Look, I would dearly love for a way for Seattle to get a new sports franchise without having to go through the expense of building a whole new arena. (Among other things, the world doesn’t need the carbon footprint of new construction.) But the odds on the NHL actually approving Bartoszek’s scheme are vanishingly small, even if he could figure out a way to pay for it. Right now, whatever interest the NHL has in Seattle, it’s only if Seattle gets a new arena; and with the only people in town interested in building a new arena unwilling to do so without an NBA team first, this could be a long wait.

30 comments on “Could Seattle get an NHL team to play in KeyArena? (SPOILER: no)

  1. Iirc, the Coyotes had the same issues when they first moved to Arizona, and had to use the Suns arena until they had an arena built for them in the boondocks.

  2. Yep. If we were talking about a team relocating, I could see them playing at Key temporarily at least. I don’t see the NHL giving Seattle an expansion team without a new arena in a million years.

  3. That map doesn’t even show the biggest problem with these arrangements: The upper deck.

  4. Ty, those seats are like sitting in the batter’s eye (batter’s eye:can’t see the at bat very well::offset upper deck seats in NHL KeyArena:can’t see the closest goal).

  5. But some of those “event level” corner seats look fun too, from the picture you’d look at a goal by staring through the bodies next to you.

  6. Only if a team desperatly needed out of their current lease. I have OCD’S and the off-center scoreboard in hockey configuration irritates me.

  7. I suspect there is another angle to Bartoszek raising a Key Arena renovation as an option, because there is no way that such a plan could work. Not only would the logistics of increasing seating capacity be absurd, but there is also a serious lack of infrastructure to support major events in Seattle Center (especially during weekdays).

    I wouldn’t discount the NHL’s particular interest in Seattle, though. The claim of a bunch of similar sized cities in the hunt for a team seems hyperbolic to me. The only larger metro area without a team (Atlanta) just lost their second NHL team, and the only comparably-sized metro area (Inland Empire, CA) abuts two other teams. The next-largest (Cleveland) was passed over for representation in Ohio by Columbus, and I haven’t heard any rumblings of demand for a second Ohio team. San Diego (about 25% smaller than Seattle) would only make sense if the league wanted a third Southern Californian team with a bit of a buffer from the others. After that, you are dropping down into sub-three-million places like Portland (which may make sense in a league that wants to establish an northern I-5 corridor rivalry with Vancouver and Seattle), Orlando (because we need another Florida team), Baltimore (doubt the Caps would like that), and Sacramento.

    Only once you get past all of those sparkling candidates do you reach a feasible alternative (other than choosing no expansion at all, which looks smart to me) in Kansas City (just over half the size of Seattle), specifically because of their vacant arena. If there is any truth to the reports of what the NHL has been considering, it is primarily down to: no one, Seattle, Kansas City, Las Vegas and Quebec City. The size of Seattle is distinct to the others, if that is worth anything to the league.

  8. I think all other things being equal, the NHL would love to go to Seattle. But I don’t think it’s enough of a draw in itself to overcome the NHL’s desire for a real hockey arena. Especially when, as you say, they can always just stand pat for now and not expand at all.

  9. Columbus got an NHL expansion because the Chill held records for selling tickets. By all predictive powers, the NHL was going to be a hit (… of course a competitive team and Buckeyes tickets being less popular can also help).

  10. It is ironic that the original Seattle Center Coliseum could properly (if badly) support a hockey configuration –


    It was only after the NBA-mandated redo into Key Arena which made NHL expansion into Seattle impossible. And now the NHL basically needs the NBA back in town to even start the conversation about a Seattle expansion.

  11. Neil,

    I’m glad you touched on the oft-overlooked topic of arena construction leading to global warming. In fact, the people supported by those construction jobs leave a large carbon footprint as well so it’s high time we start supporting mass extermination.

  12. “the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet contains enough water to raise sea levels by 10 to 13 feet”, eh? Sounds like a pending boon to the boating building industry.
    I’m doing my part by voting against new arenas, unnecessary construction & not bringing any children into this world. Ship ahoy!

  13. I am still baffled as to why these arenas completely remove the lower seating on one side and offset the rink instead of removing an even amount of seats on both ends of the arena and keeping the rink centered – thus preserving all other sight-lines. Can someone explain this to me? There must be a good reason since all too-small arenas do this but I still don’t see it.

  14. @Persi – Concert stages. If you have only a little come off each end, it hurts your concert seating. Having one end come off completely means more seats.

  15. @Ty – From my understanding arena seating can be reconfigured for different events and is not permanent. You’d only take a little off each side to fit the hockey rink for hockey events. I don’t see what that has anything to do do with how you would configure it for a concert. You could still remove all the seats on one side to put a stage in for a concert.

  16. Hockey in Seattle talk continues, with the Mayor (glad I voted for him now) saying “oh, let’s not get into this again…”
    Originally published May 15, 2014 at 10:27 PM | Page modified May 16, 2014 at 12:33 AM

    Major investment group trying to bring NHL to Seattle emerges

    A major investment group trying to bring the NHL to Seattle emerged on Thursday with word it is working with the league, potential arena builder Chris Hansen and top municipal officials to get a deal done.

    Murray said he’d revisit the MOU issue if he got a sense the city council wanted to. But right now, he added, he isn’t even sure the existing MOU would be approved if put to a vote. Instead, he feels the city should be studying alternatives to the Sodo plan until Hansen and arena partner Steve Ballmer figure out how to get an NBA franchise to Seattle.

    Ballmer’s NBA interests might be leading him away from Seattle. He told The Wall Street Journal on Thursday he’s interested in bidding for the Clippers and keeping them in Los Angeles.

  17. I left out the closing sentences which are most appropriate for this blog post.

    For (Mayor) Murray, the best alternative to reworking the MOU is to fix up Key­Arena on an interim basis to accommodate an NHL team until a new venue can be built. He shared this opinion with Bettman and Daly. “They weren’t interested,” Murray said.

    I think it has more to do with the expense of having movable seating (and similarly less-built-up-stuff underneath that seating). I’m going to venture to guess that the cost of the seats and ongoing labor in moving two banks of seats adds up. Also, it’s one thing to roll out a few extra pretzel carts underneath those seats when they’re extended and then roll them away, but permanent structures are probably more profitable to fill/rent out.

  18. @Chief Joe – I get what your saying about cost, but when Option B is to build an entire new arena just so everyone has good sight-lines, suddenly the cost of moving a few rows of seats sounds like peanuts to me.

    Many arenas reconfigure on an almost daily basis between hockey, basketball, and concert layouts. How could it cost that much more to change which removable seats you are moving? It just doesn’t make any sense to me.

  19. My understanding is the same as ChefJoe’s: Having half as many removable seats at each end of an arena doesn’t cost the same as one block of them on one side.

    Plus, as Ty notes, you can kill two birds with one stone by removing those same seats for concerts. See the Barclays Center seating charts here:

  20. Two things for me:
    1) The NBA used the Key Arena renovation to lock the NHL out of Seattle. Now that the NBA is out of town, then the NHL has an opportunity to return the favor if they can find a way to redirect the arena construction talk BUT…
    2) Geoff Baker is big on click bait

  21. I agree with you guys that it is probably more expensive to have removable seats on both sides, but doing that still has to be tremendously cheaper than building an entire new arena because of this problem like they did in Phoenix.

  22. Building a new arena is only more expensive if you’re the one paying.

  23. @Persi…the problem is also that you’d have two useless upper decks in each end instead of just one dead end. Though not as bad as the Brooklyn pictures above,they would probably have the behind the redline section blocked off.

  24. Key Arena wasn’t good enough for the WHL Seattle Thunderbirds, who moved out in 2009. Only reason to push for renovation is if you think others will pay for it.

    For those unaware, the Seattle Thunderbirds (now in Kent, 19 miles away) have been around for nearly 30 years. Bringing in NHL would probably run them out of business (or town). Is that what hockey fans want?

  25. @Pedro, see Neil’s comment about “if you’re the one paying”.

    Kent spent $84 M on a 6,000+ seat arena whose major tenants are a WHL team and the Lingerie Football League (which plays two home games a season). The Thunderbirds get a cut of the concessions and enjoy the higher ticket price due to free parking. The city puts in just under $4 million a year in bond payments, has been losing money on the arena revenue vs expenses ledger ($0.6M in 9 months) and has seen its bond rating drop. The Thunderbirds moved because they were able to get a sweetheart deal elsewhere.

  26. Milwaukee and Seattle would be great Hockey towns, move the Bucks to Kansas City.

    Move the Florida Panthers or the Columbus Blue Jackets to Seattle and rename them the Seattle Emeralds or the Seattle Seagulls.

  27. I think what the mayor wants along with the city council is to build an arena at Seattle Center. Reason is because they can revitalize the area and they get tax money.that is what it is about. So if you want an arena start preparing your minds to go to watch pro winter sports. Now the question is this: if a investor comes in and says I want to privately build an area at seattle center, does the MOU get in the way of building it there or does the investor have to go to Bellevue to make it happen?

  28. Building an arena at Seattle Center to replace the arena at Seattle Center would revitalize the area? Run that by me again?

  29. Easy. You build a new arena which will bring sporting teams and that will bring people to the games which will bring money to the businesses in the area, which will then bring tax money to the city.

    Lower queen Anne is just dormant. But it looks like the city council figured it has control and now will suggest where the arena is going to go. Looks like people bought property in SO DO for nothing

  30. Because the people who’d be spending money at a new arena would otherwise be spending it where, Bellevue?

    The incremental new tax revenue from a new arena isn’t zero, but it’s not a ton, either. Even Hansen’s figures only have new sales, property, and business taxes as amounting to a total value of $37 million — that’s $37 million total, not per year — and that’s ignoring money that’s cannibalized from elsewhere in the city, not to mention what would be lost from shutting down Key:

    If Seattle wanted to spend $20 million toward a new Seattle Center arena, I could see that as a reasonable investment. $20 million, however, wouldn’t even buy a scoreboard these days.