Seattle arena finally finalized, NHL team could be next, and nobody had to get screwed to make it happen

The Seattle city council finally cast its final vote to approve the privately funded reconstruction of KeyArena yesterday — notwithstanding that it had already voted to approve the plan last December — which means we can all rejoice in an arena deal that doesn’t suck too badly, thanks to a combination of citizen activism and relatively forward-thinking elected officials. (Those are the city officials; county officials are still wackadoodle, as the recent Mariners lease extension made clear.)

And it also means that now we can freely speculate about an NHL expansion team in Seattle, since part of the deal is that renovations won’t start until a franchise is in place:

Local investors will present to the NHL’s executive committee on October 2. Then, the full NHL Board of Governors will vote in December on whether to approve an expansion franchise for Seattle for the 2020-2021 season. A Seattle NHL team would be owned by billionaire David Bonderman, movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer and a handful of local owners.

Sports leagues are in a weird place right now with regard to expansion, with some looking to cash as many expansion fee checks as possible (MLS), while others are sitting on their hands and figuring that a one-time windfall isn’t worth the tradeoff of having to share the revenue pie with more owners (the NBA and NFL, pretty much). Baseball has been kicking the tires on expansion without making much of a commitment — my gut sense is that they’ll only do so if bowled over by expansion fees of around $1 billion per team, which may not be feasible for the size of the cities involved, something that I told Matthew Kory of the Athletic for this article (paywalled), though Twitter somehow turned it into me hating Montreal.

The NHL has been somewhere in between MLS and MLB, eager to expand if someone wants to throw money at them, but not so eager as to approve more than one team at a time. Seattle seems like as sure a bet for the league as possible — moderately big media market, more of an existing hockey fan base than some of the cities from Gary Bettman’s famed Sunbelt Strategy that didn’t work out so well — so if Bruckheimer and friends are willing to pay $650 million for a team in league where only 10 out of 31 existing teams are worth that much, hell yeah, grab the cash.

The calculus of expansion really comes down to whether you think the future revenues you’re giving up (by slicing the pie into smaller pieces) are worth more or less than the expansion fee check, and that’s going to vary based on everything from what you expect the future holds in terms of league revenues (is the cable bubble bursting yet?) to how your league’s revenue-sharing determines the size of your existing slice. None of which has much to do with whether a city “deserves” a team, whether in terms of Nielsen demographics or of how rabid their fan base is, so it’s nice when they all line up and a city like Seattle lands a team that should fit in well with existing NHL cities. And not having to put in public arena subsidies is the cherry on the top. Wow, I really have nothing overly cynical or pessimistic to say about this news item — mark this day down, because you shan’t see its like again.


8 comments on “Seattle arena finally finalized, NHL team could be next, and nobody had to get screwed to make it happen

  1. While it’s commendable that this project doesn’t screw over taxpayers too much, it fails to address the logisitcal problems with Key. The traffic and parking issues in the Queen Anne area is already terrible, and there is no real plan to deal with it when there will be an extra 15,000 people there on game nights. I would love to see the NHL and eventually the NBA back in Seattle, I’m just not sure this will make that happen.

    • stop complaining about the traffic! it’s always been a mess around the Seattle Center for many years. The area can handle the crowds, just get out of your car and use transit…….or move out of the city.

      • While I don’t want to minimize the traffic and transit issues in Queen Anne (I stayed there once, and it might have been more convenient transitwise to stay in Oregon), I’ve also noticed that these concerns about arenas often end up being overblown. The Brooklyn arena was supposed to unleash traffic nightmares, but honestly it hasn’t made rush hour significantly more horrific than it already was.

        • Very definitely overblown.

          What frustrates me about the whole discussion around Key Arena is it keeps getting referred to like they’re building a new arena in a place where there’s never been one. The old Key Arena has stood where it is for over 50 years, and in its current form for the last 23 years. We ALREADY know what traffic is like in the area and while its not an open freeway, it works just fine (at least no worse than anywhere else there’s a stadium). People deal… (I’m one of them.)

          The new arena won’t be that much larger either. Capacity jumps from the low ~17k to ~18.5k for basketball. It won’t change much. At the very least, it just means more nights with arena traffic.

          The folks that do realize this love to bring up horror stories about what it was like getting to Sonics games pre 2008, but I have to point out to them they were venturing through the old Mercer mess, which has since been completely rebuilt: https://www.seattle.gov/transportation/projects-and-programs/current-projects/mercer-corridor-project
          And will be further improved once the new 99 tunnel opens and all the east/west streets are reconnected: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/Viaduct/Schedule/North

          Generally, its all an excuse to gripe and lament about the SoDo project falling on its ass. We’ll be perfectly happy with the new Seattle Center Arena.

  2. MLS is running a ponzi scheme right now. As they dillute the talent pool, the quality of play continues to diminish. Those franchises won’t be worth anything once corporate sponsors stop buying tickets they don’t use.

    In Houston, they announce these near sellout crowds with a 75% empty stadium. Of course, the teams that have been sent higher quality players by the league, because all the players actually work for the league, have bigger crowds. The other teams are treated like Troy State is by Alabama, an opportunity to sell tickets to a drubbing at the hands of the home team.

    • I…disagree on that first one? What dilution of quality of play are you talking about? The league offering more TAM to teams is causing legitimately good players to come here on something other than DP contracts. The quality of play is BETTER than it’s ever been.

      The second one is true: SEA, ATL, POR are places where people actually care, and then there are a lot of places that have a club just to have one because it’s a big market. I actually don’t hate the idea of expanding to places that already have USL support like Cincinnati, but another expansion to Miami, for example, is just a “We need a team in Miami because it’s Miami” move.

  3. You can hate montreal all you want but we are the biggest market in north armerica without a baseball team. We got robbed of our team. And just cause you hate on montreal im going to add you should bow down to the hockey gods here in montreal or they will curse your team before you get one

    • I love Montreal! But I will happily bow down to Montreal’s hockey gods, assuming you mean Youppi.