Seattle lets bank keep naming rights to arena despite not paying for them for last four years

This is just incredible:

Shortly after the Sonics left Seattle, the contract between KeyBank and Seattle Center for naming rights for the sports arena came up for renewal. The price for the rights at that point was $1.3 million a year, but the city-owned Seattle Center offered a new price to reflect the fact that the arena would no longer host an NBA team: about $400,000 a year. But the bank still walked.

The consequence of KeyBank’s miserly ways? So far, nothing. For four years, the Cleveland-based bank’s logo has kept glowing red atop the arena, and its name is still invoked anytime a concert, Storm game, or roller derby takes place within its confines…

“If you take it down, what do you use instead?” asks Deborah Daoust, spokeswoman for Seattle Center. “It’s continuity for us, which is important from a branding aspect.”

Let’s see, you could maybe call it the Seattle Center Coliseum, which is what it was called before KeyBank bought the naming rights in the 1990s. Or the Storm Arena, if they wanted to follow the precedent set by the Miami Dolphins after naming rights sponsor Pro Player went bankrupt and stopped paying its bills. Or just the Arena, following the Philadelphia 76ers‘ lead.

Instead, the city of Seattle seems content to giving a local bank free advertising, just because “Meh, people are going to call it that anyway.” I guess maybe this might help them in marketing the naming rights to another company — you’ll get to keep your name on it even if you stop paying us! — but probably not in the way they’d hope.

NHL to take expansion bids from Vegas, Quebec, Seattle, etc. because MONEYYYYYY

The NHL is taking bids on expansion franchises starting July 6, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to expand, but does mean it’s testing the waters. And given the price tag, it’s easy to see why:

That’s kind of aggressive, considering that Forbes estimates the average NHL team to be worth $490 million, and given the markets we’d be talking about here (more on that in a minute), these teams would be below average. But then, the magazine’s team value figures always seem to lag a bit behind actual sale prices — as Forbes notes, there’s a bit of a bubble thanks to the fact that “Wall Street guys like Joshua Harris (New Jersey Devils) and Andrew Barroway (trying to buy a controlling interest in the Arizona Coyotes) are willing to pay a lot of money for hockey teams that lose money.” (It also doesn’t hurt that they can get huge tax breaks on their purchase price.)

The next question, obviously, is where, and everybody from Deadspin to the New York Times is assuming that one of the cities will be Las Vegas. This seems pretty daft from here — Las Vegas would be the second-smallest NHL TV market (ahead of only Buffalo), it’s in the middle of the Sun Belt where hockey franchises go to die, and it has a relatively poor permanent population. (A proposed Vegas team has managed to get $150 deposits on 11,500 season tickets, though those are refundable if there’s no team starting in 2016.) But it does have a new arena going up, and those things are guaranteed gold mines, right?

If Vegas were one team, the other would likely be either Quebec (where telecom giant Quebecor is almost certain to throw its hat in the ring) or Seattle (which has interest but still no solid NHL arena plan). Quebec would actually be the smallest media market in the NHL (smaller than Flint, Michigan!), but it’s in Canada, so maybe that compensates? Also, new arena!

If nothing else, all this means that Glendale should probably feel relatively secure in playing hardball with the Coyotes owners over their lease, since the NHL is unlikely to encourage the team to move to a new city if that would jeopardize a half-billion dollars in expansion fees. And with that, let’s go look as some photos of the under-construction Las Vegas arena:

Yeah, that, um, looks like an arena. With two levels of luxury suites, which I guess is standard these days, but makes for just awful views from the top deck. But hey, not like anyone’s likely to be sitting up there anyway, amirite?

Hansen: No NHL teams are so eager to play in Seattle that they’ve gotten out their checkbooks

Chris Hansen, the would-be Seattle NBA arena builder who can’t get an NBA team, says he hasn’t been approached by any NHL teams wanting to move to Seattle and willing to pay him to do so:

“We’ve had a lot of informal discussions with people about this, but us or the city have yet to be presented with any kind of offer. I mean any kind of even basic offer that would be the opening point for negotiating something,” Hansen said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The AP called this “surprising,” but it really isn’t: There aren’t a ton of hockey teams looking to move right now, and while I’m sure any team owner looking to test the waters would do due diligence by putting in a phone call to Hansen (that’s your “informal discussions” right there), actually offering to put in a pile of cash to help get the arena built — something Hansen and the city say would be needed for hockey, which doesn’t bring in as much revenue as basketball — isn’t really how things get done in the arena game.

None of this means that Seattle will never get an NHL team, or Hansen will never get his arena built, though the latter is certainly looking less likely the more time passes from his original approval two years ago. But it’s a reminder that 1) paying for arenas is hard, which we knew already, and 2) “build it and they will come” isn’t a great strategy for landing a pro sports franchise, which we also knew already.

Seahawks owner expresses “concerns” about not-anywhere-close Seattle arena, this is news, people

Citizen responses to environmental impact statements are usually among the most academic of exercises — you file them, they go in the back of the final report, and no one ever reads them again. Unless, that is, you’re a citizen who owns the local NFL team:

Paul Allen’s First & Goal Inc., which oversees all operations at CenturyLink Field, expressed serious concerns about the proposed sports arena that could house NBA and NHL franchises in Seattle’s Sodo neighborhood…

“It was anticipated that the EIS regarding the arena would resolve many of our questions and concerns,” the letter stated. “Unfortunately, after reviewing the FEIS and the most current version of the Arena proposal, we continue to be troubled that the arena has not yet disclosed and the city does not yet know how the proposed arena will fit within the existing stadium district or how it will mitigate many of its potential effects.”

Allen hasn’t previously complained about Chris Hansen’s proposed Sodo arena — unlike the owners of the Mariners, who’ve griped about it causing traffic problems — and the Seahawks owner insists that he’s still supportive of the plan, despite his concerns. But it still has the Puget Sound Business Journal asking what Hansen will do with his downtown land if he doesn’t build an arena on it. (Answer: sell it to somebody for commercial development, say two commercial realtors.) Not that Hansen is ready to break ground on this thing regardless — he still doesn’t have a team to play in it, for starters — but it sounds like now the media is developing an exit strategy for him, whether he wants one or not.

Seattle arena EIS finally done, just needs team to play there, way to pay for building it

The Seattle arena environmental impact statement is done! The Seattle arena environmental impact statement is done! It’s 1600 pages, so if you want to read it you’d better have nothing planned this weekend, but apparently it says that a new arena wouldn’t result in the trafficpocalypse, so that’s something.

Now that that’s done, the main holdup for Chris Hansen’s arena plan is that his deal with the city only accounts for funding an arena if he gets an NBA team. Chris Hansen, unless something fairly dramatic and unlikely happens to throw a wrench into the long-simmering Milwaukee Bucks arena talks in the next few months, is not getting an NBA team anytime in the immediate future. What he might get is an NHL expansion team, but his arena deal only allows for that as an add-on, not the main course.

What to do? Rewrite the deal, obviously, which Hansen now says he’s open to, and as Chris Daniels of KING-5 reports, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is prepared to pursue:

Murray has indicated he’s willing to champion new legislation if someone brings a financial model to the table that makes sense.

Oh, is that all?

Now, it may seem odd that Hansen and Co. can’t just cross out “NBA” in its arena plans and pencil in “NHL” — they have the same season length, after all, and you could still schedule the same number of concerts to go along with them. (Maybe a smidge less if you need more time to pour ice for games, but that shouldn’t be a huge factor.) But keep in mind that Hansen already lost his main money man, Steve Ballmer, when Ballmer bought the Los Angeles Clippers for all the money in the world, and that basketball has a built-in fan base from the Sonics days, and that his NBA business plan already looked to offer only wafer-thin margins, and you can start to see that an NHL-first plan might not be a … what’s the hockey equivalent of a slam dunk? An open shot on net? Something involving the five hole? I gotta watch more hockey.

Prospective Seattle NHL owner knows a guy who knows a guy who knows Bill Russell

Now that it’s been revealed that a commodities-trading billionaire is maybe interested in building an NHL arena in a Seattle suburb, everyone is sniffing around for more information, filing public records requests left and right. And they’ve turned up lots of stuff, even if none of it is quite what we’d most like to know:

  • Chris Daniels of KING 5 reports that the city of Tukwila has had “numerous conversations” with Ray Bartoszek’s arena group, and one of the investors may have met with arena operators AEG and arena architects Populous!
  • The Seattle Times reports that local biodiesel magnate Yale Wong owns part of the land that would be used for the arena’s parking garage! And Wong has met NBA legend Bill Russell!

As for how the hell this thing would be paid for, and whether Bartoszek has a business model where he’s really going to host 200+ nights a year of events at an arena way out of town, the documents are silent. Right now it sounds like Bartoszek is trying to create momentum that will make his arena seem like a more viable option than Chris Hansen’s downtown Seattle one; it could be a while yet before anything becomes clear about how it would actually work.

Shady oil-trading billionaire looks into NHL arena in Seattle suburb, everyone gets all excited

Move over, Chris Hansen! Your plans to build an arena for a nonexistent NBA team now have a competitor: Former oil trader (no, I’m not exactly sure what that is, or how you become rich doing it, or what he was doing for his first six years after getting his MBA, though it all seems to have something to do with profiting off third-world corruption) Ray Bartoszek has filed a zoning code interpretation request in the suburb of Tukwila, which would be the first step toward building an NHL arena there.

Bartoszek doesn’t have an NHL team, mind you, but he did reportedly offer to buy the Phoenix Coyotes in 2013 if they hadn’t gotten a new lease approved, and he owns some shares in the New York Yankees and, um, rich guy, okay? Rich guys must be taken seriously! Because rich!

Here’s how rich guy Ray Bartoszek says he will pay for building an arena in a Seattle suburb out near Sea-Tac airport for an NHL team that he doesn’t have yet:

The Seattle Times reports that the arena would be built on less than five acres of land, which is probably impossible, while Seattlepi.com says that “the proposed arena would house about 230 events per year,” which bwahahaha!

Anyway, rich guy filed a zoning application, so this now gives an NHL team in Seattle “momentum,” according to Yahoo! Sports. It must be nice to be rich. Remind me in my next life to get involved with buying commodities from outlaw states.

Nothing doing on Seattle arena until 2016, at least

In case you were wondering what’s up with Chris Hansen’s Seattle arena plans, the Seattle Times’ Geoff Baker had an article yesterday confirming that nothing is happening anytime soon. In short:

  • The final environmental impact study isn’t due until February, then there will be appeals, then the city council will need to vote on it. By the time all this is done, it will likely be 2016.
  • Not that that matters much, because Hansen won’t start building until he has a team, and he doesn’t have one. Conceivably the Milwaukee Bucks might become available if they can’t get their arena demands met in Wisconsin, but as Baker notes, “that’s theoretical.” An NHL team is more likely, but the current arena deal requires basketball, and neither Hansen nor Seattle Mayor Ed Murray seems excited about changing it to be hockey-first.

In other words, same as it ever was. But bookmark this for the next time sportswriters speculate about any number of teams relocating to Seattle.

Seattle arena finally making money, now that NBA has left town

Ever since the Seattle Sonics abandoned KeyArena for Oklahoma City, the old venue has been … doing really, really well, actually, according to the people who run it:

The arena is now quite profitable, thank you — much more so than in the days of the Sonics, to the surprise of many who saw an uncertain future for the sports venue after the team’s departure in 2009.

The Lower Queen Anne facility has gone from losing money in the Sonics’ final years to turning more than $1.2 million in profit for Seattle last year.

The trick? Instead of having to set dates aside for the Sonics, the arena is booking more concerts, which actually pay rent. Hmm, where have we heard this before?

It certainly helps that KeyArena’s construction debt is paid off, with the help of the Sonics owners paying off a chunk of it as part of their deal to skip town. Still, this is a good reminder that sports teams aren’t quite the economic anchors they pretend to be, and maybe a good sign that KeyArena could coexist with a new building if one is ever built to bring back the NBA to—

Ironically, if the NBA ever returned to Seattle, likely in a new arena, the Sonics’ old home would suffer. Another reason KeyArena has remained sustainable is because it hasn’t had to compete with another arena.

Forget I said anything. Seattle, be very happy you only have one arena, and one pro basketball team.

Vegas would be “disaster” for NHL expansion, Seattle not much better, according to Fivethirtyeight’s numbers

Fivethirtyeight has taken a look at the hard numbers behind the possible NHL expansion targets [or at least as hard as you can get from counting up Google searches for “NHL” — see comments], and pretty much concurs with what I said off the top of my head the other day: Quebec could work, as could Toronto (leaving aside the pesky problem of the Maple Leafs wanting that market all for themselves), but Seattle and especially Vegas would be pretty lousy NHL sites:

Teams in markets with fewer than 300,000 hockey fans, however, have tended to lose money, and that’s where the wisdom of adding franchises in Seattle and (especially) Las Vegas gets iffy. We estimated that Seattle contains about 240,000 NHL fans — fewer than that of Phoenix and Florida’s Tampa Bay, home to two franchises that have struggled to turn a profit for many years. And if Seattle is an enigmatic choice by this metric, Las Vegas would be a disaster. According to our estimates, there are only 91,000 hockey fans in the Vegas media market, which is nearly 40 percent fewer than even Nashville, Tennessee, the least-avid current NHL city, has.

Interestingly, Fivethirtyeight estimates that Kingston and Halifax, and maybe even Moncton, Sherbrooke or Sudbury, could viably support an NHL team better than the U.S. cities under consideration — and better even than five current NHL cities, Phoenix, Columbus, Raleigh-Durham, Miami, and Nashville — thanks to the fact that there are actually people who like to watch hockey in Canada. No doubt there are other factors here at work as well — TV networks, in particular, care as much about overall media market size as whether the market contains any actual hockey fans — but it’s still a worthwhile reminder that just because a city has possible arena plans and some name recognition doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good place to start up a sports franchise.