Chances are if you’ve been a sports fan for more than 15 minutes, than this recent buzz about Seattle’s NHL future may not seem like anything new. However, if you’ve been following the ups and downs of Seattle trying to manufacture an NHL team, then you know that this most recent news, means they’re closer than ever before.
Seattle’s Expansion History
A Seattle expansion has seemingly been on the table for the NHL since 1974 when both Denver and Seattle were granted conditional NHL franchises, but unfortunately, we know only one city came out of that year with an NHL team. Again in 1990, a bid was made for a Seattle team, but financially things weren’t meant to be, as the deal fell through. Apparently, the $50Mil expansion fee was seen as too pricey for the Seattle businessmen wishing to start a team (Vegas just paid $500Mil last year).
The biggest hold up for Seattle in recent years, however, has always been their arena situation. Washington is a proven hockey market home to two WHL teams, the Everett Silvertips and Seattle Thunderbirds, but even the WHL and the Thunderbirds weren’t happy with Seattle’s KeyArena, located near the Space Needle downtown. Similar to the Barkley Centre in Brooklyn, the KeyArena’s primary design was for Basketball. Making many of its sightlines undesirable for watching hockey, let alone the floor of the arena is barely large enough to fit an ice surface. The Thunderbirds left the KeyArena in 2008, and since then no hockey team has called the KeyArena home.
Since 2011 plans for a new NHL quality arena in Seattle have continually surfaced, each seeming more likely than the last. Don Levin owner of the AHL’s Chicago Wolves (which funny enough is the affiliate team of the NHL’s newest expansion) expressed interest in building an arena in Bellevue. Although a home in Bellevue wouldn’t put the team in the heart of Washington’s major city, Bellevue is just across the lake from Seattle and is a large city in the Seattle metropolitan area. Those plans however never garnered enough support to make them a reality.
SoDo was a No Go
Then there was the first push in February of 2012 to build an arena in Seattle’s SoDo district. The same part of Seattle which is home to Safeco Field and Century Link Field as the home bases for Seattle’s MLB and NFL teams respectively. However, it was decided by Seattle, that the construction of an arena would not go through without the guarantee of an NHL team as it’s tenant. Unlike the Kevin Costner classic Field of Dreams, NHL expansion works on an “If you build it, they
will might come” basis, which apparently wasn’t good enough for Seattle and the SoDo District specifically.
Since the fall out of the initial SoDo arena plans, there has been minimal news over the recent years regarding where, how and if Seattle will ever get an NHL caliber arena. It hasn’t been complete silence since 2012, but there hasn’t been any extraordinarily promising news that has made Seattle’s NHL dream seem any closer to becoming a reality. That is of course until December 4th 2017, the day that may go down in history, as the day that finally put an end to Seattle’s arena problem.
December 4th 2017
In a 7-1 vote by the Seattle City Council, they approved a MoU brought forward by the Oak View Group, to make renovations to the existing KeyArena (we’ve come full circle people). Renovations are expected to begin sometime in 2018 and will conclude in 2020. These upgrades could also mean the return of an NBA franchise to Seattle, however, hockey fans can be a little bit more excited, as the primary intention of the renovation is to acquire an NHL team.
Very shortly after the KeyArena upgrades gained City Council approval the NHL board of governors gave Seattle the green light to formally apply for expansion, setting an expansion fee for the franchise at $650Mil. All of this seems like unprecedented great news for Seattle, however NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, released a statement to somewhat manage expectations.
“That doesn’t mean we have granted an expansion team… We have agreed as a league to take and consider an expansion application and to let them run in the next few months a season-ticket drive.” – Gary Bettman (Reported by Dan Rosen of NHL.com)
So what does Seattle have to do now? Well, that formal application Bettman speaks of, is the next step. That will set the proposed Seattle ownership group represented by David Bonderman and Jerry Bruckheimer back $10mil, $2Mil of which they don’t get back. In the next few month, the season-ticket drive is expected to begin, and this is where Seattle hockey fans will need to step up to the plate. The purpose of a season ticket drive is to see if there will be enough potential fan interest to support a team. So if you live in the Seattle area, and begrudgingly cheer for Vancouver, this is your chance to tell the NHL you want a team of your own.
Additionally, the NHL has stated that as far as expansions go, they are only looking at Seattle for the time being, not Huston, not Quebec City, only Seattle. So with the green light given to the emerald city, all eyes are on them. As the rest of us wait to see if a second NHL team will call the Pacific North West, home.