Seattle winners of Vegas gamble
Seattleites, and hockey fans both win if NHL heads to the Emerald City
You don’t have to be a Starbucksdrinking, grunge-listening and plaid-wearing Seattleite — yes, this is what people are Seattle are called — to love that the National Hockey League looks like it’s headed to the state of Washington.
You just have to be a hockey fan. Or be a fan of not living through another labour lockout.
That’s the biggest take-away from Monday ’s announcement that the Seattle City Council approved a memorandum of understanding with Los Angeles-based Oak View Group to privately finance a roughly $600 million US remodel of KeyArena for NHL and NBA use in time (if all goes well with official NHL league acceptance) for the 2020-21 season. That’s right around the time that the current NHL collective bargaining agreement could expire if the league or the National Hockey League Players’ Association take advantage of a 2019 option to opt out of the current agreement in 2020. Convenient, isn’t it? If there’s anything to pressure both sides into working toward a new collective bargaining agreement, it’s the added incentive of increased revenues and jobs that a new franchise will bring. Right off the top, the price of the expansion team is expected to cost more than the $500 million US Vegas paid in 2016. Then there are the 23 new roster spots it creates for players.
It’s a win-win for owners and players. And ultimately, that’s good for hockey fans — even the ones living next to an empty NHL-size arena in Quebec City.
You can debate whether Seattle should get a hockey franchise before Quebec City or whether the league should expand when other markets, such as Arizona and Florida, are struggling to fill the building. But a 32nd team is coming. It’s just a matter of time.
When the league accepted expansion applications in 2015, the expectation was that two teams would be added: one from Vegas and another from Seattle. But Seattle, which didn’t have an arena deal in place, chose not to apply. Rather than award a franchise to Quebec City — the only other team that applied and a city that had a new arena — the league came up with an excuse about geographical imbalance and instead added only one team.
Oak View Group has lined up billionaire David Bonderman and filmmaker Jerry Bruckheimer as the lead owners for a potential NHL Seattle franchise. This heavyweight group has the resources and know-how to put a bid together. And more importantly, they have an arena being remodelled for NHL specifications.
Add in the fact that Seattle would give balance to a league where there are 16 teams in the Eastern Conference and only 15 in the West, and it’s practically a done deal that the NHL will be expanding to 32 teams in the near future. The board of governors are meeting this week in Florida — an official expansion announcement could come as early as July.
The only question is whether the league will stop at 32? With Houston and Kansas City also interested, and Quebec City patiently waiting for someone to relocate, don’t be surprised if this becomes a 34-team league in the next 10 years.
After all, so far the gamble is paying off in Las Vegas. And when gambles start paying off, you’re more inclined to double down your bets.
With Seattle on its way to renovating its arena for an expected entrance into the NHL, expect the heat to be turned up on the city of Calgary.
After all, it’s not necessary that the league expand to 32 teams. While the NHL does not plan on relocating any of its franchises, without a new rink in Calgary the team’s future in Alberta might not be secure.
“We believe in all of the places that we have franchises now,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said during last month’s GM meetings in Montreal.