SEATTLE — The group looking to bring professional hockey to Seattle has taken the next step in the pursuit of an NHL franchise.
The Oak View Group and its prospective NHL ownership group, led by billionaire David Bonderman and filmmaker Jerry Bruckheimer, submitted its expansion application with the National Hockey League on Tuesday.
"We are excited for the next steps in the process and our continued partnership with the City of Seattle," Oak View CEO Tim Leiweke said in a statement.
The expansion application has been expected for weeks and is the next step in Seattle’s ongoing hope of bringing an NHL franchise to the largest market in the United States without a professional winter sports franchise. The filing also included a $10 million deposit. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan also tweeted her excitement about Oak View’s filing with the NHL.
If Seattle is successful in its expansion bid, the new franchise would bring the league to an even 32 teams with 16 in each conference. A new team would also yield a hefty expansion fee — in the neighbourhood of $650 million.
The expansion application is a procedural step that was necessary to validate Oak View’s intent on making Seattle the next NHL market. Seattle’s application will be reviewed and ultimately the league’s executive committee will make a recommendation to the full NHL Board of Governors. The timeline for that is unknown.
The expansion franchise process is running concurrent with a $660 million remodel of KeyArena being privately financed by OVG. The group has an aggressive timeline for construction that could have the renovated building open in time for the 2020-21 NHL season.
The first test in how willing Seattle is to embrace the NHL will arrive in the coming weeks and months when the prospective ownership group begins a season-ticket drive, the same way the league tested Las Vegas. Any NHL team in Seattle would find a completely different landscape than a decade ago when the Sonics and NBA moved to Oklahoma City and the city lost its winter sports outlet.
Seattle’s skyline is filled with as many construction cranes as snowcapped peaks in the surrounding mountains. Amazon has taken over an entire section of the city, joined nearby by satellite offices of Google and Facebook. The amount of wealth now in the Seattle market is part of the reason Oak View CEO Tim Leiweke has regularly called Seattle "a brilliant marketplace" and one of the most enticing expansion opportunities in pro sports history.
Seattle has become a city of transplants due to the booming local economy. A hockey franchise would provide those newcomers a team to rally around, much like what happened when the Sounders of the MLS arrived in 2009.
But finding a foothold in Seattle will be an examination of how starved fans are for another team. Basketball is embedded in the DNA of the region thanks to 41 years of the SuperSonics until 2008 and a lengthy history of producing NBA talent.
While the ownership group for the potential NHL franchise appears set, there remains some concern about having the new arena ready by the 2020 season. OVG and the city reached agreement on a memorandum of understanding for the arena in December. Councilmembers praised the agreement for including benefits for the city, including $20 million in cash and in-kind contributions to non-profit organizations and another $40 million to help improve transportation in the area around Seattle Center.
The MOU was the first step in a process that will include an environmental review. The city still needs to finalize several key documents with the developer, including the lease and other agreements.
Under the MOU, Oak View Group would be responsible for regular facility upgrades for the life of the 39-year lease agreement. Should those upgrade requirements be met, there are two eight-year lease extensions that will be activated, and carry the entire life of the lease agreement to 55 years.