Another day, another report that the NHL is looking to pull the trigger on expansion.
The newest rumor comes from Seattle-based radio host Mitch Levy who claims that Bettman is urging the Board of Governors to make an expansion team available to Seattle for the 2014-2015 season. The prospective franchise would have a price tag of $275 million (the average NHL franchise was worth $280 million in 2012 so the figure seems legit) and would need to be purchased by a local ownership group.
The NHL setting up shop in Seattle shouldn’t come as a surprise to any casual observer. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly essentially told Seattle that they were next in line for a franchise when he said that the Pacific Northwest would receive ‘serious consideration’ if the NHL were to look into expansion.
Even if Daly hadn’t made those comments it was clear that Seattle was the league’s destination of choice. Less than a month ago the Phoenix Coyotes were on the brink of fleeing the city of Glendale for the rainier pastures of Seattle. It took a last minute deal between the city and Renaissance Sports and Entertainment to ensure that the Coyotes would remain in Glendale (it cost the city $15 million a year to keep a team that has an operating loss of $132.9 million over the past nine years).
Seattle doesn’t come without its own set of roadblocks though. A brand new, $490 million arena, is being built by Chris Hansen (the man on a mission to bring the NBA back to Seattle) and in the agreement’s current form, the SoDo district arena will be constructed once an NBA tenant is acquired. That language can be changed, but Hansen will likely want the prospective NHL owners to pitch in with the costs in order for that alteration to occur. The arena will also take a few years to be built, meaning any team who wishes to call Seattle home will have to play in KeyArena.
In case you haven’t heard, KeyArena isn’t built for hockey. It seats 13,000 (some claim its optimal seating is 11,000) which would make it the smallest arena in the NHL, the scoreboard doesn’t hang over the center of the ice (the entire rink is off center from the actual stadium), and the ice refuses to stay frozen. None of those things seem to be easy fixes for a potential NHL franchise who would have to spend at least two seasons in KeyArena.
Surprisingly enough, those things don’t really matter. Its clear that Seattle is the apple of the NHL’s eye. None of the other cities in contention (at least in the US) can fill up the expansion checklist quite like Seattle can. They have the population density (15th largest according to Metropolitan Statistal Area standards), are underserved by professional sports (the Puget Sound area is the largest US market with only two professional sport teams in the NBA, NFL, NHL & MLB), and they have a state-of-the-art arena ready to be built once a tenant is secured. It’s the closest to a sure thing that Bettman is going to find in the US, and with an overwhelming amount of franchises already drowning in annual losses, Bettman needs a sure thing when it comes to expansion.