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Is NHL Only Path to Seattle NBA Team? It Appears So

Seattle SonicsIt’s increasingly looking like the only path to a Seattle NBA team is a new arena initially built for an NHL team — but with no committed ownership and plenty of roadblocks, that path will be a huge challenge for developer Chris Hansen.

Right now plans for a new arena for a Seattle NBA team are basically on hold, as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said expansion is not in his league’s future and no teams at the present looking to move, with new arenas in Milwaukee and Sacramento coming online soon. Now, having a new arena in Seattle, combined with new arenas in Las Vegas and Virginia Beach, could force the NBA’s hand in future expansion.

But here’s the rub: Hansen’s agreement with the city of Seattle and King County for $200 million in public financing for a new arena is dependent on a new Seattle NBA team — the NHL isn’t part of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that expires in November 2017. And with Seattle rejecting a street closure to make way for a new arena, it would appear the whole endeavor is on life support.

There is a path for the new arena, argues Art Thiel, but it’s certainly complicated, involving Hansen paying at least $20 million — and perhaps $40 million — to help fund a sorely needed bridge needed to improve access to the Port of Seattle. That contribution could be negotiated as part of an extension of the arena Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that expires in November 2017, an extension that would also allow Hansen to include the NHL along with the NBA as a trigger to the public financing. Once the arena is built, Hansen is free to pursue his real passion: a new Seattle NBA team. As Thiel writes:

So the 10-year anniversary of the Sonics sale brings us to future events. Given its clear aversion to a) expansion, b) relocation and c) the voters and electeds of Seattle, the NBA for Hansen seems at the moment a beyond-Steph-Curry-range long shot.

Which doesn’t mean allowing him the opportunity is a bad idea. Because if he’s going to go to the trouble of re-submitting a proposal for Sodo that helps pay for the Lander Street Bridge and includes a deadline extension, the rewrite of the MOU should also include the NHL, for which expansion/relocation are not at all far-fetched.

To build for NHL first, Hansen made it clear he needs a partner group emotionally invested in hockey and financially capable of investing in his arena plan. As far as is known, no such entity has reached out, at least in part because Hansen has no NHL deal with Seattle.

Thiel is a very wired sportswriter in Seattle, and if he’s reporting on this path to a new Seattle NBA team, there’s probably other important folks in the Emerald City doing the same thing. His path leads to the potential of the NHL coming to town, but that path has one significant roadblock: Hansen says he doesn’t want to own an NHL team, and while several groups have expressed interest in owning a Seattle NHL team, they didn’t apply during the most recent expansion round. (Indeed, of the three groups seeking a Seattle NHL team, only one investor — Victor Coleman — want to work with Hansen on an arena project. The other two are pitching suburban arenas, but it’s not clear whether suburbs like Bellevue are interested in financing a new arena.)

Now, given the stable financial state of the NHL, it shouldn’t be hard for Hansen to find a viable candidate wanting to host a new NHL team in a new Seattle arena on favorably terms. So there is a path to a new Seattle NBA team — but it depends on factors far beyond the NBA itself.

RELATED STORIES: Ballmer: Seattle NBA Team Not Likely in Near Future; Is Quebec City Snub Open Invite for New Seattle NHL Team?; It’s Official: Las Vegas NHL Team to Launch in 2017-2018; Seattle Rejects Street Closure — And New Arena in Process

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