We end 2018 with a countdown of the 10 biggest stories of the year on Arena Digest, as chosen by editors and partially based on page views. Today, #1: A Seattle NHL Expansion franchise is approved to launch at a renovated KeyArena in 2021.
When 2017 ended, Oak View Group‘s planned renovation of KeyArena had already made major strides and appeared poised to make more progress in 2018. It was last December that the Seattle City Council approved a memorandum of understanding for the project, with the NHL announcing shortly thereafter it would consider an expansion bid for Seattle led by billionaire David Bonderman and producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
Bringing the NBA back to Seattle has long been a motivation for discussing a new or renovated arena, as the city has been without a team in that league since the SuperSonics relocated to Oklahoma City in 2008. However, the NHL was viewed as the more imminent possibility for a number of reasons. Seattle represented a solid market that, despite having never had an NHL franchise previously, had a strong history of professional hockey, while the launch of the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017 left the league with an uneven 31 teams. The need for a 32nd club, and the preference for a western team to solve a geographical imbalance, made NHL expansion possibility and Seattle appeared to be a logical fit.
The Seattle NHL expansion group worked throughout much of 2018 to lay the groundwork for a future franchise. Tod Leiweke–brother of Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke–was named CEO, with a group of minority owners later assembled and former Vancouver Canucks executive Victor de Bonis appointed as COO. Furthermore, the Seattle NHL facility plan was broadened beyond the KeyArena renovation to include the NHL Seattle Ice Centre—an upcoming training facility at Seattle’s Northgate.
In December, the NHL officially made what had become an increasingly likely decision by approving Seattle’s NHL bid for a $650 expansion fee. One key aspect that changed along the way was the club’s proposed launch date. Though the hope among Seattle NHL, KeyArena project, and Seattle officials was for a 2020 launch, the league’s announcement called for a 2021 launch. The decision was made, in part, because of the uncertainty surrounding the conclusion of the KeyArena renovation. Although originally slated for a fall 2020 completion and slated to cost $600 million, the privately financed project is now estimated to wrap up in spring 2021 and cost upwards of $850 million.
With the renovation moving forward and the expansion bid approved, Seattle can now plan to welcome its first-ever NHL expansion franchise in 2021. The city’s NBA ambitions are likely to continue, but the NHL will be the first of the two leagues with a franchise in the dramatically remade arena.
Renderings courtesy Oak View Group.
Here’s the rest of our Top Ten of 2018: