With the NBA not likely to expand soon, and the NHL seemingly courting a Seattle team at every opportunity, Hansen may have to switch his public-bonds tactics.
Inside sports business
One of the worst-kept secrets in professional sports was confirmed Wednesday when the NHL announced the awarding of an expansion franchise to Las Vegas.
In giving Sin City its first major pro team, the league also deferred an expansion decision on Quebec City — citing the weakened Canadian dollar and a conference imbalance. As is, the league will still have 15 teams in the West and 16 in the East when Las Vegas starts play in 2017-18, cuing a new round of speculation about Seattle being a future expansion target.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has told anybody who has asked that Seattle must get its arena situation worked out before the league takes another look here. That took a hit last month when the Seattle City Council voted 5-4 against giving up part of Occidental Avenue South to entrepreneur Chris Hansen so he can build an arena in Sodo District.
One thing is certain: Nothing will happen with an arena in Seattle until Hansen decides his next move.
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“Chris and his partners are evaluating options and will have more to say when that process is completed,’’ Hansen’s spokesman, Rollin Fatland, told me Wednesday via text message.
Hansen has a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the city and King County that expires in November 2017. It provides up to $200 million in public-bond funds for an arena if Hansen lands an NBA team.
But the NBA has given zero indication it plans to expand within that time frame. NBA commissioner Adam Silver told me before the vote that near-term expansion was unlikely and reiterated those remarks last week during the NBA Finals.
Several council members said they voted against the Occidental measure largely because there is no sign Hansen can land a team. So if Hansen wants to reverse a future vote, he may need proof that one is coming.
As long as this stalemate continues, our city’s chances at winter sports appear slim. There are no signs Connecticut investor Ray Bartoszek and his group have financing to build a Tukwila arena.
Also, as long as Hansen’s MOU remains intact, it blocks Seattle from exploring options to renovate KeyArena into an NBA or NHL facility. Council member Sally Bagshaw called for a financial feasibility study on last year’s findings by architectural firm AECOM — which pegged such a KeyArena renovation at $285 million.
But given the tumultuous aftermath of last month’s Occidental vote and the council dealing with other issues before the summer break, it’s unlikely anything gets done on a feasibility study before fall.
Hansen’s best arena chance could involve bringing a hockey team here first. He has already resisted two previous NHL opportunities.
He left it to Bartoszek to try to bring the Phoenix Coyotes here in 2013 when they were threatening to leave Arizona. And when the NHL launched its expansion process a year ago, Hansen and Los Angeles real-estate magnate Victor Coleman failed to reach a financial arrangement to bid for a hockey franchise.
Because there is no funding aspect within the MOU for “NHL first” without the NBA, Coleman and Hansen would have to privately finance the additional $200 million that would not be coming via bonds.
Jeff Marks, a sports consultant working with Coleman, said Wednesday his client remains interested in bringing hockey here.
For now, with the NBA not expanding and the NHL needing another Western team to balance conferences, it might be worth giving that “NHL first” option another look.
Las Vegas built its arena with private funds, resulting in limited political delays. Of course, an all-private venture for a $500 million arena in Sodo would be tougher without public-bond money.
The key to making it work would be the belief that if a Sodo arena gets built for NHL, the NBA and new investors eventually would join Hansen. Most believe an NHL team alone wouldn’t provide enough revenues to succeed long term.
Hansen has long said the NBA is his passion and reason for doing this.
But the NBA isn’t helping Hansen. The NHL, on the other hand, has done everything but buy him flowers and a candlelit dinner as it seeks entry into this market.
If Hansen could secure some type of NHL franchise approval — say, conditional upon a Sodo arena becoming shovel-ready — it might provide him political fuel to win a new Occidental vote. After all, he’d have proof of a team — albeit from the NHL — and a plan to build with all-private funds instead of public bonds.
Hey, it’s a longshot. But right now, the only city to land an NHL or NBA expansion franchise this decade needed a privately funded arena to make it happen.
Going all-private might not be Hansen’s first choice. But his best-case scenario imploded, and the NHL just left the door open if he wants to explore alternatives.