Alaska Airlines is betting big bucks that the 36,000-square-foot glass atrium entryway at a rebuilt KeyArena will become a “meeting place’’ for legions of fans.

So much so the Seattle-based carrier has agreed to become the official airline and founding partner of NHL Seattle, the arena and the coming Northgate Mall practice facility, with a key part of that deal encompassing naming rights for the atrium. The “Alaska Airlines Atrium’’ will feature stories and images of the Pacific Northwest as well as promoting travel opportunities within it.

“We don’t put our name on the entire arena,’’ said Natalie Bowman, the airline’s managing director of marketing and advertising. “But by putting it on the front door and putting it in the lobby of the venue — we hope that it becomes the meeting place for everyone who’s going to attend the 300-plus events. So, ‘Meet me in the Alaska Airlines atrium’ is the vernacular that we’re hoping to create within the community.’’

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Talks are still underway that could see Alaska assume responsibility for flying NHL Seattle players back and forth between here and the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Palm Springs, Calif. Alaska currently has a direct route between Palm Springs and Paine Field.

“With their training facility being up north (at Northgate Mall), we have the direct flight between Paine Field and Palm Springs,’’ Bowman said. “And so we’re viewing that as, when they call someone up from the minors we can get them to the practice facility and get them on the ice before they play in the game.’’

The deal, announced Thursday afternoon at the airline’s annual employee meeting, leaves room for NHL Seattle to negotiate a larger naming-rights pact for the entire arena. But the agreement also fits with what Bowman described as the airline’s “bang for the buck’’ approach to its sports portfolio.


While the airline does have large-scale sports deals like naming rights to the University of Washington’s Alaska Airlines arena, it also opted for a smaller “Chief Football Officer” partnership with Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson rather than a bigger one encompassing the NFL team itself.

NHL Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke said the airline’s “pioneering spirit’’ and community connection has much in common with what the team is striving for.

“In theory, partners come to us to borrow our good name and our equity and our fan affinity,’’ Leiweke said. “But in this case, I think Alaska’s name is so good in this community and they’re such a legacy company that we could even borrow some of their equity in this announcement.’’

Leiweke said the atrium was designed as largely a stand-alone component of the arena — being rebuilt for $930 million and scheduled to reopen in summer 2021 — and that the idea was always to sell a separate sponsorship for it.