Leiweke’s brother Tim is spearheading the KeyArena renovation as head of the Oak View Group. Tod Leiweke, a former Seahawks CEO who served in that same capacity with the NHL Tampa Bay Lightning after leaving Seattle, has long been rumored as a future hockey CEO here.
Tod Leiweke didn’t waste any time in his new role running a likely future NHL expansion franchise in Seattle.
Fresh off being introduced Wednesday as president and CEO of the Seattle Hockey Partners group, Leiweke joined his older brother Tim for a business meeting at Amazon’s nearby headquarters. That likely will fuel speculation of a future sponsorship or naming-rights deal for the online retail giant at a remodeled KeyArena, where the Leiwekes hope the NHL team will begin play in October 2020.
“It is an incredible thrill to come home, not just for me but for my family,” Tod Leiweke, 58, a Seahawks CEO through the 2010 season who also helped launch the Sounders franchise, told reporters at a Seattle Center news conference at Chihuly Garden and Glass.
His brother’s Oak View Group is working with the City of Seattle on finalizing a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) on the planned $600 million KeyArena remodel that is to be made public April 23. A final EIS is expected by August, with an appeals period after that, and then partial demolition on the arena due to begin by late October ahead of new construction.
The future hockey team’s majority owner, billionaire investment banker David Bonderman, attended Wednesday’s news conference alongside Hollywood film producer business partner Jerry Bruckheimer. Bonderman said he expects the NHL to conditionally grant the hockey franchise in June and sign off on it for good in September once the environmental review is completed and the arena remodel can begin in time for the 2020-21 season.
For now, Tod Leiweke is eager to begin his work, which will entail hiring a general manager once the team becomes official as well as figuring out its name and color scheme. In the shorter term, the team soon will begin working with fans on seat selection and pricing for the more than 33,000 refundable season-ticket deposits already collected.
“You have an arena, you have a team, and then you have fans,” Leiweke said. “And these are the best fans in the world. And recently they’ve demonstrated that over a period of time.
“I’ve always believed in the fans of Seattle, and I’ve always believed that they’re different. And I want to make a few pledges to those fans today. Our pledge first and foremost is to serve and make this community better because we’re here.
“Our passion will be to found brilliant events and create extraordinary guest experiences. And our commitment will be to win at everything we do. But ultimately, to bring a Stanley Cup … back to Seattle.’’
Leiweke said multiple times that, though his group is open to bringing an NBA team back as well, the NHL franchise is “not a consolation prize” and it’s critical to make the league work here. He added that Seattle is poised to become a great hockey market.
“I think that what’s unique to hockey is this ownership group,” he said. “The extraordinary building that my brother is going to help create. I think this is the perfect setup for being able to recruit the best — whether it be the general manager, the head coach, the trainer, or ultimately players. I think this is going to be a very, very special place to play hockey.”
After leaving the Seahawks following the 2010 season, Leiweke went on to become CEO of the Tampa Bay Lightning, helping transform them into one of the NHL’s most stable and top-drawing franchises.
Leiweke also was linked to a group that in 2015 sought to build an arena in Bellevue ahead of NHL expansion. The plan collapsed right before the NHL’s expansion deadline when a venture capitalist withdrew pledged funding.
A few days after the Bellevue arena option died, Leiweke resigned from the Lightning and became chief operating officer of the NFL and its No. 2 executive behind commissioner Roger Goodell. Leiweke still had multiple years remaining on his NFL contract, but it had been long assumed he’d leave to join his brother’s efforts in Seattle once OVG secured a Memorandum of Understanding from the city to renovate KeyArena.
It’s expected that Tod Leiweke could become CEO of any NBA franchise here as well, given his executive experience with the Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers.
“I think it’s a logical thing for the NBA to be here,” he said. “And I think our building will be not only a great home for NHL hockey, but those same principles will be there for the NBA.”
Former Sonics coach and player Lenny Wilkens was among the numerous sports figures at Wednesday’s news conference — including Mariners owner John Stanton, Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer, Seahawks president Peter McLoughlin and former Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren. Chris Ackerley, a former Sonics executive whose family owned the NBA franchise, also was there.
“I couldn’t believe that the Sonics left,” Leiweke said of the team’s 2008 departure for Oklahoma City. “And I couldn’t believe that there wasn’t a solution for an arena.”
Now that solution is at hand, and the teams, owners and executives are falling into place. Bonderman and Bruckheimer have indicated they’d welcome owning an NBA franchise, and Ackerley and his brother Ted have expressed interest in becoming minority owners of a basketball team.
The Wright family, patriarchs of the Space Needle, has also been in discussions with OVG about a sports-ownership role. Jeff Wright, who serves as managing partner of Chihuly Garden and Glass, attended Wednesday’s news conference and was among those singled out by Leiweke in his opening remarks.