Tim Leiweke, head of the Oak View Group, is focused on bringing the NHL first to a renovated Seattle Center arena. “Let’s be honest here,” Leiweke says. “There is no NBA team to be had today.”
The head of a company planning a $564 million renovation of KeyArena says he’s “passionate’’ about bringing an NBA team to town, but there just aren’t any imminently available.
And that’s why Tim Leiweke, head of the Los Angeles-based Oak View Group, insists he’s hyper-focused on bringing the NHL here. Leiweke, who met Thursday with The Seattle Times editorial board ahead of speaking at the GeekWire Sports Tech Summit at CenturyLink Field, said he’s heard local commentary about how he’s not as committed to the NBA as Sodo District arena proponent Chris Hansen.
“Some people want to yell that I’m not passionate about basketball,’’ said Leiweke, who oversaw operations for the Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets and Toronto Raptors. “That’s incorrect. I’m more passionate about basketball than about hockey, if you look at my tenure in my last 30 years of where I’ve spent my time.’’
Leiweke noted that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver suggested three weeks ago during the NBA Finals that expansion was likely several years from happening. That means, Leiweke added, that OVG can best spend its efforts landing an NHL franchise he suggests would be imminent once he completes a deal with the city.
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“I seem to be the only one willing to step up and say ‘Folks, here’s the reality of the situation we face. Let’s be honest here,’ ’’ Leiweke said. “There is no NBA team to be had today.’ And if there is one to be had, we will be the first ones on it and we have an ownership group and partners that have the ability of going and chasing that team.’’
Brian Surratt, who headed up the KeyArena renovation process for the City of Seattle and accompanied Leiweke and OVG members to the editorial board meeting, added a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) could be finalized between the two sides by year’s end. After that, the Seattle City Council — which will have two representatives involved in MOU talks — must finalize a formal contract with OVG sometime next year.
Leiweke was asked whether his group would pull out of talks if the council in the interim approved a provisional street vacation of Occidental Avenue South that Hansen’s group says it needs to be “shovel ready’’ and attract more financing and teams.
Leiweke replied that his group would never have pursued the KeyArena renovation if it felt Hansen still had any shot at landing an NBA team. An MOU between Hansen, the city and King County expires Dec. 3 and provides up to $200 million in public bond funding if he acquires an NBA franchise.
Hansen has also separately petitioned the council to revisit selling him part of Occidental in a new vote this fall. The council rejected his first request in May 2016 but Hansen now says he’ll embark on an all-private arena project if his latest Occidental request is approved.
“We wouldn’t have jumped into this if we thought either the NHL or the NBA has or was about to make a deal with Chris for a team,’’ Leiweke said of Hansen. “We did our homework and we talked to everyone.’’
Leiweke said OVG studied the potential “calendar of events’’ for a Sodo arena and found there would be roughly 50 annual conflict days between a new venue and the two existing stadiums. The Seahawks, Mariners, Sounders and other event stakeholders in Sodo have complained about the lack of a “binding’’ event scheduling deal with Hansen.
Surratt said the lack of a scheduling deal is one of the things being studied by the city as part of Hansen’s new all-private project and request for another Occidental vote.
Leiweke added: “There are a lot of reasons why that (Sodo) arena is not done. Foremost is, he hasn’t got a team. And so, if Chris can land a team tomorrow and he comes walking in with an NBA team tomorrow, then we’d get out of his way. We’re not going to go build another arena if Chris ultimately buys a team and moves a team to Seattle between now and December when we get this done.
“Again, we spend an enormous amount of time with commissioners,’’ Leiweke said. “I have commissioners telling me how to run my life on a daily basis right now. I can assure you, we are extremely focused on the window of opportunity.’’
Leiweke reiterated the NBA just isn’t realistic for now.
“What we do believe is out there, based on what we continue to hear from (NHL) commissioner (Gary) Bettman is there is an opportunity that we could get the NHL,’’ Leiweke said. “We have to go get an agreement done with the city. If we don’t get an agreement done with the city, there’s no team coming here.
“But we are all over it,’’ he added. “I’m too all over the NHL … there’s a window of opportunity here and we are prepared to walk right through that window and close the deal.’’