Don't get me wrong, I care about the NHL. I want our city to have more winter sports, know that I'll grow to love the games and most importantly want to see success for all the great fans and supporters who are passionate about hockey in ways that I am not (yet!).
The individual success and personal well-being of my friends in Sodo is important to me as well. They are nice people and fellow sports fans who have worked hard enough to deserve a part in any win, no matter where that win occurs or who finally gets it done.
I also place great value on sound civic planning and would like to see a thoughtful decision. Do we partner with a local hero to site all of our stadiums together at an established transit hub or team up with an established game changer to shift some of the city's development northward, invest in an existing public asset and revitalize the Seattle Center?
All of that matters, but none of it is as important to me as bringing the Sonics back.
Seattle has been without an NBA team for nearly a decade. Now that we have 2 clearly established bidders, each hoping to have their vision approved within the next few months, we need to ask the essential question:
Who is most capable of bringing the Sonics back?
To bring the Sonics back we need at minimum an arena “plan”. In 2012 we thought a plan had been approved and only "procedural" hurdles remained. Later, we found out the hard way that street vacations and construction permits presented a far greater obstacle than had been anticipated.
Now, after 4 years of aspiring to be “shovel ready in Sodo” the fans are being asked to evaluate two very different methodologies for team acquisition.
Hansen's Sodo vision, just a street vacation away from permit submittal represents the fastest path forward towards a fully permitted facility. At that point, however he would hold off on construction, restarting the process at a later date when a team became available. His team argues that they are years ahead in achieving a fully entitled, "shovel ready" building plan. In this scenario they envision a finalized plan will allow more definitive negotiation of revenue splits and financial partnerships with potential team owners, allowing their group to lie in wait for opportunity with an interim facility (KeyArena), "ready to go" building site and firmly committed NBA and NHL ownership groups to both leagues.
The Oak View Group has substantial doubts about whether "shovel Ready" will satisfy league commissioners. They argue that, after a decade of futility and broken promises, league commissioners need to see more than the the promise of an arena and can only be expected to engage regarding expansion or relocation if and when an arena is actually being built.
A similar argument was made by their recently vanquished competitor AEG, who offered up their recent success in Las Vegas as the only modern example of NBA or NHL expansion. The expansion Vegas Golden Knights, they claimed with certainty would never have been awarded to a "shovel ready" situation and instead required "shovels in the ground" building an actual arena to demonstrate certainty and win league support.
Whether the city choose the immediate path to a firm commitment with Hansen or allows Tim Leiweke additional time to entitle his project before building on spec will be irrelevant if the resulting financial model fails to attract high net worth ownership groups capable of acquiring NBA and NHL franchises.
Hansen earned substantial credibility by adding Steve Ballmer to his proposed NBA ownership group in 2012. Supporters were also encouraged by the potential for an NHL partnership with developer Victor Coleman in 2014. Since that time, however Ballmer has departed to Los Angeles to take over the LA Clippers and Coleman chose instead to partner with AEG at KeyArena. As a result the Sodo group (as currently disclosed) seemingly lacks the financial capacity to complete this transaction and has not been able to lure NHL or NBA partners under a substantially revised financial model.
The Oak View Group, an industry powerhouse with substantial venue and organizational building experience, seems more capable of attracting NBA and NHL investors but have faced questions regarding their business model and revenue splits. Fans of both hockey and basketball have expressed concerns that the lack of committed sports owners may indicate OVG’s intentions to develop KeyArena into a music only facility, similar to their recent (and very successful) renovation of the LA Forum.
Both groups could answer these questions by bringing forward ownership groups capable of acquiring NBA and NHL franchises. Until one or more credible ownership groups comes forward with a commitment to own and operate an NBA or NHL franchise each will face skepticism over whether their financial model is capable of attracting the deep pockets necessary to make franchise acquisition a reality.
There does seem to be a consensus among all interested parties that an "NHL first" strategy represents the fastest path to bringing the NBA to town.
Hockey, unlike basketball, is in the midst of an ongoing expansion process and has made no secret of their desire to capture this lucrative market. The resulting sense of urgency is creating deadlines and driving progress at a rate the NBA would be unlikely to match on their own.
If and when the NHL does arrive speculation is rampant that this would increase pressure on the NBA to return more quickly so as not to allow a winter sports competitor time to establish dominance in the region.
So lets challenge these ownership groups:
Show us your plan to win the leagues support.
Prove that plan is attractive to potential ownership groups by finding and naming your investors.
Take action on the NHL before this window closes.
Bring back the Sonics.