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David Bonderman speaks to ESPN about the arena, NHL, and yes, even NBA

The New York Times 2013 DealBook Conference in New York Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for The New York Times

“Why this market and why now?”

It was a question asked to David Bonderman, the primary investor in bringing an NHL team to Seattle, during his interview Wednesday with Brock Huard and Mike Salk of 710 ESPN Seattle.

“Because the opportunity is here,” he responded. “Seattle has had its share of trauma on the sports side, and now is the time to repair it.”

This isn’t the first time the NHL has been rumored to hit the ice in Seattle. The last significant attempt was a decade ago and but fell through as the economy struggled.

“We had a handshake with the NHL 10 years ago than 2008 happened,” he continued. “It derailed our interest and a few other things as well and it’s taken awhile to get to the right set of positions.”

“Why hockey, why the NHL?” Bonderman has been a friend Tim Leiweke for the past 15 years and seen the passion Leiweke has as the CEO of the ownership group of the Los Angeles Kings NHL team.

“We love hockey and what it can do. And secondly it’s doable. There’s a limited number of sports franchise that are available at any time and the time has come.”

“Are you a hockey fan?”

“Yes. But I have to admit not to the extent of Jerry Bruckheimer who has his own rink.”

“In his backyard?”

“Well, it’s a very large backyard.”

For concerned Sonics fans, Bonderman responded positively to questions about his interest in potentially owning an NBA franchise alongside the NHL club. The University of Washington grad and current minority owner of the Boston Celtics also didn’t see much issue with the NBA being the last team in the new arena.

Salk: You’ve also been involved in basketball. You are, if I’m not mistaken, you have a minority stake in the Celtics. Is that right?

Bonderman: That is correct.

Salk: So, do you have interest in ultimately owning multiple sports franchises here in Seattle?

Bonderman: I think you asked this question before. If there’s a basketball franchise available, we’re going to go after it.

Brock: Do you have a sense of this market? If you had a deal ten years ago, you went to school here-

Salk: Hold on, hold on. I just want to follow up on that, ‘cause I know there’s a lot of Sonics fans out there who are really passionate about that. This has been, if you talk to people who have had reservations about this project in general, and Tim’s been in here for a lot of these conversations, and we have listeners who get really upset and think that this is, this project and this group is going to be a problem for the NBA... And one of the major concerns that you hear from them is having a hockey team in this building will make it not as, not as attractive or desirable a spot for another NBA group to come in ‘cause they don’t want to be the last people into the building... If I understand you correctly, you’re interested in being that NBA owner, and so you would want to have both teams in that building.

Bonderman: You got it right.

Bonderman added that:

“When you go for it, you have to go for it.”

“What are we expecting? How many tickets? Can you beat 5000 tickets sold in the first two days?” To which Bonderman answered not just about ensuring that Seattle shines brightly in the sports world, but also expanded on his ownership philosophy of fans as family, mutual respect, and a commitment to winning.

“So I’d say two things. One, we feel pressure to make sure we represent this marketplace well. We are damned and determined in the eyes of the rest of the industry, including all the leagues, Seattle shines very brightly tomorrow.

“Second, I think people need to understand this process tomorrow is not just about season tickets and mini season tickets it’s about those that are interested in bringing Winter sports back to Seattle and this will be the list that ultimately gets the right to buy the first of all the tickets. So whether they’re season tickets, mini season tickets, or individual tickets we’re building a database because we’re building a relationship. And these people ultimately will be part of our initial family. And what I’ve learned about Seattle is that when you treat people with respect and you’re passionate about what you put on the ice in this case and you’re committed to winning good things happen.”

So what’s the process going to look like tomorrow? Bonderman explained that those who register for season tickets at tomorrow will receive a priority number and to not worry much if the number is high or low. Because everyone who registers will be given a chance to join Seattle’s hockey family.

“Our goal is to get as many people as we can in this process with deposits to prove to the NHL and to prove to everyone else out there watching how great the teams are going to do here regardless of what league we’re talking about.”

When asked about the naming process of the future NHL franchise and domain names registered by OVG lately, Bonderman had this to say.

“There’s a list of forty or fifty that we’ve maintained that have had some people showing some interest in them. We will go through a process and at the end everyone will be mad at us.”

Though Bonderman did indicate there will be a public element to both the naming and color scheme for the team and that the ownership group would make their pick after taking input from fans in the area. Though he did not give a timeline for the naming of the franchise.

“What do you want this arena to be?”

“We want this to be an iconic building. We’re starting by retaining the historic roof that’s part of this since 1962.”

Though Bonderman did note that the ownership group wants to make sure the arena layout worked both with team logistics and housed a state of the art facility. But what does Mr. Bronderman see as the role of a sports franchise owner?

“I think owner has a role to play. And play is not picking the draft choices. It is hiring the best people who are experts in whether it’s the coach or the general manager or what have you and providing the resources for them to be successful.”

When asked if Bonderman could “make sure” that the expansion rules don’t change for Seattle he indicated that while they will do their best to make sure the team gets a fair expansion process, that make sure is probably too strong of a way to put it. Indicating that Seattle would be one cog in the NHL wheel and that the league via Gary Bettman would get a say as well.

The next topic became the subject of team culture and winning. Culture, as noted by the future owner, is important. Important to have players that get along with one another, but also that the culture of the team needs to be an inclusive one. Though he did not go into details. On the importance of winning he had this to say.

“If it’s not everything, it’s close to it. The fans will put up with losing teams because they love the sport. But what you really want to do is deliver the success.”

Those of you who regularly patron Seattle Sin Bin are likely fans of either the Silvertips or Thunderbirds, when asked about their importance to the prospective NHL franchise Bonderman didn’t mince any words saying that these franchises have done an excellent job producing players who are also good young men. Adding that they view their relationship as complementary and building the sport as a whole and that they have done a lot of heavy lifting establishing a hockey community and culture in the area.

Bonderman, when asked if hockey fans are different that the basketball fans he has experienced as part owner of the Celtics deferred to Leiweke who reflected more on the support Seattle provides to all of it’s other franchises.

“I think the best sports fans in the country are here. If you look at the Sounders fans I think they set the tone for what Major League Soccer is. I think the reason Major League Soccer is what it is today is because of Seattle fans and the Seattle Sounders.

“Looking at that environment for a Seahawks game or a Sounders game that’s what we want with hockey. Now, hockey happens to be, and this is no disrespect to any other sport, it’s hard to beat the live experience at a hockey game. So if we can recreate that Seattle experience with the 12th man and put that environment in a brand new arena and we can have the competitive kind of team that Las Vegas is already strived to be and is achieving. I think the environment in this arena will be the best, not just in the National Hockey League, but also one of the best in all of sports. And you can do that in Seattle because it’s such a great sports town. [...] This is the greatest sports city in the country.”

Speaking on the importance of tomorrow and it’s effect on the expansion of the NHL and possibly the NBA. Leiweke was absolutely clear that a healthy interest in hockey is a market signal. A signal that Seattle is not only ready for hockey, but an opportunity to quantify and alert the NBA to the level of winter sports interest in the city. Regardless of what has happened in the past, the ownership team seems passionate and ready to not only bring the NHL to Seattle, but also get the NBA’s interest as well.

“An opportunity for us to prove what this market place is really about and it starts tomorrow and we’re excited. And we get to be a part of the process with them (the fans).”

Bonderman then added:

“Gary Bettman has made it very clear they what we’re doing here as a test of the willpower of the people of Seattle and fans to step back from the various traumas that have been endured before, step up and prove that the city is ready for the franchise. And that’s why it’s so important that this be successful.”

The final message Bonderman left about him and his intentions here in the Seattle area:

“We are going build a team here that is second to none. Doesn’t mean that you’re going to win every game every time but we’re going to have the right culture and the right place at the right time with the right set of resources and let’s go forward together.”

So what can the possible timing be ahead? David Bonderman indicated they are looking to begin the expansion formal process in June and construction at the arena by October.