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150 million ways David Bonderman and Tod Leiweke are making it FUN AGAIN!

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“God bless David Bonderman. He’s willing to write a very large check here in order for us to make this a privately financed little trip that we’re all about to take here. Let’s enjoy the ride.” -Tim Leiweke

Owners And Players Meet To Discuss NHL Lockout Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Last week news broke that costs for a renovation at Seattle Center Arena had increased by $150 million from an initial estimate of $550 million to more than $700 million dollars. OVG is on the hook to pay all cost increases and have already acknowledged that they will do so.

As big as that that increase may seem it is in fact just a small portion of this very, very expensive effort to bring the NHL and NBA to Seattle.

Keeping in mind that final construction documents are not signed and the $150,000,000 cost increase is equal to the entire commitment made by Steve Ballmer, Wally Walker and their group during their 2007 effort to save the team I can only imagine how this announcement would have been presented and received in past iterations of this tedious, often gloomy process.

No matter what anybody may have said publicly, the lack of trust that has plagued this effort for a decade would undoubtedly have led to concern over how such a significant price increase would be overcome. Everybody would assume the deal was derailed or in danger and that a fight was ahead over who would pay for this huge new cost. Panic, blame, finger pointing, and despair would have been likely, if not assured.

None of that is happening.

Instead we are learning that many of the added costs are the direct result of premium upgrades and improvements either put forward or approved by owners with the means to make this work and who believe that investing in the best facilities, staff and amenities will create a competitive advantage to attract franchises, players and events.

To the extent that the price has increased on the building it is really of our own volitionNHL Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke told Komo news, ”As we have seen opportunities to create better guest experiences, to build the building in the most responsible, thoughtful way that respects our neighborhood those are all things that our ownership is allowing us to pursue. This building is going to be one of the very best in the world. Its sight lines, its acoustics, its amenities. It will be a building that hosts not just hockey but will become one of the busiest concert facilities in the county. I believe it will be home to the NBA someday soon.”

We will be a team that will spend to the (salary) cap so, all things being equal, what would make a player choose Seattle over other cities in the NHL? And it’s things like training centers that can make a huge difference,” he added in a separate interview, referencing the teams’ soon to be announced training facility.

This attitude stands in sharp contrast to previous Sonics leadership who seemed to pinch pennies at every opportunity.

In the franchise’s final years, they were the only team to in the league to operate NBA and WNBA franchises with a single shared staff, famously sold their team plane in favor of cheaper leased options and had one of the dingiest practice facilities in the league. In addition they were regularly outbid for great players and coaches like Nate MacMillan, Detlef Schrempf and Brent Barry who all seemingly wanted to stay but left because the franchise was outbid or was unwilling to spend competitively. Fans were asked to accept “value” replacements that killed interest, marginalized the franchise and ultimately contributed to the loss of the team.

As a fan I supported those decisions. I remember doing my best to rationalize each move, telling myself that a “fiscally responsible” mentality would eventually result in having the funds available to make the big splash and take us over the top. I convinced myself that there was some broader plan, but in hindsight it is clear that management was just being cheap and trying to present mediocre investments as a great product.

Right off the bat this ownership group has been different, making an immediate splash by luring one of the greatest active executives in professional sports away from one of the most powerful and highest profile jobs in the world.

Tod Leiweke has a stellar reputation locally for what he did with the Seahawks and Sounders FC organizations, and in terms of leadership and growing the fan experience. I think local hockey fans should be ecstatic that he’s the one tabbed to oversee a new franchise given his success in helping launch a successful Sounders franchise in 2009. It doesn’t hurt that he was behind bringing Pete Carroll to Seattle either!”

-Aaron Levine, Q13 Sports

Leiweke, who stepped down from his high profile role as the Chief Operating Officer of the NFL gives credit for his arrival to ownership and their commitment to doing things the right way.

”I have a pretty good resume and I could have stayed.” he tells SonicsRising. “I came because I am so excited about what this means. I had a great job and I came here without this franchise being guaranteed.

I wouldn’t have come if it hadn’t been for David Bonderman. He’s the guy I work for and it has been a joy. He is trusting, supportive and it is clear to me why this man has had the success he’s had, because people who work for him are empowered, he hires good people, he points them in the right direction, he stays supportive, and so for me it’s magic sauce. I love that. This guy is so fantastic and it’s been a joy.

We are going to get world class people who want to come and work here because it’s different.”

Attracting the very best talent is a common theme for NHL Seattle and their partner the Oak View Group, who have managed to overcome cost and other obstacles by fielding a virtual all-star team of thought leaders across a wide variety of industries.

Take for example Michael Downing, an immensely qualified expert who spent 35 years with the LAPD, ending his career spearheading that city’s anti-terrorism experts before being lured away to lead Prevent Advisors, the security arm of OVG. Mr. Downing will be tasked with the critical mission of ensuring the safety and security for my family and other Seattle Center guests.

”OVG really personifies the idea of partnership, problem solving and prevention, and that’s really why I came on board.” Downing told SonicsRising, “I could have gone to any other security company, but the vision of incorporating the communities as partnership in raising the stature of communities all around to participate in this process, is what I’ve done all my life in LAPD, and it was a good fit for me.

I think we are one of the best if not the best (in the world) in this specific wheelhouse (venue security). We have people in our company that have run venues for periods of time. We have two special forces guys that protected embassies and did vulnerability assessments and critical infrastructure protection on those facilities. We have thought leaders in our company. We write articles, we give media interviews. In December, I’m going to London to do some work for Oakview Group, but also I’m on a board there on a big investigation in the United Kingdom. From there, I’m going to Melbourne, Australia for the leadership and counter terrorism conference which I led for about eight years, where we have a network of practitioners from primarily the five I’s of the west, which are the United Kingdom including Ireland, Canada, the U.S, Australia and New Zealand, but also partnerships throughout Europe, the Middle East,”

As a fan cheering for the success of this project I am adjusting to the idea that we are going to have the best and most qualified people in the world involved rather than trying to make it work with people who are less qualified but more budget friendly.

For years I have been begging the people involved to make this fun again. It has become a mantra that I repeat over and over again in just about every room I’m in, but perhaps it is time for me to change my tune and instead appreciate how fun things have gotten already.

It is FUN to hear about $150M in cost overruns, not as an obstacle to completion but rather as a testament to the commitment of our owners. It’s not my money so, by all means Mr. Bonderman please add all the extra bells and whistles that you want.

It is FUN to talk about luring the most talented professionals in their respective industries with a compelling narrative about our great city and the opportunities ahead.

It is FUN to dream not just of bringing a team back, but also of someday having ownership and a franchise that understands investments in coaches, trainers, facilities, operational staff and amenities are going to increase competitiveness and make the whole process more enjoyable for my friends and family.

It is going to be EVEN MORE FUN when that talk turns away from CEO’s, security consultants and business people and instead focuses on coaches and players. I can’t wait for the news that our infant expansion franchise is in the running to poach the best of the best from long established teams.

It is FUN to have milestones ahead to look forward to, finding out more about local owners, names and colors as part of an inevitable march towards the first of two franchises. We’re going to throw parties for each accomplishment and celebrate every step of the way.

It is FUN that Tod never fails to talk about the NBA. He always manages to include the Sonics in his discussion and ownership continues to show real and tangible proof of their commitment by including NBA locker rooms in the arena design, hosting Kevin Durant and the Warriors in KeyArena’s final event on Oct. 5 and spending the extra bucks to ensure that their highly anticipated practice facility will be designed to accommodate the addition of a future NBA franchise.

”You know, this will be one of the largest investments in sports in history in this city.” He tells SonicsRising. “Right now you have the arena, followed by the NHL and it’s going feel like something special is happening here. I think the NBA coming back is inevitable, I think this is a brilliant market.

I’ll be clear on this, we absolutely want the NBA.”

All of this FUN is possible because we have owners committed to spending what it takes to dream of greatness ahead. Thanks to David Bonderman, Jerry Bruckheimer and the rest for making it all possible and thanks to Tod Leiweke for being the leader who is going to get us there.

Tod Leiweke talks Sonics departure and Seattle Center Arena at Seattle Rotary