“The same principles that make [Seattle Center Arena] brilliant for hockey will make it brilliant for music and will make it brilliant for the NBA. We will have a huge welcome mat out for the NBA when they’re ready but again, we’re never going to get in front of the league.”
“They’re well aware of what we’re doing and we’re ensuring that it’s not only compliant with NBA standards but well above those standards.” - Tod Leiweke - Forbes
When I first heard that the 2019 NHL draft would be held in Vancouver, BC, just 16 months before an anticipated 2020 Seattle franchise launch my imagination started working overtime.
I envisioned the road trip to Vancouver as the first of many victory rallies, with Seattle fans forming a caravan north for the first real opportunity to feel firsthand the passion of the league, I even thought that a few Sonics fans and “non-affiliated arena supporters” would join in the fun to catch the hockey fever.
A lot has changed since then, most specifically the fact that the franchise will not launch until 2021 and, while we are not getting ahead of any commissioners, it seems likely that Seattle will be hosting it’s own draft party just prior to that new open date.
Regardless of the change of circumstances my expectations had been formed early and local hype going into the draft weekend’s NHL draft seemed initially lacking.
That feeling didn’t last long.
This last week has proven to be a good reminder that great performance and quality execution are more important than a catchy lead up narratives. As they often do the gang at NHL Seattle chose to prioritize execution of their corporate vision, interviewing GM candidates, landing another intriguing hire, announcing Symetra as their first sponsor and earning plenty of big time coverage from major publications like Forbes, USA Today, Bloomberg and the Los Angeles Times. In those articles they effectively utilized Jerry Bruckheimer’s celebrity, laid out their vision for the franchise and cemented their positions as the Rock Star’s of the professional sporting universe.
That is a ton of news, but David Bonderman’s crew was not done yet, following up with another blockbuster announcement that their minor league AHL franchise will be housed in a new $250M arena to be built in Palm Springs, CA.
As with virtually every aspect of this project the AHL arena and team are being viewed not as a standalone project, but rather as another part of a much larger vision of dominance in the live sports and entertainment market.
Why NHL Seattle chose Palm Springs for their future AHL farm team site. A planned $250M arena dubbed “the most expensive AHL-specific arena ever built” had a lot to do with it. https://t.co/ig92DyDhoP #NHL #NHLSeattle #AHL #PalmSprings #Boise #OVG #LiveNation #OVGSeattle— Geoff Baker (@GeoffBakerTIMES) June 27, 2019
OVG co-founder Tim Leiweke, said the new arena will be the most expensive ever built as an AHL-specific venue. Leiweke said the projected $250 million cost is part of the commitment by billionaire David Bonderman — an OVG partner and principal owner of Seattle’s NHL team — to put a “best in class” hockey franchise in place from the minor leagues on up.
Of prime importance to the team’s ownership, he added, was that the new arena will be a quick flight away from Seattle and allow for easy player transfers between the NHL and AHL squads. It will also enable Seattle hockey fans, many of them with retirement homes and part-time residences in Palm Springs — or who simply vacation there in hotels — to see up-and-coming minor-leaguers play on a regular basis.
Assuming this plan moves forward the Palm Springs arena represents a third major construction project for this already busy team. I have not heard whether the building will be capable of hosting a G-League NBA affiliate but do know I’m excited about heading down to Palm Springs for sports and music getaways in the future.
Expect to see more of this type of dominance from a group hellbent on assembling the most talented executive team in the history of sports. They know that they have plenty of time ahead to run a marketing campaign and also that messaging will be much, much easier as the team identity comes together and the building progresses.
“Two years from now you can judge for yourself, but we think we’re building one of the greatest buildings in the world,” Leiweke said. “Perhaps in two years we’ll be hosting a very similar conference like this, and instead of projecting that we’re going to have one of the most beautiful buildings, you’re going to be asking us questions, saying, ‘Wow. How did this happen?” - Todd Lieweke
There is no doubt that 2 years from now, when the building is taking shape and the proof is tangible all of the arguments will become much easier. Real images of a new building will be more compelling than any mock up and critics with concerns that this group is not serious about the NBA will struggle to refute his brother Tim’s first press conference standing in a completed NBA locker room filled with green and gold amenities.
So, given that marketing will be so much easier in the coming years, doesn’t it make sense to wait before trying?
YES, the vast majority of that conversation should take a backseat to big accomplishments like they announced last week.
Does that reality invalidate my Vancouver draft expectations or the lingering feeling that “I can’t wait until they get around to talking to me?
NO, there is nothing wrong with being excited about the fan experience to come. People naturally feel more invested in ventures when invited to join early and share the formative experience than they do joining an already finished project so it makes sense for the team to roll out a more robust fan engagement strategy as soon as possible.
We haven’t seen anything yet. This is only going to get bigger and more fun as the months go on.