NHL rallies behind Seattle expansion franchise bid

Seattle has taken a major step towards securing an NHL ice hockey franchise that would play at a revamped KeyArena, with the league setting up a December vote with a view to launching a team for the 2020-21 season.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said yesterday (Tuesday) that the executive committee of the league’s Board of Governors unanimously recommended that the proposal go to a full vote. The announcement followed a presentation from key stakeholders behind the project, with the next Board of Governors meeting set for December 3-4, the earliest date at which the NHL’s 32nd franchise could be formally confirmed.

The City of Seattle last month signed off on the $700m (£533m/€595.1m) renovation plan for KeyArena, a move that boosted Oak View Group’s (OVG) bid to land an expansion franchise. The 56-year-old, publicly-owned arena will be renovated in its entirety using only private funds.

Earlier this year, OVG announced it had an NHL investment group, Seattle Hockey Partners led by billionaire David Bonderman and film producer Jerry Bruckheimer, for a $650m bid for an expansion franchise that would begin play in a revamped KeyArena in 2020-21.

Speaking yesterday, Bettman said 2020-21 remains the goal for a new Seattle team, dependent on work being completed at KeyArena. “They have a lot of work to do initially,” Bettman said, according to the Associated Press news agency.

“They’ve got to stop using KeyArena, there’s some demolition, they’ve got to dig a bigger hole, they’ve got to put the steel in. Once that’s all accomplished … we’ll have a better sense. But everybody’s goal is 2020 if it can be accomplished. If it’s not, then we’ll do it in ’21.”

Seattle is the largest market in the United States currently without a winter professional sports team, while a season ticket campaign launched earlier this year was ended early after deposits hit the 32,000 mark. The addition of a team in Seattle would also balance the NHL’s Eastern and Western conferences at 16 teams apiece, with Bettman stating backing by the nine-owner executive committee “speaks volumes.”

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said: “I’m very confident we’re going to be able to move forward and get what we need from the NHL and the team and stick to the schedule so we have hockey in 2020. They know we want it in 2020 and (the league would) like to have it in 2020, too, if we get the team.”

KeyArena will stage its final event in its current guise on Friday – an NBA exhibition game between the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings. The arena will then be handed over to OVG.

Image: NHL