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KeyArena transformation to commence as Seattle lands NHL team

A groundbreaking ceremony to transform KeyArena into what is claimed will be one of the world’s leading arenas will take place today (Wednesday) after the US city was officially confirmed as the home of the NHL ice hockey league’s 32nd franchise.

The NHL’s Board of Governors yesterday held a unanimous vote to award an expansion franchise to Seattle which will begin play in the 2021-22 season. Ownership of the Seattle franchise will principally reside with billionaire David Bonderman and film producer Jerry Bruckheimer is also heavily involved in the ownership group.

The Seattle franchise will pay a $650m (£510.4m/€573.2m) expansion fee. That fee will be distributed in equal shares to 30 of the NHL’s presently existing clubs, with the exception of the Vegas Golden Knights, which entered the League with an expansion fee of $500m in 2017-18.

The Seattle franchise will begin play in the Pacific Division of the Western Conference in 2021-22. The Arizona Coyotes will move to the Western Conference’s Central Division that season. “Expanding to Seattle makes the National Hockey League more balanced, even more whole and even more vibrant,” League commissioner Gary Bettman said, according to NHL.com.

“A team in Seattle evens the number of teams in our two conferences, brings our geographic footprint into greater equilibrium and creates instant new rivalries out west, particularly between Seattle and Vancouver.”

The City of Seattle in September signed off on a $700m renovation plan for KeyArena, with the 56-year-old, publicly-owned facility to be renovated in its entirety using only private funds. The price tag for what will be the Seattle Center Arena has since risen to $800m, with the redevelopment project having awaited NHL approval for the expansion team before it could commence. “We believe it’ll be one of the finest arenas in the world,” NHL Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke said.

Seattle Center Arena will hold around 17,400 fans for NHL games. A season-ticket deposit drive was held in the city on March 1, resulting in 10,000 deposits in the first 12 minutes and 32,000 in the first 31 hours. There is a current waiting list of around 10,000.

The NHL Seattle group is also committed to paying around $75m to building a practice facility in an area north of the city. “Sixteen years ago, they started saying the arena didn’t work,” Leiweke said. “Over the course of that time we lost an NBA team (the SuperSonics). We’re not even close to where we should be relative to concerts. How can a world-class city like Seattle not have a world-class arena? Tomorrow, we break ground and we solve that issue. Tomorrow, we start building our team, and it’s really exciting.”

NHL Seattle had originally planned to move into the new-look arena and launch its franchise for the 2020-21 season, but have agreed with the league to put this back a year in order to grant further time for the work on the arena and training facility to be completed. The SuperSonics relocated to Oklahoma City in 2008 and plans for the Seattle Center Arena have rekindled talk that an NBA basketball team could return to the city.

Leiweke said the new arena will likely open in March or April 2021 with concerts, with WNBA basketball franchise the Seattle Storm also set to play their games in the new-look venue. “We realised that perhaps we wouldn’t open the season with our fans in our new building, perhaps the training centre wouldn’t be ready,” Leiweke said.

“Now, an expansion draft will be held in our building. Our players can skate at that training centre in time for our first camp, and we know opening day will be truly spectacular. So, waiting a little longer seemed to make a lot of sense and we ultimately agreed with the League.”

Image: NHL Seattle