NHL ownership group for potential Seattle expansion floats idea of bringing NBA team back
"The answer is absolutely," investment banker David Bonderman told ESPN. "If there is a franchise to be had from the NBA, we want to be up there fighting for it for Seattle."
Bonderman joins longtime sports executive Tim Leiweke and Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer as leads for the Oak View Group, which is hoping to found the NHL's 32nd team. Earlier this month, the OVG submitted paperwork and a $10 million down payment to the league. The NHL is likely to accept the bid pending the results of the season-ticket drive.
The group says it is not focused on a benchmark for season tickets. When Las Vegas applied for NHL expansion in 2015, the goal was 10,000 deposits.
Vegas already had an arena by then. The OVG plans to begin remodeling KeyArena in downtown Seattle in October, and the hope is to enter the league for the 2020-21 season.
Leiweke said the group is taking an approach that makes the arena viable for the future.
"The way we are going to structure all of our contractually obligated income is making sure there will be revenue upside built in should the NBA ever consider Seattle," Leiweke said. "We are committed to making sure the building, all of our contracts, all of our partnerships and all of our relationships, are done in a way that we can maximize value.
"There is no need to ultimately build two [arenas] when you can make one work as long as you have the foresight and the vision to make sure you're thinking through that at the beginning of the process, and that's what we're trying to do."
Leiweke said he has already been approached by a half-dozen companies for naming rights to the arena.
"For the first time in my 40-plus-year career in building facilities, naming facilities and running franchises, they're chasing us." Leiweke said. "It's a remarkable change from everything else I've ever done. It's a first for me. Usually we're out aggressively pursuing. The fact that we've had so many people approach us and sit down and talk to us about naming rights is, I think, a very good indication about the pent-up demand and the opportunity in this marketplace."
The NHL set the expansion fee at $650 million — a steep increase from the $500 million the Golden Knights paid to enter the league this season.
"The league thinks it's a fair value given what's been accomplished in Vegas, among other places," Bonderman said. "This is a dictatorship. We have to pay what they want to take."
The Knights have been a surprise success this season. They are in first place in the Pacific Division and in contention for the Presidents' Trophy for the league's top record.
Many in the league point to a favorable expansion draft process. Seattle will expect the same.
"The commissioner has been consistent in saying it's the same kind of process and procedures that they used in Vegas, and we're going to hold them to that," Bonderman said.
Of course, a big topic for fans is what the name of the potential NHL franchise will be.
"You have an owner in David that wants to make this about the fans and the community, you have one of the greatest minds ever on branding and entertainment in Jerry Bruckheimer, and we happen to have one of the best sports markets in North America," Leiweke said. "I kind of like our odds as being able to figure out the brand and doing something extraordinary."
Bruckheimer has been part of NHL ownership bids before. This time, he said, is different.
"Based off the responses we're getting, there's a lot of momentum working in our direction," Bruckheimer said of the season-ticket drive.