'Odds against Seattle from start' in NHL Coyotes coming to town

Jul 5, 2013

The two most promising chances for the NBA and NHL to come to Seattle this year are now gone. This week the city council in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale voted to approve a lease agreement that keeps the NHL's Coyotes in Arizona.

The news comes two months after the NBA rejected a bid to relocate the Sacramento Kings to Seattle.

KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says it's a blow to Seattle's arena project, but not a very big one.  

'Preposterous thing'

Art was skeptical from the start about the Coyotes coming to Seattle.

"The odds were against this whole preposterous thing from the start," he said. "As we discovered with the Sacramento issue and the attempt to bring the NBA back to Seattle, leagues don't like to move teams. And the NHL did not want to move out of the greater Phoenix area."

'Terrible deal'

Art says the politicians in Glendale didn't have any good options, with pressure mounting that the team could move out of Arizona.

"They (the NHL) intimidated Glendale to capitulating in a deal that I think is terrible for the city because Glendale has to subsidize the NHL team to the tune of $15 million a year," he said. "And the team is going to try to kick back somewhere around $6-to-$8 million of that from revenue streams. Whether they do or not is anyone's guess.

"It's a bad deal either way for Glendale: either they lose the team or they subsidize the team at cost to the taxpayers. Frankly I think that's terrible."

'A blow, but a secondary one'

Art considered this week's news a minor setback for lead Seattle arena investor Chris Hansen, whose bid to buy and relocate the NBA's Sacramento Kings was rejected by the NBA in May. "I don't think the NHL, certainly, was his priority," Art said. "The NBA was. And that one hurt. He put $625 million on the table and the NBA said 'No, your money's not good here, pal.' That wasn't what he, at all, envisioned."

"The NHL thing was an opportunity to keep momentum going for the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that he struck with the City of Seattle and King County," Art continued. "That was a real achievement to get politicians to sign off on a deal that required a $200 million dollar contribution from city and county if both teams showed up."

"It would've been a real momentum builder if Hansen had pulled off at least one of the teams," he said. "Both would've been a substantial coup. But now it's gonna be zero - at least for next fall."

Seattle was Plan B, but The Key?

In a recent KPLU commentary, Art questioned whether hockey would work at KeyArena, if a team were to arrive here in time for the 2013-14 season. This week he reiterated his skepticism.

"I'm not sure how ready Seattle would've been because KeyArena seats only 11,000 people for pro hockey," Art said. "That would've meant that the new owners of the Coyotes would've lost a ton of money - operating losses - for the first two or three years before Hansen completed his Sodo arena plan."

"I think  now, without the pressure on, a much better deal could be struck by both the NHL and Seattle if the opportunity presents," he said. "This deal in such haste...wouldn't have worked out well."

The NBA/NHL arena proposed for Seattle's Sodo neighborhood is far from a done deal. An environmental impact statement is still being done. There's been legal action taken. And the MOU states that an NBA team must be secured before any construction can begin. The deal between Hansen's arena group and the city and county is good for five years.

You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest and Crosscut.com.