Somewhere to call home: Seattle, Calgary arenas tell two tales
Thursday, October 26, 2017
With several professional sports leagues contemplating expansion opportunities, location is one of the most obvious factors to consider. Financial contributions from a team owner and local government also come into play.
Currently, both Seattle and Calgary have arenas in need of upgrades. While Seattle lacks professional sports teams to play in its soon-to-be upgraded arena, Calgary has been unable to reach a financing plan. With eager fans in both cities, how will these arenas fare?
In September, a memorandum of understanding from the Oak View Group was drafted, with plans to spend $600 million on arena renovations. It is currently under consideration by Seattle City Council.
The Oak View Group's president, Tim Leiweke, is no stranger to the world of sports. As the former president of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, Leiweke has previously overseen the operations of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors and Toronto FC soccer team. His resume boasts the feat of making Toronto basketball relevant once again, and building a $30 million practice facility for the Raptors. Already, it appears that his experiences in Toronto will be making an impact on Seattle.
With plans for KeyArena to be up and running by 2020, renovations to the property are first and foremost. As I have previously discussed, today's sports arenas and stadiums are expanding the fan experience beyond the confines of the venue. Outdoor screens, viewing parties and sports districts have becoming increasingly popular in recent years, allowing for teams and their sponsors to earn higher revenues per game. Local hospitality venues have also benefited from an increase in business from fans.
Is there a similar fate for Seattle?
Tim Leiweke shared with Sportsnet that an updated KeyArena will look a lot like a newer version of Toronto's Air Canada Centre, with a few elements borrowed from Minnesota's Xcel Energy Centre. On the inside, the bowl and concourses will be gutted to double the size of the arena, fitting 17,500 seats.
The outside of the arena will be kept "as is," as Leiweke acknowledges the history and tradition present from the 1962 World Fair that was held in Seattle. The thought of turning the area into a sports district remains unclear, although hockey and basketball fans alike are eager to bring professional teams to town.
Strategizing for an expanded Seattle arena has been a storyline that’s played out before — in 2008, when former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz failed to convince the state to finance a $220 million KeyArena renovation project. The NBA's Seattle SuperSonics were ultimately sold to a businessman in Oklahoma, and the team relocated, becoming the Oklahoma City Thunder.
In terms of bringing a hockey team to Seattle, Leiweke acknowledged that an owner is needed. TSN reported that the Oak View Group has lined up billionaire David Bonderman and filmmaker Jerry Bruckheimer as potential owners for a franchise.
Fans are equally encouraging of a Seattle hockey franchise. Sonics Rising, a Seattle blog affiliated with SBNation, has taken note of the NHL's newest franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights. Having started the season at 3-0, Sonics Rising said, "This could be us!" Seattle fans have already started showing up at Vegas games with signs saying, "We want the NHL next."
With excitement for a Seattle franchise to join the NHL, many are wondering if the league will expand to 32 teams or relocate a team playing in a smaller market. As it stands, the Eastern Conference has 16 teams to the Western Conference's 15. A 16th Western team would make the most sense.
Another possibility — though unlikely — would see the Calgary Flames relocating to Seattle, should they be unable to reach a deal with the city for a new or upgraded arena. Jokes (and some minor speculation) about this scenario began on social media after team president of hockey operations Brian Burke commented earlier this summer that the team would be leaving Calgary should a new arena deal not be reached.
The Scotiabank Saddledome, the home of the Flames, opened in 1983. It has hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics, and last underwent renovations in 1994. Because it is the oldest arena in the NHL, it appears to be an excellent candidate for upgrades or a new building altogether.
Last month, the City of Calgary offered the Flames a $555 million deal that would evenly split the cost three ways (at $185 million) among the city, the team and the "users" — fans who would pay a ticket surcharge to help fund the new arena.
The Flames balked at this, and presented their own proposal a week later. Calgary Sports and Entertainment offered to put forward $275 million if the city would raise $225 million through a community revitalization levy. This time, Mayor Naheed Nenshi called the offer "property tax from people who are in that neighbourhood," and said that this proposal signified that the Flames wanted their property tax to be paid for by others.
With a mayoral election looming, the new arena quickly became a heavily politicized issue. Many thought the Flames were eager to see a new mayor of Calgary elected, in hopes of a smoother proposal and building process. However, the recent election saw Nenshi chosen for a third term, indicating another trip to the drawing board for both parties.
Harkening back to Burke's threats, would the Flames really pack up and move to a new city? It seems unlikely. With Nenshi serving for another term and pressure looming to make a deal, talks will continue.
While new arenas and sports franchises continue to pop up over time, it is not without the planning of key stakeholders that makes the team and its building come to fruition. While Seattle and Calgary still have a while to go on their upgraded buildings, decades from now fans will not remember the troubles plaguing the situation.
Once a deal is in place, the excitement for the future begins. For Seattle, it's already begun. With time, Calgary will be next.
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