SEATTLE — During this 100th anniversary year of the Seattle Metropolitans winning the Stanley Cup, the NHL announced an expansion process Thursday that likely will lead to the city gaining the league’s 32nd franchise.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced after a Board of Governors meeting in Palm Beach, Fla., that the league has received a request to file an expansion application from billionaire investment banker David Bonderman and Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
Bonderman and Bruckheimer are partnered with the Oak View Group (OVG), which this week finalized a deal with the City of Seattle for a $600 million renovation of KeyArena.
The league has agreed to review the application, has set a $650 million expansion fee and now will gauge progress by the Seattle group in coming months before deciding whether to award a franchise to this market.
“Mr. Bonderman, with his partner Jerry Bruckheimer, has asked if they might file an application for an expansion team,” Bettman told reporters. “And the board has said that they may do that. That doesn’t mean that we have granted an expansion team. We’ve agreed as a league to take and consider an expansion application and to let them run — at some point in the next few months — a season-ticket drive.”
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan signed a Memorandum of Understanding with OVG on Wednesday. Durkan and the city hope the renovated KeyArena attracts an NHL team, and eventually the return of an NBA team.
The Sonics relocated to Oklahoma City in 2008.
Durkan held a news conference Thursday to discuss the NHL announcement.
“I said (Wednesday) I thought we were on the path,” Durkan said. “I didn’t know it would happen so quickly. We are thrilled that it is happening. I will be talking to the NHL commissioner soon. I’m also hoping to talk to the NBA commissioner because I know I’m going to get that.
“We saw the (Vancouver) Canucks are really excited to come here and get beat. And we’re excited to go up north. We remember Seattle has more Stanley Cups and we plan to add to that.
“We are looking forward to bringing the NHL to Seattle.”
The process announced Thursday is similar to what the Las Vegas Golden Knights did ahead of being awarded an NHL expansion team that began play this season. Before that process, the league opened an expansion-application process for any interested parties and received offers from groups for Las Vegas and Quebec City.
This time around, only Seattle is being considered. Bettman reiterated that the process is exclusively about Seattle when asked whether Quebec City might again be considered.
Barring issues with the season-ticket drive — or a snag with the KeyArena renovation plan — it appears an expansion team will be headed Seattle’s way. In fact, the NHL has been negotiating with the Seattle group on the expansion fee for several months. The group initially offered $600 million but agreed to pay the higher price.
Bettman mentioned that relocation of one or more teams is still on the table and did not rule that out. But a renovated KeyArena is not expected to be ready until October 2020 at the earliest, leaving no place to accept a relocated team in the short term. Also, the league stands to gain double in expansion fees what it would get from any group offering to take in a relocated team.
And not every market can afford to pay that fee and make it work. In small-market Quebec City’s case, a $650 million expansion fee would cost close to $850 million in Canadian dollars after the exchange rate is factored in.
The league also has been eyeing Seattle as a solution to address the 16-to-15 team imbalance between its Eastern and Western conferences.
OVG co-founder Tim Leiweke had no immediate comment Thursday about the developments. Leiweke is scheduled to arrive in Toronto on Friday for the MLS Cup game between the Sounders and the Toronto FC team he helped run for two seasons in which it acquired many of its current star players.
Besides spending $600 million to refurbish KeyArena, Leiweke’s group also has pledged an additional $60 million to a separate city transportation fund and to various community charities.
Durkan on Thursday said the city will begin work on the season-ticket drive with Bonderman and Leiweke.
“I’m hoping to meet with or speak with Mr. Bonderman soon as well as having constant communication with Mr. Leiweke,” Durkan said. “ … I think we’ll see the launch right after the first of the year, because it’s not a time right now to be launching that kind of campaign.
“But I think there’s a lot of pent-up appetite here in Seattle for this, and so I think we can meet the benchmarks we need to meet.”
Durkan was asked for specifics on the benchmarks.
“I don’t have all of those in front of me, but we’ll get them. I know there’s an aggressive schedule for season tickets and the like,” she said. “Obviously we have to get the arena in place. We’ve got to show that we’re moving that around. The part the city has to do is make sure we do our deal. We get the agreements in place. We keep the arena on track.
“And Mr. Leiweke and his group, we’re going to make sure they meet their benchmarks to sell the season tickets and the like. We’ll be working together closely. I have every confidence that that partnership will go very smoothly.”