SEATTLE — Would-be Seattle hockey owners David Bonderman and Jerry Bruckheimer say the NHL assured them that any expansion team here could be built under the same draft rules as a highly successful first-year Las Vegas franchise.
Both also say they’re prepared to become owners in an NBA team if that league chooses to make one available through expansion or relocation. That word comes as billionaire investment banker Bonderman, 75, Hollywood producer Bruckheimer, 74, and their Oak View Group partners prepare to launch a season ticket drive starting at 10 a.m. PT on Thursday.
The duo was in town Wednesday along with OVG head Tim Leiweke to promote the drive – which seeks to land a minimum of 10,000 season ticket deposits for games at a remodeled KeyArena starting in the 2020-21 season — and said in an interview the NHL has assured them of the same expansion draft process the Vegas Golden Knights enjoyed to help be competitive right away.
“We’ve had some discussions with the commissioner on this,’’ Bonderman, the hockey group’s managing partner, said of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, adding he hopes to have the expansion team announced by June. “And the idea is they want to keep the same format as they did in Las Vegas, which was a little more favorable to the Golden Knights than people expected. It shows you what you can do to make an expansion team a real player in the game.’’
The Seattle team would cost a record $650 million.
Vegas entered play Wednesday at 41-17-5 and tied with Nashville for the second-most points in the league, just two behind Tampa Bay. They are already the most successful expansion team in NHL history and a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
The NHL held its first of several expansion drafts in 1967, but the Vegas franchise — due to the record pricetag — was given arguably the most generous player choices in league history. Teams this time were allowed to protect only seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie or eight forwards and defensemen of any combination, plus a goalie. They also had to make available a defenseman and two forwards who’d played at least 40 games last season or 70 games over the past two seasons.
In the prior expansion draft in 2000, teams could protect nine forwards, five defensemen, and one goalie, or two goalies, three defensemen, and seven forwards
On the subject of reviving the NBA Supersonics, Bonderman and Bruckheimer insisted they would do what it takes to bring a basketball franchise here and become owners in that as well. Bonderman, already a minority owner in the Boston Celtics, said he is prepared to sell his stake in that team so he could become a Sonics owner here.
“It makes a lot of sense, actually,’’ Bonderman said. “And if there’s a franchise on offer, we would be in the thick of the fray trying to bring it home to Seattle.’’
Bonderman said his fellow NBA owners already hold Seattle in high regard.
“I think it’s fair to say that everybody I’ve talked to among the NBA owners think that we’re doing the right thing by coming to Seattle,’’ Bonderman said. “A lot of them said ‘Why hockey? Why not NBA?’ And what we said to them is ‘We love hockey and it’s the place to start here.’ ’’
Bruckheimer, who is close with NHL commissioner Bettman, said he’d gladly follow partner Bonderman into NBA ownership as well.
“I love sports period,’’ Bruckheimer said. “And I would be involved in anything we can get done in this arena. Because we’re so excited about the prospects of what what the design is, what the fan experience could be for both sports.”
Bruckeimer said he’s long admired the Seattle market.
“The problem was the arena,” he said. “There wasn’t a group willing to come in and put in the effort to get it done. People tried. But it wasn’t until Tim (Leiweke) came in and worked his magic as he does better than anybody else that the city and everybody else got behind this particular project at KeyArena and keeping the shell of it for preservation while digging down and replacing the arena. So that excited me and it excited David.”
Bonderman was born in Texas, but graduated from the University of Washington in 1963. He went on to fund TPG Capital and has a personal net worth recently estimated at $2.6 billion by Forbes. Bruckheimer’s net worth is said to be about $900 million, and he has produced blockbuster films like Top Gun, Armageddon, Flashdance, Beverly Hills Cop and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Both say they view owning an NHL team as a challenge outside their known fields.
“I think it’s about hiring great people,” Bruckheimer said. “I don’t do anything very well. But I certainly know talent when I see it and whether that’s a director or a general manager or somebody who comes in and has a vision for something that you see is true and honest, that’s one of my skills.
“It’s about putting together a winning team,” he said. “A winning team not only on the ice — because I’m not an expert in that — but a winning management team. These partners that I have are terrific at what they do. They’re all-stars. We hope to get a management team together that are all-stars as well.”
Bonderman, whose 26-year-old investment company has raised more than $50 billion through various private equity funds, has long been a fan of “many sports” and wanted to be involved in operating a team. About a decade ago, he and Bruckheimer tried to team up on bringing a hockey franchise to Las Vegas until the 2008 real estate crash devastated that market and caused them to pull out.
“I’ve looked at franchises from time to time but haven’t been in the right place at the right time until now,” Bonderman said. “I think of it as a personal opportunity, as they say. But it’s a different opportunity in some ways than what I’ve done before. What I do for a living is make investments, and this is a big one.”
They’ve already put down a non-refundable $10 million deposit with the NHL, which would be put towards the $650 million pricetag for an expansion team once one is awarded.
For now, they are focused on securing the season ticket commitments within a couple of months, then getting approval to begin OVG’s planned $600 million renovation of KeyArena by October. Demolition would begin that month, with new construction to take place starting next spring.
Before that can happen, the group needs a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to be signed off on. The EIS is expected to be completed later this summer, with OVG building room for potential appeals and challenges into its construction timeframe.
Bonderman and Bruckheimer say they’ve begun discussions with some potential team employees and executives. They say they can’t name the team until one actually gets awarded, but hope that happens this summer. When it does, they say they won’t have a public naming contest, but will engage with fans for ideas on the best names possible.
They’d keep the traditional Sonics colors if an NBA team returns but are not yet set on any color scheme for the NHL franchise.
Leiweke said the group will “protect” the Sonics colors and not use them for hockey. “That’s a high priority for this group and this arena.”
He also said the season ticket drive could help fans send a message “to all that are listening, not just the NHL and the commisisoner and the owners, but the industry. I think there’s not a doubt in our minds that this will be a resounding message sent by this community about their excitement and their passion.
“This has always been about the arena,” Leiweke added. “The reason we find ourselves in the situation we’re in today was because the arena wasn’t good enough. And the reason we find ourselves in the situation tomorrow (Thursday) in being able to talk about brining winter sports back to this marketplace is because the arena will be good enough. This was always been about us getting our act together on the vision of trying to get this arena built.”
Fans wishing to make refundable deposits of $500 per regular season ticket and $1,000 for a “club” season ticket at center ice in the lower bowl can do so at the NHLSeattle.com website starting at 10 a.m. on Thursday. Any refunds can be obtained after full ticket prices are announced early next year.