Now that the formality of the city and the Oak View Group agreeing to an MOU is in the books, we can wait to see if the former Washington State Pavilion can truly be renovated (again) in time for a potential NHL start date of October 2020. Typically, given the usual city process, the answer is no. However, the city so desperately wants this all to happen that one must be inclined to think it just may all come together in time. Please ignore the process shortcuts the city will take to ensure the timely conclusion.
If the NHL grants an expansion franchise to the city (again…look up the provisional franchise granted in 1974 to begin play in 1976), how will the team be successful off the ice? It’s about building the hockey pyramid, which should become a main community focus of the organization.
This means helping fund new indoor ice rinks throughout the region that youth leagues to adult rec leagues can benefit. It means funding outdoor rinks in parks that can be used for street or roller hockey. Or even actual ice hockey for the few times a year the area gets snow. It’s sponsoring summer street or roller hockey tourneys in prominent outdoor locations. From all this activity the hope would be that youth hockey enrollment increases (boys and girls), youth club hockey expands and maybe even some high schools take up the sport.
Next, ideally the new franchise would provide seed funding to help start division one hockey programs at a few of the universities in the Northwest. Many of these schools already have club programs from which the jump to D1 would begin. Programs at these schools would provide a further step up the hockey ladder for the youth players skilled enough to play at a higher level. And provide fans another outlet to view the game in a different way, maybe in their school colors.
Additionally, the team would support whatever junior or minor league hockey exists after the NHL arrives, perhaps as an affiliate club or by keeping organizational linked players nearby.
Sitting atop the pyramid, the new team would have a lot of work to do to keep the foundation strong. But there’s really no other choice for long term success. The location of the Seattle Center Coliseum alone gives pause about the long term viability of the franchise if fans from outside downtown cannot easily access the arena. That’s a lot of potential revenue from season ticket holders, club seat buyers and suite rentals left on the table. Maybe the Hansen/Nordstrom group should keep that land in SoDo just in case it’s needed for a new arena in a decade…
None of this is new to Tod Leiweke. When he soon leaves his post as NFL COO to run the hockey campaign here, local fans can know they’re getting a hockey fan who has already had much success in this market with the Seahawks and Sounders. All of Leiweke’s experience will be needed to help ensure years of good fortune on our yet to be granted franchise.