The Seattle City Council is pushing forward with plans to build a new $490 million basketball and hockey arena in the same neighborhood as their still newish Quest Field and not-all-that-old Safeco Field. The tentative plan is for hedge fund manager Chris Hansen to buy the NBA’s Sacramento Kings (who have been fighting for a new arena for years, and already tried to move once) and move them to Seattle. The city never got over losing the SuperSonics in 2008 to Oklahoma City. (Seriously, there’s an entire documentary devoted to the process through which the ownership group got the team out of the Emerald City.) But one measly NBA team might not be good enough for Seattle. They’ve set their sights on nabbing a vulnerable NHL franchise, too.
Although the ongoing political drama in Glendale, Arizona, leaves the future of the Coyotes uncertain, Seattle officials might look north to scratch their hockey itch. The Edmonton Oilers’ ownership group paid Seattle a visit yesterday to learn about the city's arena plans. The Oilers are the once-mighty NHL team in which Wayne Gretzky got his start (and won four Stanley Cups), but the franchise has fallen on sucky times of late.
Oilers owner Daryl Katz is trying to sweat Edmonton officials into agreeing to build a new arena. Their lease at their home arena, Rexall Place, expires in 2014. So Katz made the tire-kicking pilgrimage to Seattle. Also on Monday, Edmonton’s mayor gave the team a deadline of October 17 to talk to the City Council and settle on a deal for a downtown arena.
But, deadline or not, it’s likely all just posturing, like when Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux visited Kansas City while his team sought a new building.
Yahoo! NHL blogger Greg Wyshynski writes that Seattle could just be the new Kansas City. “[T]hen there's the notion that the Oilers will never, ever, ever and never move to Seattle. That Seattle is, like Kansas City before it, a City of Leverage,” he writes.
That’s the perfect phrase: “city of leverage.” And if Seattle officials want to avoid spending a fortune building an arena with grand plans of attracting a team and failing, they would be wise to study Kansas City and the history of Sprint Center. Remember, we had been told that AEG, which manages the arena, would try to find an anchor tenant. They didn’t. Now AEG is for sale, and it appears that the chances of dragging a team here are fading.
If Seattle does become the younger, sexier version of Kansas City for pro sports teams, and the Oilers remain in Edmonton after strengthening their bargaining position by visiting Washington, that's a bummer for Seattle. But it also will mark a significant moment of aging for downtown Kansas City and the Sprint Center. The downtown arena is still the fourth busiest in the nation, which is nice. But it also means that the days of being a city of leverage (and clinging to slim hopes of landing a team) are passing Kansas City by. Nobody is even mentioning the possibility that the NBA’s Kings will relocate here, and we didn't get a serious look last year when the Atlanta Thrashers became the Winnipeg Jets. We’re passé as a negotiating ploy, and teams threatening to relocate won’t even give us a pity date.