BY Art Thiel 07:54PM 06/02/2014

Hansen open to hockey first, but he won’t seek it

In separate interviews Monday, arena developer Chris Hansen sought to tamp down fears that his arena project was seriously damaged by Steve Ballmer’s departure to buy the LA Clippers.

Chris Hansen interview video screen shot

Chris Hansen said the void left by Steve Ballmer won’t be hard to fill. / KING5 photo

Saying “getting a team is the much more difficult part than finding the partners,” arena developer Chris Hansen was undeterred by former partner Steve Ballmer’s purchase of the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion. In interviews with 950 KJR-AM and the Associated Press Monday, Hansen said he was open to the option of bringing in the NHL as first tenant ahead of the NBA.

“If the city and the NHL . . . would like to change the memorandum of understanding that accommodates them, and isn’t worse off for us, that’s great,” Hansen told KJR. It appears that in the absence of a team for sale and the NBA’s reluctance to relocate franchises or expand, Hansen has no short-term options for populating the arena except possibly for the NHL. But said he has no personal plan to seek hockey to alter the MOU.

A prospective Seattle ownership group led by Los Angeles investors Victor Coleman and Jonathan Glaser met May 6 with Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine to inquire about the MOU and the options for hockey. The NHL is considered more open to expanding than the NBA, and likes its chances to succeed in a market where it never has been, if it enters before the NBA.

“There should be no question about that — we’re building this arena as a two-sport building,” Hansen told AP. “It has the larger footprint for hockey. We’ve worked hard to do that. We would like to do everything in our power to allow hockey to come here in a way that makes sense for the NHL and for a prospective partner.”

But before he gets there, Hansen needs approval from the city council for his SoDo project, which can come only after a final environmental impact statement is delivered. City officials have estimated the EIS to be done no earlier than September. Hansen is seeking up to $200 million from the city’s borrowing capacity to fund a $500 million arena that would require no new or existing tax money.

Hansen said that without a team imminent, there was no reason to rush the EIS.

”There is nothing we have to do (immediately),” he told AP. “We own the land outright. There is no immediate time pressure that we have to do something and that’s been very well received by the NBA as well . . .  the fact we’re willing to be patient and endure through this.”

As far as securing other investors, Hansen said while it would be hard to find someone of Ballmer’s $20 billion net worth, it also wasn’t necessary. He said other investors were ready when Ballmer entered the partnership in 2012. And he made a point of saying that the three most recent sales of NBA teams (Kings, Bucks, Clippers) included investors from outside the local market.

“I just don’t think that’s an overarching concern here,” he said of Ballmer’s departure. “I don’t think it’s an overarching concern for the NBA either.’’

He thinks the presence of Ballmer on the inside of the NBA will be of value once a team either comes for sale or the NBA decides to expand: “I think the NBA will look very positively on one of most successful business leaders in the world singing Seattle’s praises, when it comes our way.

“It’s likely that we would bring on at least another partner, or two, or three. I don’t think we want 20 partners. I think a handful of good partners is great.’’

Hansen was unfazed by the likely increase in potential expansion fees for an NBA team, saying it helps Seattle politicians because it raises the value of the team, against which the city has a lien in case the arena for whatever reason fails to work financially.

“Franchise value going up is great for the city,’’ Hansen said. “The city has more collateral.’’

Hansen has faith that the city will come through once there is an arena deal struck and a team is acquired.

“We’ve lived up to our end of the bargain,’’ he said. “And you’d better believe that we’ll be aggressive when another opportunity does come up.’’


  • “Hansen is seeking up to $200 million from the city’s borrowing capacity to fund a $500 million arena that would require no new or existing tax money.”

    It’s about $127 million of the city’s borrowing capacity and the rest comes from King County’s borrowing capacity.

    Both councils would have to agree to any changes.

    • art thiel

      Correct on both. City on the payment line first, county comes in lightly with the first team, heavily on the second.

  • Count to 10

    I would really like to see the NHL first. They are interested in Seattle and I think that, like soccer, there is a silent passion for the sport that would blossom if a team came here. Hopefully they can find a way to make it work. I agree that the current city council isn’t thrilled with the MOU but if an NHL ownership group was willing to reduce the contribution of the city and county and maintain the guarantee of repayment using the franchise as collateral, I would think even they would have to agree that it’s a good deal.

    • art thiel

      I don’t know of empirical evidence that says hockey, a much more niche sport than soccer, is a solid bet to work here. My guess is it will, but it’s only a guess. Canadian fans would have a fair amount to do with making it work.

      • hockeypuck

        This is a major misconception. 90% of the country couldn’t give a rats-you-know-what about soccer – a sport played by “professionals” making 60k a year (with the occasional Clint Dempsey exception) at glorified HS stadiums in front of 15,000 on Saturday night. Recently ESPN renewed its TV contract even though the ratings have been flat, with a senior executive rationalizing “the ratings haven’t improved, but we believe they will”. Given me a break. When was the last time you watched the Columbus Crew play “Sporting KC” – whatever that is. Only our smug little metrosexuals in their fashionable green scarves confuse Seattle and Portland’s childish fixation with a national trend. MLS will go way of the dodo bird – just like the NASL before them. Back then everyone said as youth players grow up, they will become the fan base. Didn’t work then, and won’t work now. Hockey has a 50 year tradition as a major sport in the US. Support won’t be a problem. The problem is expecting Chris Hansen to spearhead anything – he was Steve Ballmer’s sock puppet, nothing more. Tall hat, no cattle.

        • jacklord42

          Woah I pitty your migraines at the massive World Cup coverage forthcoming! Also the heartburn you will experience when the World Cup Final gets higher ratings than the Stanely Cup. There’s no reason hockey and soccer can’t coexist in this town. I suggest you take that attitude to the Emerald City Supporters section of the next Sounders game. See how far that gets you…

          • hockeypuck

            I spent my youth carousing the stands at minor-league hockey games – not too worried about the rave green lol. Just for the record, I was a huge fan of the NASL Sounders – attended virtually every home game at memorial stadium (dating myself). And they died a painful death when no interest could be sustained outside Van-Sea-Por. Sound familiar? Hence my comment about TV ratings. You are correct that the two can easily coexist. The World Cup comparison is not a fair metric – it’s akin to every four year interest in the Olympics – its an event, not so much a sporting event. A fairer metric would be total overall attendance and/or franchise values. If someone offered you (free of charge) the choice between the SJ Earthquakes or SJ Sharks, or Chicago Blackhawks or Chicago Fire – which would you choose? Be honest now……

          • art thiel

            NHL has its place, but it hasn’t been the head-turner among the unwashed, as its fans like to think. Hockey will always suffer financially because the sport is much better in person than on TV. But the prices they will have to charge in SEA are going to shock a lot of middle-class wallets.

          • hockeypuck

            The observation about hockey being best experienced in person is a very valid criticism. I read a (probably meaningless) factoid is that TV hockey has been a beneficiary of the evolution to big-screen, HD TV. Now you’re going to force me to do some research on hockey’s TV ratings over past decade or so to see if there is any trend that may validate this. @ jacklord42 – I enjoyed the “event” atmosphere in my youth – I think Memorial stadium had a lot to do with that – games at the kingdome had a dismal tint to them. My point is I don’t think that the youth soccer experience translates into life-long devotion. I’d like to see what the demographics are – if the average age of fans is increasing over time that would actually bode well for the sport – but I don’t know that is necessarily the case – another research project…..

          • jacklord42

            Is the Stanley Cup not the Super Bowl of the NHL? I really don’t see what you are driving at… other than to call current soccer fans “smug little metrosexuals in their fashionable green scarves”. Cause that wasn’t you at Memorial Stadium in the 70’s right? You were a real fan and kids today can get off your lawn.

        • art thiel

          Childish fixation? That’s an original criticism of soccer’s fan base here. Wait until the hooligans read that. Should they be able.

          Of course MLS is behind the NHL generally, but the NHL is hardly a widespread taste. With a big head start, hockey’s TV ratings still are minuscule relative to the big three.

          And Hansen has the funds to do what he says. But he’s not Ballmer. Paul Allen isn’t even Ballmer.

  • jafabian

    It’s a matter of keeping the dream alive at this point. The money and credibility of his group left with Ballmer. Phil Jackson is now with the Knicks. Adam Silver has all but squashed any hope of the NBA returning to Seattle and the NHL is slowly creeping in on the Seattle market. Add to that Hansen’s hedge fund company did not have a good 2013 at this point he has to consider anything to keep his desire to bring back the Sonics afloat. But it’s not going to happen anytime soon. It’s a very real possibility that the NHL will be in Seattle before the Sonics come back so if an arena is going to be built he needs to have a say in it because there’s no way the city would assist in an NBA facility if there’s already one build for an NHL team.

    • art thiel

      As I’ve said, for now Seattle is more valuable to the NBA vacant rather than occupied. But once the expansion fee hits $1B, they probably would consent to taking Hansen’s cash.

      • jafabian

        Completely agree. Seattle is for the NBA what LA is for the NFL and how long has it been since LA has seen professional football? I’m starting to think the NBA won’t return just because of that fact.

        IMO, the more Hansen fights for his Sonics dream the more determined the NBA gets to deny him. At some point doesn’t the message “no means no” have to get through? They said no to a higher offer for the Kings. They said a Thunder game was more important than announcing a decision. They said no to expansion. They’ve shown disdain to Sonics fans by saying that the history of the Kings couldn’t be ignored. It’s obvious the NBA wants no part of Seattle.

        Even if Hansen got in I’m not sure any teams would be willing to deal with him and based on the Chris Paul to the Lakers fiasco the NBA could easily stymie efforts to build a wining franchise. I don’t believe the NBA wants to recycle past cities but rather go into newer markets that either they’ve never been to (Hartford, Birmingham) or absent from for a very long time. (St. Louis, Baltimore) It’s a very real possibility that the window of opportunity for this to happen has passed.

  • 1coolguy

    I say Hansen will develop his property into either high rise residential or office. After 4-5 years he will grow tired of the NBA chase and become just that much more wealthy owning a million sq ft or so of high rent real estate.

    • art thiel

      He’d sell off the property first.

  • Leon Russell

    Hansen was nothing but a front man for Ballmer. The SODO arena deal was all Ballmer. Hansen has no money, or anything else. He’s a scam artist. The SODO arena fantasy is dead.

    • 1coolguy

      Huh? Proof of his lack of funds please. Also, there are/were other partners, including the Nordstrom’s, who, it is rumored, have some cash.

    • art thiel

      Hansen started the project and bought the land before Ballmer knew who he was. Once Ballmer jumped, yes, he was the 800-pound gorllla. The SoDo project may not work, but that has nothing to do with Ballmer and nearly everything to do with the site’s opponents.

  • Leon Russell

    “Hansen is seeking up to $200 million from the city’s borrowing capacity to fund a $500 million arena that would require no new or existing tax money.”
    You don’t think sales tax is “existing tax money”? Part of the $400 million or so it would take to pay off the $200 million in bonds would come from sales tax, which would otherwise go to the city. It if disingenuous, if not outright stupid, to imply that this would not cost the city any money. If the sales tax generated by every new building in Seattle went to pay for that building instead of going to the City of Seattle, that would cost the city a whole lot of tax revenue, would it not? That is what Hansen is demanding — the sales tax (and other taxes) from sales in his arena would go to pay for the arena instead of going to the City of Seattle to pay for schools, police, roads, or whatever else the city decided to spend it on, instead of using it to subsidize filthy stinking rich pro sports owners.

    • 1coolguy

      Well actually the sales taxes from the arena’s ticket and concession sales would not exist without the arena, revenue the city would not have seen.

    • art thiel

      The contention has always been that the sales taxes generated by the project would not exist without the project. Hence it is not an existing tax. It has been done on other projects, but not on all.

      And if that violates the sensibilities, that needs to be applied to every real estate developer of large projects, because they are filthy stinking rich as well.

  • RadioGuy

    More and more I think bringing in an NHL franchise is the more viable option because A) It’ll cost about a third of what an NBA team would go for and B) the NHL seems more willing to go into Seattle IF a suitable temporary facility can be used. That latter point is huge because the Key is both too small and has horrible sightlines, Comcast and Showare are both way too small and the Tacoma Dome has horrible sightlines and no luxury boxes to speak of. Of the four, the T-Dome is the best of a bad lot because you CAN fit 20,000+ for a game but they all have major issues.

    One key for the NHL is that they would have to be first to occupy Seattle because an NBA team would almost ensure that hockey would be treated as the proverbial red-headed stepchild. The only way major league hockey will succeed here is if they’re the only game in town during the winter.

    Another issue for the NHL would be getting crowds for ALL the home games here. Sure, everyone talks about how there’d be a great rivalry with Vancouver, but the Canucks can’t be the visiting team 40 times a season. Will people in Seattle spend $50-100 a ticket when the Nashville Predators or Carolina Hurricanes come to town? The Sounders have shown than locals WILL pay to watch a mediocre product, but they’ve done it by creating an overall fan “experience” than has nothing to do with MLS and all about atmosphere. Anyone who runs a hockey team in Seattle needs to consult with Joe Roth and Drew Carey because if those guys can get 39,000 to attend second-tier league matches against teams from Salt Lake City and Columbus, they can sell anything.