BY Art Thiel 06:16PM 07/20/2015

NHL gets bids from Vegas, Quebec, not Tukwila

A developer of an arena proposed for Tukwila, Ray Bartoszek, declined to submit a bid for an NHL expansion franchise, the third of three area parties who said no to a $500 million expansion fee.

Billionaire Bill Foley addresses an audience in Las Vegas Feb. 10 when he announced a season-ticket deposit campaign for a potential expansion team. To his immediate right is NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. / Las Vegas Review-Journal

Apparently, Gary Bettman’s league is too sexy for Seattle. Or something.

According to various reports, only Las Vegas and Quebec City submitted bids by the 2 p.m. Monday deadline the NHL set for cities interested in expansion teams by 2017-18 — and both have arenas being built on spec.

Ray Bartoszek, whose plan for a Tukwila arena was anticipated earlier to be the only one from potentially three in the Seattle area to apply, became the third Seattle-area non-player.

According to King County Council member Pete von Reichbauer, who has talked with Bartoszek’s group, the cost was too high.

“It was a realistic response to an unrealistic demand,” he said.

The lack of interest from more cities suggests that Bettman’s belief that an expansion fee of $500 million per team was an over-estimation. But the NHL did get two bids, from cities that took risks in commencing construction before an assurance they would get an anchor pro-sports team. To bid, each was willing to pay a $10 million up-front fee, $2 million of which was non-refundable.

Both markets come with question marks. Las Vegas has never had a major pro sports team to compete against all the other attractions of the Strip. Quebec City, North America’s second-smallest pro sports market, already lost an NHL team when the Nordiques fled French-speaking Canada in 1995 and became the Colorado Avalanche.

Bettman had hoped a flurry of cities would bid to help keep the price high. Then again, the NHL is under no obligation to expand now, and could open the bidding again later.

Here’s how Ken Campbell of The Hockey News put it:

Maybe, just maybe, Gary Bettman is going to have to admit what has become obvious, that he overestimated the value of his product and he’s going to have to bring his price down. Even in the application process, those applying were guaranteed to lose at least $2 million. It turns out that a lot of guys who have a lot of money aren’t in the habit of throwing it down a sinkhole, even when it’s a relative pittance. That’s how most of these guys got rich in the first place.

The NHL made no announcement Monday on the bids, but representatives of ownership groups in Las Vegas and Quebec City confirmed their applications.

But the idea that up to three groups might pursue an arena in the Seattle marketplace died quickly.

Last week, Los Angeles businessman Victor Coleman did not submit a bid to be the NHL owner in Chris Hansen’s Sodo arena project, which can only move ahead when Hansen has a commitment from an NBA team — or an NHL team, if a skeptical City Council agrees to put hockey first. Hansen wants Coleman to partner in the arena construction costs on the terms Hansen agreed to with the city.

Friday, a spokesman for the city of Bellevue confirmed that while discussions have taken place regarding a potential arena on the East Side, no proposal for an arena had been submitted by investors.

The NHL remains eager to be in the Seattle marketplace. Expansion is always the cleanest way. But if in the coming months either of the NHL’s two weakest franchises, the Phoenix Coyotes or the Florida Panthers, suddenly need a new place to play, relocation is possible.

By then, perhaps an arena deal will be green-lighted. And a team can be sold at less than fantasy prices.


  • Playhouse

    One thing to keep in mind about both cities that bid: Neither ownership group had to participate in the costs and planning of construction of their intended arenas. The Vegas group will simply be a tenant in a building built and to be managed by MGM and AEG. In Quebec City, Quebecor made a deal to manage and supply naming rights to the arena, but QC and Quebec province put up all construction costs of the building. They could be a bit more spendy on an expansion fee because they didn’t have the same upfront costs as, say, any of the three groups in the Seattle area.

    • art thiel

      Excellent points Playhouse. MGM and AEG are splitting the cost, with no investment from the public or owners. That’s why Bettman is smiling in the photo.

      The Canadian building is 100 percent publicly funded. Residents have pined for the ‘Diques for 20 years, have no problem supporting their one and only chance at pro sports. Think Portland and the Blazers.

      • SUDS

        You just pissed off a world of Timber fans, Art! ;-)

        • art thiel

          Well, there’s that.

  • Tom

    This just feels like we’re done for the next 10-20 years in terms of getting an arena for a team. I mean, maybe the NHL declines expansion for now or, more realistically, expands by just 1 and gives Seattle a final chance later with a slightly dumbed down price (something that starts with a “4” or “3” instead of a “5”).

    But I just can’t shake the feeling, even though it’s Debbie Downer-ish on my part, that we dropped the ball again and it’s just never going to happen for us.

    The NBA has no interest in expanding and we’ve already learned that relying on relocation is nothing but a fruitless and frustrating exercise.

    • art thiel

      I understand the feeling, but these circumstances are notorious for changing. Do yourself a favor and come to no conclusions. Disappointed? Sure. Despondent? Put the bottle of vodka down and walk away.

  • Is Pete von Reichbauer Ray Bartoszek’s spokesman? Guess so.

    That was a heck of a try, but Pete von Reichbauer’s effort to use Ray Bartoszek in undermining the MOU the county has with Hansen, and Coleman’s effort to secure a hockey team, fell flat.
    I’m sure the Mariners will let you stay in their club to watch another decade of terrible baseball.

    • art thiel

      Thanks for choosing sides for me, Bake, but I prefer to stay out. You go ahead.

  • Edgar Martinez

    500 million may be a crazy number, but that’s the world we live in now for these premium pro franchises. It’s either crap or get off the pot.

    • art thiel

      Perhaps, but the argument can be made that Bettman’s onerous terms serve to cripple the new teams. I believe they call it smothering the eggs.

      • Count to 10

        I think it’s doubly hard to swallow for the ownership groups here who need to build arenas and pay for teams. Most of the struggling franchises in the NHL are valued under $200M by Forbes I believe. As the Kings saga proved, scarcity can render their valuation moot but the point is that those teams, IF they are relocated, would cost considerably less than an expansion team AND would already have some talent on the roster and in the farm system. The NHL got bids at their asking price but, as you note, they could be putting those new teams in a hole early with the hefty price tag.

  • Jamo57

    The fact that Toronto dropped out too really tells us the price was too high. As you pointed out, the two cities that jumped in don’t have other major league franchises in town (and have buildings to fill). Hockey is almost always 3rd or 4th on the totem pole in cities with multiple major league franchises and Bettman just got reminded of that fact.

    In any event, Vancouver isn’t that much more difficult to get to than Tukwila from Snohomish County. And the locals like visitors much more that SEA does.

    Life goes on.

  • jafabian

    Unlike when the M’s have been public about moving or getting a stadium built, there’s been no noise from Olympia, or even the mayor’s office. Murray has talked more about the NBA than he has about NHL. I think that hurts Seattle’s chances.

  • Kirkland

    I’m really frustrated by many for this: the NHL (for ridiculous entry demands), the Seattle City Council (for not amending the MOU), the money men (for not being able to hammer a plan), even Donald Sterling (if he hadn’t been forced to sell the Clippers, would a still-in-Seattle Steve Ballmer have helped a bid through?).

    But mostly, as a longtime Seattle hockey fan, I feel helpless. Since I don’t live in Seattle’s city limits (look at my screen name), I can’t vote against the council members; I don’t have the right to tell people, billionaires or not, how to spend their money; and Bettman’s only job is to make money for the NHL team owners, and he just got them anywhere between $16 million and $1 billion. So what can I do? No idea.

    Thank God for the Thunderbirds.