Within two days, it was announced that Seattle would have both a National Hockey League team and a new stadium capable of hosting hockey and basketball teams.
The first announcement came Dec. 4 when the NHL Board of Governors voted unanimously to approve a Seattle-based team that will begin in the 2021–22 season. It will be the 32nd team in the league, which incorporates franchises both in the U.S. and Canada, and will pave the way for international rivalries between the Vancouver Canucks and the yet-unnamed Seattle team. The Seattle ownership group will pay a $650 million expansion fee, a figure $150 million higher than the one paid by the Vegas Golden Knights for their entry into the 2017–18 season.
Then, on Dec. 5, state and local officials met with Oak View Group leadership and community members in Lower Queen Anne for a groundbreaking outside KeyArena, which will undergo an $800 million renovation. A modern arena was one requirement for bringing an NHL team to Seattle, and the renovations will be completed without the use of public funding. “This is a really good day for Seattle. We’re breaking ground on the next generation of the Seattle Center,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said at the groundbreaking, which was also attended by Gov. Jay Inslee. The new KeyArena will have space for 17,400 people. Opened in 1962, it was the former home of the NBA’s Seattle Supersonics before they moved to Oklahoma City in 2008.
A handful of basketball fans could be seen at the groundbreaking wearing lime-green Supersonics gear. A new stadium could open the door for the return of other professional sports leagues, said Tim Leiweke, CEO of Oak View Group. “We’re going to prove we’re ready for the next one,” he said.
Renovations to KeyArena are expected to be completed by early 2021, but for hockey fans like John Barr, the two announcements were the culmination of years of work and anticipation. Barr runs a sports blog called NHL to Seattle, where over the past eight years he’s chronicled the process of attracting the NHL, as well as advocating for it. “This is obviously a huge milestone, yesterday being the hugest,” he told Seattle Weekly on Wednesday. “But the reality is I knew when I started kind of thinking about what it would take to get an NHL team here, it would take a building.” Barr credited the city of Seattle for taking hockey seriously, saying he thought that the sport was an underdog and that bringing in an NHL team may have had to wait until other franchises like an NBA team came back to Seattle.
Season-ticket presales went up on Tuesday and within 24 hours had sold 32,000, the NHL said in a press release. With tickets selling so quickly, and at least a 10,000-strong fan base for Seattle and Everett’s minor-league teams, Barr said hockey could rapidly in the Pacific Northwest. Barr himself didn’t fall in love with the sport until he was an adult, but said he plays it three times a week. “I really love this city, and I have learned to love hockey as an adult… I think it’s going to be an awesome opportunity for the community to come together and work as a team,” he said.
It’s been nearly a century since Seattle had a professional hockey team. The Seattle Metropolitans played in the now-defunct Pacific Coast Hockey Association from 1915 to 1924 and won the Stanley Cup in 1917, the first U.S. team to bring home the award. The Seattle Times conducted a poll earlier this year for the yet-unnamed Seattle NHL team. Returning to the Metropolitans was the third most popular choice, but the Seattle Sockeyes ranked first, with the Totems coming in second. Seattle’s team will join the Pacific Division, bumping the Arizona Coyotes into the Central Division.