After a period of dormancy, both the Seattle and Phoenix situations came roaring back in the news recently. While it’s impossible to correctly prognosticate based only on the information available to the public, casually inferring and coming to basic conclusions are reasonable at this point. We’ll start with Seattle:
In a scathing press release, Seattle Partners (which included current KeyArena operator, AEG) withdrew their bid to revamp KeyArena, citing both a “lack of transparency” in the bid process as well as the mayor and city council’s “general lack of active engagement” with their group. Their bridge-burning demeanor aside, the letter resulted in bid competitor Oak View Group (OVG) releasing their financial documents to the public the next day. Within a few days, there was a press conference announcing the city was going forward with OVG’s bid.
Right before the press conference, word got out that two prospective NHL owners were associated with OVG: David Bonderman and Jerry Bruckheimer. The latter is a big name in Hollywood you’ve seen at some point in the credits as executive producer, and the former is a billionaire hedge fund manager. They worked together trying to bring an expansion team to Vegas a while ago, but weren’t able to get the arena hammered out themselves. The fact that they worked on an expansion bid before makes it likely that will be the route to the NHL they pursue; they would have no problem putting together the $500 million expansion fee.
A few tidbits that got lost in the hype involve the timeline. The city has a Memorandum of Understanding (essentially an exclusivity agreement) with Chris Hansen that expires in December, so the city council can’t even vote on the KeyArena project until then. It was also mentioned that the NCAA basketball tournament games scheduled for March 2019 at KeyArena will not be relocated, so construction cannot begin until those take place. This means, realistically, the arena is 3-5 years away from being NHL ready. Considering Seattle has had this arena drama playing out for the last decade, though, there are some people happy to finally have the city on board with an arena for hockey and basketball. Speaking of drama, the Arizona Coyotes had a major development recently as well…
A rumor came true when it was announced that Arizona Coyotes majority stakeholder Andrew Barroway had bought out all minority stakeholders, giving him sole possession of the team. This makes moving the team much easier, but doesn’t necessarily mean that relocation is imminent. It’s possible he has worked to mend the team’s relationship with Glendale in order to buy time. The upcoming 2017-2018 season is the last year on the current lease, but it could be extended on a yearly basis. With the unceremonious death of the Arizona Senate’s Bill 1149, all signs point to public funding for a new arena not being an option.
A likely scenario, however, is he bought everyone else out so he could shop the team. This begs the question: who is in the market for an NHL team? Here are a few names to consider from a Portland perspective.
Scott McNealy: The tech billionaire is a hockey enthusiast, and the pick-up games he hosts are considered one the best networking opportunities in Silicon Valley. If he wanted to own a team, nearby Portland has a similar ethos to the Bay Area, so the thought has likely crossed his mind. While watching hockey boom in California, he put his children through the Jr. Sharks program before one of his sons, Maverick, became the world’s top amateur golfer.
Oren Koules: As a former stakeholder in the Tampa Bay Lightning, he makes no secret of his desire to have a hand in team ownership once again. Whether or not he could own a team outright at today’s price tag is questionable, but he could organize the necessary conglomerate. He is familiar with both Portland and the Moda Center, as both he and his son Miles played for the Winterhawks. Koules also had a front row seat to California’s hockey boom, putting Miles through the Jr. Kings program. He recently sold a junior hockey team he owned, the NA3HL’s Helena Bighorns; whether his intention was to find a team at a higher level or step away from hockey ownership entirely has yet to be made public.
Paul Allen: Not just the Trail Blazers owner, Allen owns the Moda Center through his entity Vulcan Sports and Entertainment. He is on record saying he would be interested in owning a hockey team if the price was right, but that hasn’t translated to any sort of active pursuit. He’s also stated he doesn’t want competition for Blazers tickets, so he likely would want at least a piece of the action if he wasn’t the outright owner. Whether or not he is the owner, he would be the “gatekeeper” for the Moda Center.
Interestingly, the Blazers’ current President and CEO, Chris McGowan worked for the aforementioned AEG as the Los Angeles Kings’ COO. Allen having a right-hand man with hockey experience can’t hurt Portland’s chances. We just have to hope he is willing to (or already does) pour honey in Allen’s ear about the upsides to hockey ownership.
Bill Gallacher: A Calgary native, the Winterhawks’ owner seems to be interviewed every other year by the Oregonian about his desire to own an NHL team. An existing (and hopefully healthy) relationship with Allen would bode well if he wanted to own a pro team in Portland. He owns a home in Scottsdale, but has yet to throw his name out there as a potential local owner, so his residence near the Coyotes’ current location may be irrelevant.
Matt Hulsizer: The Chicago hedge fund billionaire was bought out from his ownership in the Minnesota Wild last August, and is another person vocal about his desire to own an NHL team. Like Gallacher, he owns a home in Scottsdale, and was previously cited as a potential owner for the Coyotes. He was close to buying the team before walking away due to disagreements with the city of Glendale over the lease.
Ray Bartosczek and/or Anthony Lanza: The duo tried to buy the Coyotes and move them to Seattle in 2013, but the league’s desire to keep the team in Phoenix trumped their attempt. Should they be interested in moving them to Portland, the existing arena would make it much easier.
A few more names worth mentioning include Greg Jamison (former front runner to buy Coyotes whose family supposedly previously lived in Portland), John Graham (tried to move Coyotes to Saskatoon), Kenneth Fisher (local billionaire) and Phil Knight (duh…).
There are undoubtedly more potential owners with no ties or interest in Portland that will emerge if it becomes public that Barroway is selling the team, which is of course still completely speculation. That said, between Phoenix’s newfound ability to be easily moved and Seattle making leaps and bounds towards their own NHL team, pro hockey is that much closer to Portland. Bottom line, if the Coyotes move here, Portland gets the NHL. If not, once Seattle gets an NHL team, the owners would be leaving an embarrassing amount of money on the table by not putting their AHL farm team in Portland. It would also be on Seattle’s timeline, so we could still be stuck waiting a while. Let’s hope for the former, but it’s encouraging to have the latter in the pipeline.