It is early in his career as a pro sports owner in Seattle — actually, he hasn’t officially donned the tinfoil hat yet — but it was nevertheless important to understand the manner and fitness of Hollywood mogul Jerry Bruckheimer for the task. So the critical question had to be asked of the prospective co-owner of Seattle’s pending bid to be the NHL’s 32nd franchise.
How were the chicken wings at the Angry Beaver bar in Greenwood?
“They were great,” he said, beaming. “Had two trays.”
The answer was good. His proposal advances.
Bruckheimer, Oak View Group majordomo Tim Leiweke and several others involved in the audacious proposal to spend $1.3 billion to put biscuits in baskets here found themselves Wednesday night at Seattle’s primary (only?) neighborhood hockey bar.
For a couple of hours, they ate, drank and schmoozed with the locals, like plain folks. They even watched the NHL game on the bar’s screens. By good fortune, the Red Wings from Bruckheimer’s home town of Detroit were playing. Then there was bad fortune.
“They lost,” he said, appearing to have taken it hard.
But that was the last of the bad news in Bruckheimer’s first visit to Seattle since 2006, when he helped promote Glory Road, a film he co-produced about the all-black Texas Western basketball team that upset all-white Kentucky in 1966.
By late Thursday morning, Bruckheimer, Leiweke and a gaggle of media were on the roof of the under-renovation Space Needle — not the observation deck, the roof — to raise a flag, “NHL 2020,” to celebrate a remarkable feat in Seattle sports history.
Twelve minutes after the NHLSeattle.com website opened its portal for business at 10 a.m. to seek money for a franchise in 2020, the goal of 10,000 refundable deposits for season tickets ($500 for a seat, $1,000 for a suite) was reached, Leiweke reported.
In 2015, when the prospective expansion team in Las Vegas did the same thing, they reached 5,000 in the first day, but took six weeks to get 10,000.
By the close of business Thursday, more than 30,000 deposits were recorded. The entirety of the slapshot crowd was slackjawed.
“I think it is an unbelievably great message to send back to the National Hockey League, and for that matter, the sports industry,” said Leiweke as rare March sunshine and a light breeze blessed the moment at 570 feet. “I’m extremely pleased and blown away by the response. It’s beyond anyone’s wildest imagination of what we could have done here.”
Bruckheimer admitted surprise too, although he’s well-experienced in reading the entertainment world’s passions.
“I look at this town and its pent-up demand, I look at what the Seahawks and Sounders are doing,” he said. “I knew there was a demand for a winter sport, and hockey is the greatest sport there is. The best. I knew we would do well, just not quite this fast. This is thrilling for the city of Seattle and anyone who likes live entertainment.
“The city was a flyover for a lot of bands because the acoustics (of KeyArena) weren’t good. They didn’t want to play here. Now you’re going to get every band who tours to come to this city. We’re thrilled.”
OVG plans to keep open the portal through the close of business Friday, even though the capacity for the arena remake is 17,500. A wait list will be created, and some attrition will take place. Some customers who secured a priority number may want only partial season tickets, which will return tickets to the available pool.
“We’re committed to making sure everyone on the list gets to be part of our first year,” Leiweke said. “We’ll figure it out.”
One significant difference between the cities’ ticket drives was that the Vegas ownership restricted depositors to local addresses. The franchise wanted preference given for year-round residents and workers in a metro area already awash in tourists from around the nation and the world.
In Seattle, all sports teams draw fans from Alaska, Oregon, Idaho and Montana, as well as Canada, so no restrictions were warranted. A presumption all along has been that Canadians will arrive in droves to watch their teams engage in the national religion while hanging out in Seattle on days like Thursday.
Beside blowing the doors off expectations for deposits, two other key points regarding the the project emerged in interviews over 24 hours in Vancouver and Seattle.
The NHL, which is considering the Seattle application but won’t vote on acceptance until an owners meeting in June, has committed to stocking another expansion franchise in the same generous terms that have allowed the Vegas Golden Knights to become one of the top teams in the NHL in their inaugural season. At a steep entry fee of $650 million, $150 million more than Las Vegas paid, there was little choice.
Entering games Thursday, the Knights lead the Pacific Division with 87 points, three behind league-leading Tampa Bay.
“We would anticipate that the terms of an expansion draft for a 32nd team would be the same as they were for Las Vegas,” commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters at the league’s announcement of the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver Wednesday. “Obviously, we have to go through a process with Seattle, similar to Las Vegas. Expansion is an important decision. A Pacific Northwest rivalry with Vancouver would be terrific. We first have to make sure a potential franchise will be successful.”
Thursday’s developments helped drive the latter conditional well down the fairway.
The other point is that Bruckheimer and his partner, investor and 1963 University of Washington grad David Bonderman, are also interested in bidding on an NBA franchise if and when one becomes available by relocation or expansion.
While those hoops possibilities are likely well beyond the project’s opening in October 2020 for hockey, it potentially resolves a question of whether an NBA owner would want to be a third party in the building behind music concerts and the NHL.
Bonderman is already a minority owner of the NBA Boston Celtics and would relinquish his shares to be owner of the returning Sonics.
“It makes a lot of sense, actually,’’ Bonderman told the Seattle Times. “And if there’s a franchise on offer, we would be in the thick of the fray trying to bring it home to Seattle.
“I think it’s fair to say that everybody I’ve talked to among the NBA owners think that we’re doing the right thing by coming to Seattle. A lot of them said, ‘Why hockey? Why not NBA?’ And what we said to them is, ‘We love hockey and it’s the place to start here.’ ’’
Bruckheimer and Bonderman have been a tandem in pursuit of hockey for about 15 years and are known to owners in both leagues. If they help take the slings and arrows of redeveloping a 55-year-old arena for $660 million-plus in a public park in a congested urban village to launch an expansion hockey team, they will have earned the respect and admiration of their fellow billionaires.
If they pull it off, Thursday will go down as a pivot point in Seattle’s sports history.
“I’m an optimistic guy to begin with,” said Leiweke, “but who in their right minds would even think to do a project like this?
“Even I am shocked and at the amount of passion and support this community showed toward this idea.”
Lamp looks lit.