NHL in Seattle: More Than Hockey


Although most think of the Seahawks or the Sounders when sports become a topic of discussion in Seattle, hockey will soon be added to that list. A new franchise will begin in Seattle as the National Hockey League (NHL) moves into Key Arena, which is currently undergoing a $900 million renovation.

Tod Leiweke, the CEO of NHL Seattle, spoke at Seattle University on Oct. 26 to provide insight about the project.

Renovating the arena, formerly known as Key Arena, was a challenge for Leiweke and his team. The roof is antique, which Leiweke wanted to preserve. This was not without difficulty, however, as the city of Seattle did not budget for the oddly shaped roof. Building an entire arena under the building provided Lieweke with a set obstacles.

However, Leiweke found a way—the construction is privately funded.

The Seattle Center housed the Seattle Supersonics, who left Seattle in 2008. Leiweke hopes the new arena will prove to the NBA that Seattle loves sports and basketball deserves to be back in the leagues. However, hockey is the now.

“The first thing you have to prove to the NHL is that you’re NHL ready ,that the fan support was here.” Leiweke said.

When a new NHL team started from scratch in Las Vegas, it took upwards of eight months to sell 10,000 tickets. In Seattle, it took 12 minutes. Even Leiweke’s brother had his doubts about selling tickets, to which Leiweke said it was nothing.

“The fans here are different. These are the greatest sports fans in the world.”

Leiweke is familiar with Seattle sports, as he was the CEO of the Seahawks from 2003 to 2007. This time around, he hopes to do things differently.

“We’re building a different kind of organization. We’re the first team in the history of the league to have a woman as a scout,” Leiweke said.

Director of the Sport Business Leadership Program in Albers School of Business, Maylon Hanold, spoke about Leiweke’s character and attentiveness to the sport community’s needs.

“He is very deliberately seeking people of color and women… It’s like we can be a model.”

According to Hanold, there’s also no better place for modeling this type of program than Seattle.

“Seattle is a place that it demands that, so it’s also a place that accepts that.”

On Seattle U’s campus, the Master in Sport Business Leadership program emphasizes social justice. It focuses on how sports shouldn’t be something that are exclusive or elitist—it should be available to all.

“What we do in sport, how we talk about sport, what expansion teams do, how you create it—all those matter in terms of social issues. Who shows up, who is there, who gets invited, who’s not invited?” Manold said.

Leiweke plans on being able to have tickets available for everyone— an accessibility concept he will fully explain in the future regardless of socioeconomic status.

However, solutions to gender inequality or racial disparity in sports are not solved overnight.

Despite students learning more about inequalities and being driven enough to go out into the real world and change it, a piece is still missing. Hanold believes it must start at the top.

“That’s why it’s good that Tod [Leiweke] is doing these things, so everybody else has a certain sense about what they need to be attentive to.”

One member of the panel, who had the opportunity to ask Leiweke questions, did not let women in sports go unnoticed. Santiago Gallo, an alum member of the MSBL program, works for Seattle Reign.

“How can we create this fanship here, as the Sounders may have, or how can we develop women’s sports and women’s soccer around this area much more so that the Reign and the Storm and other clubs can be much more popular?” Gallo said to Leiweke.

Leiweke discussed how the arena will be available to The Storm—the WNBA team of Seattle.

“WNBA teams deserve to play in first-class facilities, and our team is going to play in what I think is going to be the most beautiful arena in the world and it’s going to be really impactful.”

Seattle is home to one of the greatest athletes of this era: Megan Rapinoe. A standout, longtime member of the United States Women’s National Soccer Team, Leiweke said not enough people know about Rapinoe—and other athletes. He wants to change sport, and believes Seattle is the place to do that.

The NHL coming to Seattle is about more than just a sheet of ice—it’s about the opportunities that come along with it.

Michaela Moore may be reached at [email protected]