SEATTLE – During his first stint in Seattle, Tod Leiweke helped develop the Seattle Seahawks into a benchmark franchise.
He’s returning to the Northwest this time with a chance to build a franchise from scratch – pending NHL approval.
Leiweke was introduced Wednesday as the CEO and president of the prospective NHL expansion franchise seeking to call Seattle home beginning with the 2020 season. The announcement has been expected since Leiweke announced he was stepping down from his role with the NFL earlier this year. But it was another step forward for the expansion bid.
“It’s kind of fun to start from scratch because you can build a culture the way you would want a culture to be built with likeminded people who want to serve, who love the game of hockey. In this, it is a grand opportunity,” Leiweke said.
The prospective majority owner of the franchise, David Bonderman, said he believed there could be a possible conditional announcement about the franchise from the NHL in June and a potential formal announcement in September coinciding with upcoming NHL Board of Governors meetings.
“We hope there is not any doubt about it and it’s certainly not just a formality. However, there is a process with the NHL and we expect to play through that process,” Bonderman said.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, speaking before the playoff opener in Las Vegas on Wednesday night, wasn’t as optimistic, saying there is no set timeline for a decision on Seattle’s expansion bid.
“We don’t have a timetable,” Bettman said. “That would be nothing more than speculation. I would be surprised.”
While announcing the president and CEO for a team that doesn’t exist yet might seem a bit presumptuous, Leiweke brings the kind of clout that will only strengthen a bid that almost appears to be a foregone conclusion.
Oak View Group, a partner in the franchise and the group responsible for renovating KeyArena, is expected to begin construction on the building later this fall and have the remodel done for the 2020 season. The season-ticket drive that started on March 1 was a rousing success and was capped at 33,000 deposits.
Leiweke got his start in hockey with the Minnesota Wild. He also worked in Vancouver and most recently helped build Tampa Bay into a powerhouse in the Eastern Conference. Leiweke left the Lightning in 2015 to become the COO of the NFL and didn’t have any interest in leaving the league office until the project in Seattle began to gain real traction.
“The fact is I found the NFL to be a pretty amazing and fascinating place to work and I was starting to get quite comfortable in my role there so I wasn’t looking,” Leiweke said. “But I think the stars aligned and my son’s advice was, `Dad, how can you not do this?’ Today, I think he’s right.”
Leiweke’s job will be to capitalize on a market whose demographics have changed significantly since he left the Seahawks in 2010 after being largely responsible for the team hiring head coach Pete Carroll. Seattle is the largest market in the country without a winter pro sports franchise and has seen an influx of wealth in recent years. Even when he was running the Seahawks, Leiweke believed Seattle was ripe for the NHL and the response to the season-ticket drive only strengthened that belief.
“It really is a great fit. I always thought this could be a great hockey market and it proved it. So far, so good,” Leiweke said. “Now it’s on us because I think people are going to show up opening day ready to believe and what are we going to put out there? Does it all connect?”
Leiweke’s hiring also reunites him with his brother, Tim, the CEO of Oak View Group, which created the privately funded deal to finally solve Seattle’s arena issue.
“I’m so in awe of what we did here,” Tod Leiweke said. “This has been a challenging issue and my brother came in here and figured it out.”
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