Jayne: Seattle should focus its arena plan on the NHL

Greg Jayne: Commentary

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

Published:

 

Being close enough to reap the benefits but distant enough to avoid the hardships, it’s easy from the vantage point of Clark County to hope that Seattle builds its proposed basketball arena.

You know the story by now. Chris Hansen, a hedge-fund manager who is based in the Bay Area and is a Seattle native, wants the city to help him build an arena just south of Safeco Field to lure an NBA team and/or an NHL team. He has purchased land; he has negotiated with the city; he has ignited discussions in both Seattle and Sacramento, where a potential NBA team for the Puget Sound area currently resides.

And along the way, Hansen has led me to two inescapable conclusions: 1, I should have become a hedge-fund manager; 2, The real benefit for the Northwest would be an NHL franchise.

Of course, the one-liners come readily. You know, like, “Seattle should get a major-league baseball team before it gets a basketball team.”

Buh-dum-ching!

Or, “Why does Hansen want to put an NBA team just south of Safeco Field? He wants to get as far away from baseball as possible.”

Buh-dum-ching!

The focus of the discussion has been on the potential for landing another basketball team in the Northwest. The Sacramento Kings appear to be the most likely candidate, and when a seemingly done deal for an arena there fell through on Friday, Seattle’s hopes suddenly had risen like Lazarus.

Hansen responded with: “I would just like to reiterate our position that we don’t think it’s appropriate to comment or speculate about other NBA franchises, particularly when these franchises are in the midst of trying to find solutions to their own arena issues.

“I believe our attention and efforts should instead be focused on finalizing our deal to build the type of world-class sports arena that could host both the NBA and NHL. However, these developments (regarding the Kings) are a reminder that franchise opportunities may arise quickly and in an unpredictable fashion.”

On the other hand, the prospects for an NHL team are entirely predictable.

And they lead to frustration.

Years ago, when the Pittsburgh Penguins were going through bankruptcy proceedings, Paul Allen was set to buy the team and move it to Portland. But a group headed by Mario Lemieux stepped in and saved the franchise for Pittsburgh. And, you know, Pittsburgh probably needed the Penguins more than Portland did.

But since then, Portland has allowed nearly two decades of opportunities to skate by without landing an NHL team.

This is annoyingly understandable. Portland probably doesn’t have the corporate infrastructure to support a second major-league franchise, and it certainly doesn’t have the political will to support a second major-league team.

It’s a small-thinking big city that is more interested in keeping itself weird and sprouting brew pubs than it is in supporting major-league sports.

Not there’s anything wrong with brew pubs.

But Seattle? Seattle is a big-league city. There’s a reason it has spawned Starbucks and Microsoft and Amazon.com and Costco, and the reason has a lot to do with a can-do culture of innovation.

Portland would rather generate a culture of food carts.

And, so, it seems as though Seattle would be an ideal location for an NHL team. There are no clubs between Vancouver, British Columbia, and the Bay Area, and the Puget Sound is large enough and wealthy enough to support another big-league franchise.

From the standpoint of Blazer fans, it would be fun to have another NBA team in the region, to have an opportunity to rekindle that Northwest rivalry. But from the standpoint of other sports fans in Clark County, it would be more entertaining to have different major-league options within reach.

Seattle’s goal would be to land two franchises for its new arena.

But just one would make it worth doing.

Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at greg.jayne@columbian.com. To read his blog, go to columbian.com/weblogs/GregJayne