Seattle Has To Get NHL Answers NOW Before Renovating The Key Arena

Hard on the heels of Hartford renovating its 41 year old XL Center for $250 million comes the news that Seattle has given up trying to build a new arena and will renovate the existing 55 year old Key Arena instead. By the time the dust settles, the remodeled Key Arena will have approximately 18,300 seats for an NBA team and 17,100 seats for an NHL team. The renovation will cost $564 million. And it is being reported in Sports Illustrated at least that the plan is to get an NHL team first and then an NBA team.

It all sounds wonderful when you think about the positives. Seattle finally joins the NHL after becoming the first American city to win the Stanley Cup exactly a century ago; the NHL gets another western city to make a symmetrical 32, balances up the conferences and then gets to realign into an NFL structure of 2 conferences of 4 divisions each with 4 teams that allows the league to expand easily to 40 and then 48 teams; the NHL gets another $500 million expansion fee; an obvious hockey market that should have got an NHL team long ago finally joins the big leagues; and Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Las Vegas, and all the California teams get a great new rival. Everybody should be happy. It solves so many problems.

But I’m not jumping on the bandwagon. Hold on a minute. Aren’t there a few expensive and questionable “peculiarities” about all this? For example:


Flames ownership has said that a 34 year old building, bigger and better than the Key Arena is not even good enough to be renovated and a brand new building, part of a project that nobody can even get a clear cost about has to be built. The pouty Flames ownership has even threatened to move the Flames from Calgary if they don’t get their way and earlier this year, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman flew into Calgary and urged the local municipal government to accept this costly project. Just what is wrong with the Calgary Saddledome? Neither the Flames ownership nor the NHL will say. It has been renovated once and perhaps a much cheaper upgrade will do the trick. But if the NHL and one of its teams can’t accept a 34 year old renovated building, one of the league’s bigger and better arenas, how can they accept a 41 year renovated building in Hartford and a 55 year old renovated building in Seattle?


The seating capacity for NHL hockey is only 17,100. That is well below the NHL median of over 18,000 seats. That would make it the third smallest arena in the NHL ahead of only Winnipeg and the New York Islanders. Probably in a few years, Seattle will need a new arena. Is this renovation really worth doing?


17,100. Isn’t that less than the seating capacity that Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario has? The same Copps Coliseum (built in 1985, so that it is only 32 years old) that many NHL people say is obsolete and that a new arena has to be built for Hamilton to get a team? When poor Jim Balsille tried to get the Phoenix Coyotes for Hamilton, the city council said they would spend $50 million to renovate Copps Coliseum so that it reached the NHL median of 18,500. Yet the NHL says a much younger and larger NHL arena than the one to be renovated in Seattle is not good enough.


$50 million to renovate Copps Coliseum. How come it costs only $50 million to renovate Copps Coliseum to a bigger and better arena than in Seattle while it costs $564 million to renovate the Key Arena to a seating capacity that is less than that in the current Hamilton arena? The money that Seattle will spend on renovation is the type of money that can build a brand new arena. Quebec spent $375 million on a bigger, brand new arena. It has been estimated that a new arena in Hartford will cost $500 million. $564 million sounds pretty expensive for renovations in Seattle.

So will we have sensible sober second thought in Seattle? Or will we have mindless sports franchise worship that is willing to spend countless sums of money on a project that I think is half-assed and could be spent more wisely on a new bigger and better arena that should hold up for decades? And how can this project be accepted by the NHL after its excuses and stand in Calgary and Hamilton? Seattle had better get some NHL answers, even a guarantee before a single cent is spent on this project. Like Hartford, it runs the risk of spending a huge sum of money for either a stopgap or nothing.


2 thoughts on “Seattle Has To Get NHL Answers NOW Before Renovating The Key Arena

  1. A couple of thoughts:

    1. The outer shell for Key Arena was built for the 1962 world’s fair essentially as a permanent circus tent. The interior arena features were added later. The fact that the roof and arena are separate structures allows the arena to be completely rebuilt while leaving the roof intact. Additionally the roof was designed for events like concerts, while Calgary’s roof was not.

    2&3. I think the NHL cares more about television rights and luxury suites than general admission tickets. I don’t like that, but it is what it is.

    4. Not all renovations are the same. The current plan is for the arena portion of Key Arena to be completely rebuilt. Only the roof will remain intact.So it is functionally a new arena.

    • Thanks for commenting Brian. I don’t know anything about the Key Arena (in fact I’ve never seen it) and I don’t really care about the design or anything about the technical problems of a renovation. What concerns me is:

      1. The NHL and the Calgary Flames claim a 34 year old building is no good anymore and threaten to pull out of Calgary if they don’t get their way. Based on this logic, how can the NHL accept a renovated 41 year old building in Hartford and a 55 year old one in Seattle? Fans and their public officials have been taken for a ride too often by greedy sports leagues and their owners when the money could be spent better elsewhere. I would hate to see Hartford and Seattle spend three quarters of a billion dollars on fixing up old buildings only to be told they are not good enough and not get NHL and NBA franchises.

      2. Seattle’s renovation will produce an arena that is the third smallest in the NHL. I believe that Seattle is a hockey loving city that should have got an NHL franchise a long time ago. If it gets a franchise, it will be one of the better franchises in the NHL. Why spend money on a renovation that will be inadequate and there may be calls for a new arena 10 years from now? For the money that Seattle is willing to spend on an arena, it would be better to build a brand new modern structure that will have enough seats that will last for decades. You only get one shot at building these structures so you better get it right. In Montreal, they spent a billion dollars on a stadium for the Olympics that lasted 3 weeks. When they were over, it was found that fans hated watching football and baseball in it, so it’s not used any more. Seattle better get this arena right, so the money has to be spent wisely and a big enough building created.

      For points 2 and 3, that’s true for all 4 leagues. It started in 1971 when the Dallas Cowboys built Texas Stadium, the first sports facility with luxury boxes. Since then the cost of building stadiums and arenas have skyrocketed. What the Cowboys actually did was introduce a facet of European and Asian society into American professional sports, the idea of a hierarchical class structure. Since then there have been other “class” aspects added including specialized sports pay tv channels, “naming rights” for arenas and stadiums, expensive sports apparel that costs more because it has a team’s logo on it, etc that the average fan cannot afford. I’ve written about this trend on this blog and others. If you have watched the movie, “Eight Men Out”, at the beginning you’ll see two boys get tickets to see the Chicago White Sox in 1919 for a quarter. Those days are long gone. Professional sports are being taken away from the “common fan”.

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