By Steve Keating
(Reuters) – Seattle became the National Hockey League’s 32nd franchise on Tuesday when the Board of Governors unanimously approved the expansion bid.
The team will begin playing in the 2021-22 season following a $750 million renovation of KeyArena, which will be renamed Seattle Center Arena.
Approval required a three-quarters vote but the decision to rubber stamp a Seattle franchise was a formality two months after the NHL’s Executive Board unanimously recommended sending the expansion bid to the Board of Governors.
“I am delighted to announce that the Board of Governors approved a plan of expansion that will bring a National Hockey League team to Seattle, Washington to play in the beginning of the 2021-22 season,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told a news conference. “Seattle the NHL is thrilled to welcome you.
“I know those words are words that the passionate and patient fans in Seattle have longed to here so today is a day for celebration.”
The NHL will receive a $650-million expansion fee from an ownership group fronted by majority stakeholder David Bonderman and Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
It can bank on significant interest in the Pacific Northwest having already secured close to 32,000 season-ticket deposits.
The Seattle vote topped the agenda at the NHL’s two-day Board of Governors meeting in Sea Island, Georgia and when Bettman made the announcement it triggered a roar of delight from hockey fans three time zones away who had gathered at Seattle tavern for a morning viewing party.
“Today is a dream come true really for an entire city,” said Seattle Hockey Partners CEO Tod Leiweke. “I shout out to you (our fans) thank you, 32,000 deposits in a single day that’s when we all knew this was the right idea.
“On behalf of our fans we start this journey today to build an organization that will make you proud and some day bring a Stanley Cup back to Seattle and I promise you we will not let you down.”
The NHL team will become the newest addition to the Seattle sporting scene, joining the National Football League Seahawks, Major League Baseball Mariners and Major League Soccer Sounders.
A new arena is also expected to boost interest in bringing the NBA back to town after the Seattle SuperSonics relocated to Oklahoma City in 2008.
It is the NHL’s second expansion in three years following the Las Vegas Golden Knights, who joined the league in 2016 and began playing last season, making a remarkable run to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural campaign.
The addition of Seattle is expected to create an instant rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks located just a three-hour drive north.
Seattle will be slotted into the Pacific division which will see the Arizona Coyotes move to the Central.
“Expanding to Seattle makes the National Hockey League more balanced, even more whole and even more vibrant,” said Bettman.
“A team in Seattle evens the number of teams in our two conferences, brings our geographic footprint into greater equilibrium and brings instant new rivalries out West particularly between Seattle and Vancouver.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis and Ken Ferris)