Report: Lightning CEO helping Seattle NHL investors

The past week ramped up more developments in a drive to bring the NHL to Seattle and it appears a Tampa Bay Lightning executive is helping those efforts.

In between all of its reporting on alternative arena locations in the Seattle area, The Seattle Times uncovered that there could be more than one investor group in play to bring pro hockey to Washington state.

The report says that Minnesota Wild vice chairman Jac Sperling is teaming up with friend and Lightning CEO and minority owner Tod Leiweke to find investors for an ownership group to bring the NHL to Seattle:

Leiweke and Sperling recently were reunited in Tampa Bay, as co-advisers to Lightning owner Jeff Vinik in his $1 billion “Channelside” development around the team’s Amalie Arena. Leiweke declined to comment for this story, except to say that Sperling’s business deals are his own and he has not been approached to join any NHL or NBA ownership group here.

Cave said it was Leiweke who arranged his phone introduction to Sperling. Leiweke in September 2013 spent $3 million to purchase a Mercer Island waterfront home — once owned by Seahawks coach Mike Holm­gren — and spent much of last summer in Seattle.

At one point, Sperling flew here as Leiweke’s guest and was introduced to various sports and business figures. Two people who’ve spent time with him are Sounders owners Joe Roth and Adrian Hanauer.

Hanauer and Leiweke remain close friends from their days launching the Sounders under the Seahawks banner. They vacationed together last month in the Caribbean.

Leiweke and Sperling were both executives together with the Wild and Leiweke has a home in Seattle as the Times reports, thanks to his days with the Seattle Seahawks.

There’s a naivety to me that wants to see it like this: Leiweke is not going to leave the Lightning and form or be part of a new ownership group for a Seattle NHL team. Instead, these are two friends, who are powerful businessman, helping find the right people to make a Seattle franchise work in terms of money and management structure.

It’s not unheard of team executives or owners from other franchises in a league to help find people that could be part of a new club. Finding the right owners helps lift the value of the league and profits for the owners.

It’s also a regular occurrence to see minority owners to look for a new investment that could make them a majority owner, leading the Times drops this nugget:

That’s why, as long as Leiweke maintains a seven-figure property here, with connections to Sperling and local sports figures, he’ll loom as a potential player in any future Seattle franchise. As a sitting CEO and part-owner of the Lightning, however, Leiweke could never link himself to a Seattle project until an expansion team is in hand.

Sperling would be a man Gary Bettman would covet as part of a new franchise in the ilk of how Las Vegas ownership is testing its market before expansion—a ticket drive. Sperling was in charge of a drive to sell 10,000 season tickets in New Orleans for the NBA Pelicans, relocating from Charlotte as the former Hornets.

Enough of the innocent thoughts.

For Leiweke, he’s proven he can right the ship of a franchise in an non-traditional market and help repair the damage from unstable owners. Now that Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is on cruise control with the Lightning, how much does Leiweke want to stick around to help spearhead the redevelopment of Channelside and the surrounding property along Amalie Arena? That’s a 20-year master plan that will take five years before you see the start of major activity and change.

His brother Tim Leiweke is leaving the massive company that oversees the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, Toronto FC and Air Canada Center and other properties to form his own business and company. Tim Leiweke said last year that he was charged to change the culture of the organization, which had to figure out how two media conglomerates would run sports businesses. His brother did much of the same in Tampa helping Vinik navigate the NHL.

The two brothers have had their own very successful careers doing similar things—running behometh sports and entertainment companies and empires. This could very well be their time to form their own group, having the brothers work together for the first time as co-owners.

Tim Leiweke’s new business could be in arena/event and artist management, according to a Bloomberg report last fall. Tim Leiweke is talking to Irving Azoff, former chairman of Live Nation Entertainment, who is mainly known as the company who books and runs events and now owns Ticketmaster.

That all brings us to this: If you have a NHL tenant ready to go and no NBA tenant, you need to fill up an arena’s schedule. Why pay another firm like Live Nation or Comcast-Spectacor to do it when you have people who can do it themselves? The Leiwekes and company could.

Remember that Tim Leiweke was with AEG, the company that owns the L.A. Kings, Staples Center, LA Live complex, Manchester United and a bevy of other sports and entertainment properties. In Tampa, his brother Tod was just trying to get that kind of momentum started for Vinik’s waterfront vision around Amalie Arena.

That all brings us back to the Seattle Times report. There are 66 acres in Seattle suburb Tukwila that real estate owner David Sabey controls and wants to turn into a multi-use sports and entertainment district that his spokesman acknowledge that an arena could fit in that vision. Moreover, son Jim Sabey is also in the entertainment business overseeing marketing with Beyonce’s Parkwood Entertainment, very much in line with what Tim Leiweke’s pursuing to form.

They know the right people. Tim’s ready to exit Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment by June 30 and Tod just cleared a major hurdle for Vinik’s redevelopment for a true Tampa arena district.

I wouldn’t doubt at all Tim and Tod Leiweke could be part of a new Seattle NHL ownership group.


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