By NEIL deMAUSE*
THE Seattle city council, as expected, voted last night (September 24) to approve Chris Hansen’s $490 million arena plan (6-2, with Richard Conlin and Nick Licata voting no, and Tom Rasmussen not present) – and that still managed not to be the big news of the day, thanks to:
Representatives of the Edmonton Oilers, including owner Daryl Katz, were reportedly in Seattle on Monday, taking a tour of Key Arena. The news was originally reported by Ian Furness of KJR AM radio in Seattle.
Oilers management confirmed the visit on its website, writing in part:
The Katz Group has been listening to proposals from a number of potential NHL markets for some time. After more than four years of trying to secure an arena deal and with less than 24 months remaining on the Oilers’ lease at Rexall Place, this is only prudent and should come as no surprise.
We are extremely grateful to Oilers’ fans for their patience and loyalty as we work through this process towards what we sincerely hope will be a long and successful future for the Oilers in Edmonton. We have no further comment on the status of our discussions with other markets at this time.
As CBS Sports blogger Brian Stubits observes, this is a pretty transparent ploy by Katz to kick the tires on Seattle in order to put pressure on Edmonton to meet his increasingly exorbitant arena demands. (Stubits even cites Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux’s successful jaunt to Kansas City to squeeze an arena out of his hometown, a trip that Lemieux later bragged was never a serious move threat.) “The chances that the Oilers and Katz are just using Seattle as bait are probably very high,” he concludes, “but you never quite know.”
Katz managed to land the lead news item in today’s Edmonton Journal, so that was an effective use of a few plane tickets. Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel has set an October 17 “drop-dead date” for Katz to put his cards on the table publicly about what he wants from the city as part of an arena deal, but it’s unclear what will happen if the Oilers owner refuses. My guess would be this.
Meanwhile, back in Seattle, the county council still has to approve Hansen’s plan, at which point there will then need to be a several-month-long environmental impact review. None of that seems likely to trip up the project at this point, though, meaning the biggest hurdle remains Hansen finding an NBA team to play in his arena. No news or speculation out of Sacramento yet, but wait for it — the Maloofs have to know how this game is played, too.
*Neil deMause is co-author of Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money into Private Profit, Revised and Expanded Edition (Nebraska Press, 2008) and runs the stadium-watch Web site fieldofschemes.com from which this article is reproduced.