SEATTLE -- Gary Bettman opened the NHL Board of Governors meeting with a trivia question. Did anyone know what happened five years ago Monday?
The NHL Commissioner looked at Seattle Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke, who knew the answer, of course. It was Dec. 4, 2018, when the Board of Governors voted to award an expansion franchise to Seattle.
Leiweke spoke a few words of appreciation.
After the meeting, the Kraken were to host a dinner at a venue near Climate Pledge Arena.
“It’s very special for us to have the Board of Governors meeting here in Seattle today,” Kraken co-owner Samantha Holloway told NHL.com. “It’s been so meaningful for my family and the whole ownership group to be able to bring the NHL to Seattle.”
The Board of Governors usually gathers at this time each year at a resort in a warm location. But it’s at a downtown hotel here this time, because the NHL originally promised the Seattle ownership group a meeting to show off the new market and couldn’t have it due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Now instead of telling them what’s going to be, we can tell them what’s already been done, and we want every one of these owners who supported this and voted for it to share the pride of what’s happened here,” Leiweke told NHL.com.
Obviously, the Board of Governors was confident Seattle would succeed. The vote was unanimous, for good reason. Oak View Group, the company that would turn the former KeyArena into Climate Pledge Arena, received 32,000 season-ticket deposits in little more than a day after an online portal opened at 10 a.m. PT on March 2, 2018.
But five years ago Monday, the team had a handful of employees. The groundbreaking ceremony for the arena wouldn’t come until the next day. Ground wouldn’t be broken for Kraken Community Iceplex, the three-sheet practice facility, until later. There was no name, no logo, no general manager, no coach, no players.
No one had heard of COVID-19.
“This was a big bet the owners made, and they made it based on the fact that the city needed a world-class arena, that fans would see this game and fall in love with it, that players would come and feel pride in pulling on the jersey,” Leiweke said. “And all that’s happened.”
The Seattle ownership group made a big bet too, starting with an expansion fee of $650 million and continuing with many millions of dollars more to build the arena, the practice facility and other infrastructure.
“It wasn’t for the faint of heart, but our investors believed,” Leiweke said. “For many of them, they’re on the journey of a lifetime. This has just been so fun and exhilarating. … But it’s also given me a few of these gray hairs.”
The pandemic added a significant degree of difficulty for everyone involved. Still, they built the arena -- detaching the historic roof of the former KeyArena, propping it up on supports, demolishing everything underneath it, building a state-of-the-art showplace and putting the roof back on. They built the practice facility, the organization and the brand.