Tod Leiweke to be CEO, president of Seattle Hockey

Tod Leiweke will be the CEO and president of Seattle Hockey, the group that has been authorized to redevelop KeyArena and bring an NHL team to the city.

Leiweke was formerly COO of the NFL before leaving the job in March. He worked at the NFL for three years. Before that, Leiweke was the CEO of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"It's kind of fun to start from scratch because you can build a culture the way you would want a culture to be built with likeminded people who want to serve, who love the game of hockey. In this, it is a grand opportunity,'' Leiweke said at his introduction Wednesday.

Leiweke's brother, Tim, is CEO of the Oak View Group, which is spearheading the NHL to Seattle project. The other partners are investment banker David Bonderman and Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

The OVG reached a deal with the city of Seattle for $600 million to renovate KeyArena. As a hockey venue, it is expected to seat about 17,000. In March, the group launched a season-ticket drive and said it reached 25,000 deposits within the first hour. That exceeds the goal of 10,000 deposits -- which was reached in the first 12 minutes.

In February, the OVG submitted paperwork, including a $10 million down payment, to the NHL to be the league's 32nd franchise. The league is likely to accept the bid, pending results of the season-ticket drive.

"We hope there is not any doubt about it, and it's certainly not just a formality. However, there is a process with the NHL, and we expect to play through that process,'' Bonderman said.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, speaking before the Golden Knights' playoff opener in Las Vegas on Wednesday night, wasn't as optimistic, saying there is no set timeline for a decision on Seattle's expansion bid.

"We don't have a timetable,'' Bettman said. "That would be nothing more than speculation. I would be surprised.''

The Vegas Golden Knights in 2015 ran a season-ticket drive that received 5,000 deposits in the first two days. Vegas entered the NHL for the 2017-18 season after paying a $500 million expansion fee.

The NHL has set the fee for Seattle at $650 million, and the goal is for Seattle to enter the NHL for the 2020-21 season.

Once again, Seattle's group is proving it is well ahead of schedule. Vegas didn't hire its president, Kerry Bubolz, until October 2016 -- one year before puck drop.

Leiweke got his start in hockey with the Minnesota Wild. He also worked in Vancouver and most recently helped build Tampa Bay into a powerhouse in the Eastern Conference. Leiweke left the Lightning in 2015 to become the COO of the NFL and didn't have any interest in leaving the league office until the project in Seattle began to gain traction.

"The fact is I found the NFL to be a pretty amazing and fascinating place to work, and I was starting to get quite comfortable in my role there, so I wasn't looking,'' Leiweke said. "But I think the stars aligned and my son's advice was, 'Dad, how can you not do this?' Today, I think he's right.''

Leiweke's job will be to capitalize on a market whose demographics have changed significantly since he left the Seahawks in 2010 after being largely responsible for the team hiring head coach Pete Carroll. Seattle is the largest market in the country without a winter pro sports franchise and has seen an influx of wealth in recent years. Even when he was running the Seahawks, Leiweke believed Seattle was ripe for the NHL, and the response to the season-ticket drive only strengthened that belief.

"It really is a great fit. I always thought this could be a great hockey market and it proved it. So far, so good,'' Leiweke said. "Now it's on us because I think people are going to show up opening day ready to believe, and what are we going to put out there? Does it all connect?''

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.