Monday, February 6, 2012

What to do with Key Arena?

With all this talk about the rumored SoDo arena and nearly immediate tenants from two major sports leagues, it's hard not to get excited by the possibilities. We're talking an 18-22,000 seat building with all the modern amenities, perfect for not only 82+ sporting days a year, but also great concerts. Like the Jonas Brothers. Or Nickelback.

But as some quickly forgot ( a certain NBA commissioner in particular) it hasn't been that long since Key Arena was remodeled almost brick for brick. In fact, it wasn't even 20 years ago that our friend David Stern had great things to say about our humble locked pavilion. This is a great place to watch a sporting event, even now. Even with the black curtains over the upper deck.

Obviously any new arena is going to be the absolute focus of the city's entertainment dollars. But the Seattle Center area still hosts a lot of jobs, including nearby sports bars. It's important for the city to keep the area vibrant and active, and the Key can play a big role in that. But how?

(More after the break)

  • Keep the current tenants. The Key's size and amenities might not be enough for the NBA or NHL's rockstar lifestyles anymore, but they couldn't be more perfect for the likes of the WNBA, Rollerderby, and college basketball. The location (a short monorail ride from the center of downtown) and surroundings can't be beat, and the lower-key vibe that comes with those sports fits Seattle Center like a glove.
    • The Seattle Storm are the building's number one tenant right now, with 17 home dates and frequent playoff possibilities. As with many sports, Seattle's team is at the top of the league in support. May-Oct.
    • Rat City Rollergirls have events once a month January through August. They also draw decent crowds, and the league has potential for growth. 
    • Seattle U has used the Key as it's home court since 2008 to solid success. The program has been looking to build into a Gonzaga-level powerhouse, putting money into former UW assistant coach Cameron Dollar and scheduling games against tough teams early in seasons. They add 18 more dates to the Key Arena calendar
      These three tenants give Key Arena 43 hard dates with varying, but solid, success at the gate. 
  • Change the Washington Stealth into the Seattle Sealth. Or something. That's not a typo by the way. Naming the team after Chief Sealth would be pretty awesome, if a bit redundant. Regardless, the northwest's only top-flight Lacrosse team is currently last in the league in attendance despite two straight league finals appearances. It's not a surprise; the games are never on TV, and awareness of the team's existence has surely been an uphill battle for the Stealth's marketing department. Moving them into Seattle and connecting with the city pride should be a top priority, and the Key would be a great host for them to grow into over time. There may be a similar dimensions problem that hockey ran into at Key Arena, but even that would almost certainly be an improvement over... *shudder* Everett. I'd love to see a game, but I just don't see myself driving an hour each way to see a sport I'm not familiar with. Their regular season includes 9 dates, but there is again ample opportunity for playoffs. 
  • High School Basketball playoffs. Potentially the biggest draws of the year (outside a Storm WNBA Final). How Key Arena (middle of Seattle, basketball capacity of 17,072) loses out on these games to the FREAKIN TACOMA DOME (middle of Tacoma, basketball capacity of 17,100) is completely beyond me. Seattle is more centrally located, has more hotel space (some within blocks of the Key) and is an intimate, professional basketball environment. It used to be one of the toughest places to play in the NBA. You put two groups of opposing student bodies right up next to the court and it will create some special memories. Or you can continue to let a cavernous dome swallow up any semblance of an atmosphere. The math is like this:
    • Eight teams per division play 17 games at the Key
    • Six divisions
    • Two genders
    • Double-Elimination format.
    • All this over 3-5 days. 
    • That all equals out to 204 total games
  • Renovate for better acoustics. A common complaint about concert-goers at Key Arena is that sound bounces around in there like popcorn in one of those air gun-dealies. With the real money-making sports not destined to come back, it will be more important than ever to draw the concert names (though the really big acts will inevitably flock to the new building first). 
Beyond these solutions and holding on to the Globetrotters yearly tour, it'll be hard to continue to find events for the Key to host. Still, between their current charges and the Stealth/additional basketball, there's a good solid 70+ dates on that calendar, about 1 per week. 


  1. I like your idea about moving the state highschool basketball championship tournament to the Key. I go every year to Tacoma and watch it and I just dont see any appeal to the T-Dome. It is a run down facility with crappy food and nothing around it.

    1. Well, I guess at least now you can go check out some old cars at the new LeMay museum next door, but other than that, I think you hit the nail on the head.