Kraken CEO: Climate Pledge Arena is the ‘most beautiful arena in the world’

Oct 6, 2021, 2:21 PM
Tod Leiweke, CEO of the Seattle Kraken, speaks during the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft at Gas Works Park on July 21, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

The final preseason game for the Seattle Kraken is now in the past, and the team is now looking forward to its first regular season game on Oct. 12 in Las Vegas. The first home game in the new Climate Pledge Arena will be Oct. 23 versus the Vancouver Canucks.

Seattle Kraken news from 710 ESPN Seattle

Tod Leiweke, CEO of the Kraken, told KIRO Radio’s Tom & Curley Show that he remembers where he was when Seattle fans starting putting down their deposits for season tickets.

“I remember it distinctly,” he said. “I was sitting in Roger Goodell’s office because I was still deciding if I was going to make this big leap. And my brother sent me a text message, said call me, I didn’t, he said call me, and then he wrote and said it’s urgent. I called him and he said we just took 12,000 deposits in 10 minutes.”

“It was a little bit of validation of what I had said to my brother that I felt these were the best sports fans in the world,” Leiweke said about Seattle. “I had had two religious experiences here with the Seahawks, coming and then getting to the point at the NFC Championship game, with Mike Holmgren as the coach, that there was actually a seismic event at the stadium. So, like, wow, this is real.”

“And then the Sounders, and I was so proud to have worked with Adrian [Hanauer] and others, and that became the showroom of MLS, and it really became the high bar standard for the league,” he added.

Leiweke says he believes that if you hang out with Seattle sports fans, you can’t go wrong.

As far as the new arena, Leiweke is so proud of it and excited for the fans (and players) to see it.

“It was super complicated,” he said about the construction. “But just by way of context, I really do feel like this issue has been going on for decades. In fact, they tried to get it right with the renovation in ’95, but it didn’t get it done. And five, six, seven years later, they said, ‘hey, we got to get a new arena here.'”

“That debate really fractured, that really caused the city to say why are we putting public dollars into these facilities? It never seems to work,” he said. “There was a city council person at that point in time who said the Sonics didn’t have a lot of cultural value and everything felt at risk, and the issue had to get solved. Here we had this incredibly prosperous city with so much going on, so many great fans, so much prosperity, and yet our arena, we booked less shows in its last year than they did in Des Moines, Iowa.”

Leiweke says part of the problem was the sound.

“I always said it was good value for music because you got to hear the song twice,” he joked.

Additionally, the loading dock needed a lot of work.

“When you do one of these big projects, some of the most important work never gets seen by the public,” Leiweke said. “The load in and load out was one truck at a time. … Shows simply weren’t coming here because the more elaborate shows became, the more this arena became obsolete.”

It needed a private sector, entrepreneurial vision, he said.

“It wasn’t one plus one, it was one plus about 20 things that ultimately made this arena work,” he said. “I’ll go back to the loading dock. So we built a tunnel from John Street, it goes an entire block under the city. And now that tunnel loads into the most glorious eight bay loading dock. One of the finest of any arena, anywhere.”

“So now shows can load in and load out at the same time — the efficiency of that — but more than that it changes Seattle Center,” he said. “Because what was the back door, what was in fact kind of blight on the campus, those old buildings and an old storage shed, are now gone and that’s the front door. The building literally has no back door and now we can think about Seattle Center’s best days being in front of it and I have a lot of passion about that.”

Kraken Community Iceplex at Northgate opens to the public Sept. 10

Tom asked Leiweke if the fan base for hockey exists in Seattle.

“We want to grow the fan base,” he said. “But the response from the community has just been amazing. That day where I talked about 12,000 depositors in 10 minutes, it ended up being 32,000 depositors in that day and I don’t think the league had ever seen anything like that. I don’t think the NBA had ever seen anything like that. It was really a remarkable event.”

“Since then, we now have over 60,000 people on a wait list and it’s terrific,” he added. “Now we’ve got to put a good team on the ice. But I believe that this actually is a hockey town today, and it doesn’t mean that it’s not a brilliant football town, it doesn’t mean that it’s not a brilliant baseball town — and I’m a big Mariners fan — it doesn’t mean that it’s not a great soccer town. It doesn’t mean that it’s not the best home for the WNBA and the Storm, who by the way, while they were out of the building, won two championships.”

“But there are more than enough hockey fans and, in fact, if we had more seats, Tom, we would have sold them all,” he said. “I’m proud to tell you that not only we sold out this year, but our fans have committed on multi-year agreements and our building should be full and an incredible place to watch a game.”

Leiweke returned to the arena itself, which he explained was an amazing feat of design and engineering.

“The whole roof had to be held in place. It was designated a national Historic Landmark by the National Park Service. Why? It was a fundamental part of the 1962 World’s Fair,” he said. “And thank goodness we just don’t throw things out here that we deem obsolete. The roof was spectacular. Designed by an architect Paul Thiry, replicating a Native American rain hat, and a big part of the world’s fair.”

“So the city didn’t want to give up on that, and it was important, and it was important to Seattle Center,” he added. “So many architects and many engineers just said it couldn’t be done. But a guy named Chris Carver came to town and said, no, this can be done. We can hold this roof in place with a temporary suspension system, excavate, and literally more than double the size of the arena.”

Leiweke says it’s the “most beautiful arena in the world.”

“The finishes are spectacular. The light that now comes into the bowl, the work of David Rockwell, an internationally famous designer,” he said. “… So for our fans coming, … this, to me, is the most beautiful arena in the world. It’s intimate, it’s tight, it’s steep, and it’s gonna be terrific.”

Listen to the Tom and Curley Show weekday afternoons from 3 – 7 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Kraken CEO: Climate Pledge Arena is the ‘most beautiful arena in the world’