Why Tod Leiweke Joining Oak View Group Is a Big Deal for the NHL in Seattle

"Hockey fans in Seattle may have just hit the jackpot."

Tod Leiweke grew up in Missouri rooting for the St. Louis Blues. Ice hockey is his favorite sport, and during the past 20 years he has helped shape the fortunes of the Vancouver Canucks, Minnesota Wild and Tampa Bay Lightning. It appears Leiweke’s next ice dance will involve the presumed Seattle entry in the National Hockey League.

Leiweke stepped down as COO of the National Football League on Tuesday amid reports in the sports world that he’ll return to Seattle to oversee the current bid to land an NHL franchise. Leiweke spent seven years here as CEO of the Seattle Seahawks and Sounders FC.

Tod Leiweke (lye-WICK-ee) is the younger brother of Tim Leiweke, CEO of the Oak View Group (OVG) of Los Angeles, which the city of Seattle has hired to undertake a $600 million remake of KeyArena. The elder Leiweke has recruited well-heeled investors like film mogul Jerry Bruckheimer and billionaire businessman David Bonderman as putative co-owners of a Seattle NHL team. Tod Leiweke would presumably bring his considerable expertise in sports-team management to the effort, though neither Leiweke frère has commented on the reports.

If Tod Leiweke does return to Seattle, he will be warmly welcomed. Former Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer sportswriter Danny O’Neill, now a talk-radio host with 710 ESPN, described Leiweke’s time in Seattle in words that would absolutely glow in the dark.

“Tod Leiweke stands alone in our city’s sports history, which is littered with showmen, carpetbaggers and cheapskates,” O’Neill wrote in a March 13 column. “He is quite simply the most successful sports executive that this city has ever known.”

More gushing from O’Neill:

“Tod’s arrival as Seahawks president in 2003 set the stage for Seattle’s first Super Bowl appearance two years later, and in 2010 he steered the franchise through an incredibly turbulent time before hiring the coach who delivered Seattle its first NFL championship.

“In between those two bookends, all Leiweke did was oversee the most successful rollout of an expansion franchise in U.S. sports history as a minority owner in Sounders FC.

“So, after leaving Seattle to run the Tampa Bay Lightning with an ownership stake and then moving on to the NFL, where he has been the past two years, Leiweke’s potential return to Seattle is a really big deal, coming at exactly the moment that the city is taking its initial steps toward securing an NHL franchise.”

O’Neill is not alone in his assessment. I covered Leiweke for a few years and found him to be so relentlessly rah-rah in his approach to everything that it was easy to dismiss in the same way cynics see Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll’s over-the-top enthusiasm as disingenuous. But Leiweke is remarkably genuine. In 2004, after the Seahawks lost a playoff game to the Green Bay Packers in overtime, Leiweke told me his mission was to bring to Seattle the fervor and the fever that is Green Bay-style fandom.

Two years later, the Seahawks were in the Super Bowl. Twelve years later, the Seahawks fan base remains resolutely engaged. 

Hockey fans in Seattle may have just hit the jackpot.

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