PALM SPRINGS -- The pro hockey footprint in California grew bigger Monday morning, and same for NHL Seattle.
Brothers Tod and Tim Leiweke stood side-by-side in Palm Springs to announce the American Hockey League has officially awarded its 32nd franchise to the southern California desert community, plus openly discussed specific plans for the $250 million, privately financed New Arena at Agua Caliente planned in downtown Palm Springs.
Tim Leiweke, CEO for Oak View Group, was first to the microphone. "I promise this won't be the last sellout you see," he said to a packed press conference at the Palm Springs Convention Center to see first-hand the start of the valley's first professional sports franchise.
"I must tell you we are very fortunate that two years ago we began with Agua Caliente [Band of Cohuilla Indians] about doing something special in the Coachella Valley and Palm Springs," continued Leiweke. "We wanted to create a point of destination for music, for big events, for conventions, for exhibition, and for hockey. We wanted to bring a permanent franchise to the Valley. You deserve to have a team and club that represents you every day. Agua Caliente was phenomenal in its commitment … and to do it privately without taxpayers ultimately underwriting any part of this project."
The New Arena at Agua Caliente will be north of the tribe's casino and two blocks from Palm Springs' main downtown thoroughfare. It will seat 10,000 people and Tim Leiweke promised year-round booking of music, sports, conventions and more events, 'though maybe not so much in July and August" during the high heat of summer.
The $250 million of private funding will include the construction of a brand-new training and practice facility for the team including an 'all-bells-and-whistles' locker room for both games and practices/workouts. It will be located five minutes from the airport, which will be convenient when AHL players are called up to play for their NHL counter-part in Seattle.
"The game and training facilities will be one of the better situations in the American Hockey League," said Tod Leiweke, CEO for NHL Seattle.
The NHL Seattle leader took a few moments to reflect on realizing the dream of establishing two hockey teams in new markets. Ten months ago, he was holding a similar press conference to discussing winning the bid for the 32nd franchise in the NHL.
"I stand up here representing David Bonderman and our ownership group and couldn't be more proud to be here," said Leiweke. "Today's a dream. It's a dream come true.
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"A really important piece of the NHL dream is an American Hockey League team. The AHL franchise is mission critical, where we create the next generation of hockey players. It will be a proving ground not just for our players but our coaches and general managers."
Seattle GM Ron Francis is equally thrilled with the Palm Springs location and franchise bid unanimously approved by the AHL Board of Governors. He appreciates the several daily direct flights between Palm Springs and Seattle affording AHL players the fast ride to live their own dreams of playing for the NHL club. He is excited about the arena and training facilities for the team and whole organization, including state-of-the-art conditioning features that will outrank other AHL facilities that "happen to be smaller and tighter" to accommodate such advances in how to improve players skills, endurance and recovery.
"It's all about providing a facility that gives our players the best opportunity to improve and develop," said Francis in an exclusive interview ahead of Monday's press and community gathering.
Tod Leiweke said the AHL is hitting new heights in what is now its 84th season as the top pro development hockey league for the NHL. "The AHL expanded west in 2015 to Bakersfield, Ontario [CA], Tucson, San Jose, Colorado [Loveland], Stockton [CA] and San Diego, and now, today, Palm Springs."
The Seattle CEO paused for heavy applause.
"I want to thank American Hockey League CEO, Dave Andrews, for believing," continued Leiweke, who owns a second home in Palm Springs and sees the AHL team as both an executive and local community member. "It almost seems too good to be true. Really? An AHL team in Palms Springs playing in a brand-new arena? Yes, it's true."
The Palm Springs franchise will play those five other California teams plus Colorado and Tucson as part of a 68-game schedule in 2021-22. There will be plenty of healthy rivalries and high-caliber play. The AHL showcases ample NHL talent on the ice, behind the benches and in the front office. More than 88 percent of NHL players have played first in the AHL. Twenty-three of the 31 NHL coaches have AHL experiences and the same is true for more than half of NHL general managers. What's more, last season 356 AHL players earned time in NHL games, representing approximately half of all players on AHL rosters.
Tod Leiweke promised more than quality hockey on the ice.
"Our pledge is to be a fan-first organization," said Leiweke, who has a proven track record for all comments with three other NHL teams (Tampa Bay, Minnesota and Vancouver) plus his time as dual-CEO of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks and Major League Soccer's Seattle Sounders. "We will present a game experience second to none. We will be involved in the community like none other. We will think of the fans every day, every event, every game."
Tim and Tod Leiweke encouraged all interested fans to sign on as season ticket depositors in a community drive that began Monday. You can find the details at AHLPalmSprings.com. Options include a class of tickets that will provide the same seats for both hockey and music events that will no doubt bring world-class musicians and bands to the New Arena at Agua Caliente with Oak View Group partner, board member and legendary music manager, Irving Azoff, involved in the booking.
Tod Leiweke promised to welcome youth hockey, figure skating, curling and recreational skaters to the two rinks soon to be under construction. Both brothers said the team and arena organizations will be responsive to all citizens in the desert community.
"We will also bring a Calder Cup [AHL] championship to this community," said Tod Leiweke. "Everyone here will be proud to remember they were part of this first day. Let's build something unique in this beautiful place."