Tim Leiweke knows that Seattle is one of the nation’s most tech-savvy cities and his ideas for renovating Key Arena certainly reflect that.
GeekWire on Thursday sat down with Leiweke, a sports business veteran who is CEO of Oak View Group (OVG), one of two companies that are submitting proposals to the City of Seattle for a potential Key Arena renovation.
Leiweke is the former CEO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which owns the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, and MLS’ Toronto FC, as well as Toronto-based arenas. Before that, he ran AEG, which owns the Los Angeles Kings (NHL), the Los Angeles Galaxy (MLS), and part of the Los Angeles Lakers (NBA). AEG is the other company submitting a Key Arena proposal, which is due April 12.
Leiweke, who launched LA-based OVG in late 2015, understands that technology can improve the experience for fans coming to watch sporting events or concerts at an arena. Our conversation jumped from how drones could get people to the stadium, to facial recognition software that could potentially identify ticket-holders.
This is top of mind for Leiweke and his OVG team because he sees Seattle as “at the cutting edge” and “the most important influencer marketplace in the country.”
“We understand that this arena is going to be in the heart of the influencing capital of technology, which means we have to use technology and integrate it into every aspect of this experience,” he told GeekWire. “It’s from the moment they leave their office or home to the moment they return back home.”
One of the most intriguing ideas Leiweke brought up had to do with Amazon, which is headquartered just down the street from Key Arena and Seattle Center in South Lake Union.
The tech giant recently unveiled its first convenience store, a high-tech retail location called “Amazon Go” that’s currently in private beta testing in Seattle and scheduled to open to the public early this year. The key differentiator of the brick-and-mortar store is that there are no lines — the system uses technology to detect when a shopper takes an item from the shelf, and then syncs the data to a handheld device.
Leiweke, brother of former Seahawks CEO and current NFL COO Tod Leiweke, said he’s met with Amazon about potentially integrating something similar into a renovated Key Arena.
“When I went through Amazon Go and began to understand what they were doing there, it was like a life-altering moment for us,” he explained. “We immediately began to talk to them about developing a self-service concessions stand in this facility, using their cloud system. They can do it.”
Francesca Bodie, Leiweke’s daughter who heads up OVG’s business development operations, added that the idea is to not only give sports fans or concert goers a way to avoid standing in lines when purchasing food and drink, but also merchandise.
“The Amazon Go concept would be huge for us,” she said. “It’s something we would love to beta if they are ready for it.”
Tech and transportation
Another area where technology could have an impact on the experience at Key Arena, which opened in 1962 and housed the NBA’s Seattle Supersonics before the team left town in 2008, is with transportation.
The arena is embedded within Seattle Center, which runs alongside a congested Mercer Street — or, as some now refer to it as the “Mercer Mess.” As KING5 reported this week, data from Seattle-area tech company INRIX shows Key Arena events causing significant traffic problems in the surrounding South Lake Union and Queen Anne neighborhoods.
How a new arena — which could house an NHL or NBA team in Seattle and be built without subsidies or risk to taxpayers — may affect traffic is a hot topic for both Seattle Center and in the SODO area, where entrepreneur Chris Hansen wants to build his own new stadium.
Leiweke offered a surprising solution for the traffic concerns: the Seattle Monorail.
The Monorail, which also debuted in 1962, carries 2 million passengers annually who can ride from Westlake Center in downtown Seattle to Key Arena. Lewicke said he likes the idea of people taking Seattle’s Link light rail, which stops at Westlake Center, and then hopping on the Monorail to Key Arena.
“I’m big on the Monorail,” he said.
Leiweke noted that the Monorail can transport 6,000 people per hour. He added that there is opportunity to help upgrade the ticketing system — it’s currently cash only — and potentially get the arena’s naming rights sponsor involved.
“I look at it and go, imagine what we could do if we activate it with technology and upgrade it,” Leiweke said.
There are also ways to automate to the surrounding traffic light system, Leiweke said, and set-up nearby pick-up locations for ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft.
Leiweke even talked about drones when asked about transportation.
“I know this is going to sound bizarre, but we are absolutely convinced that drones will have an impact on how people get to the arena in the future,” he said. “We are thinking through drone transportation and how we would ultimately have areas where people can literally be dropped off 10 years from now with drones. There are drones now that can carry 265 pounds so we are very focused on that.”
‘One of the great buildings’
Bodie said OVG is prepared to spend “ample resources” in building the infrastructure that can support new technologies, whether it be related to the fan experience or on the operations side. She pointed to the Sacramento Kings’ new Golden 1 Center as a barometer.
“They did an incredible job building the hardware that sustains the technology growth,” Bodie said.
Leiweke said that if OVG is ultimately picked to renovate Key Arena — it’s not clear yet if it would be a renovation or a full tear-down and reconstruction — he thinks it can turn into a world class facility within three to four years.
“I have a really good gut instinct that we are on the verge of one of the great buildings in all of sports and entertainment,” he said.
Leiweke also wants to use technology for security purposes.
“We want to claim the title of the safest campus in all of sports and entertainment in North America,” he said.
The proposals from OVG and AEG are due to the city by April 12. Leiweke said you can expect some more tech-related ideas when his team’s proposal is submitted and released to the public.
“We’re thinking about a new concept for technology as to the fan experience,” Leiweke said. “It’s very different than what anyone has ever done before. It will be something that Seattle and Seattle Center will be known for.”