Kraken Owner Holloway Builds on Seattle Vision With NBA Hopes

Six decades after David Bonderman worked as a security guard at Seattle’s Space Needle, his daughter is now consolidating her control of that iconic corner of the city.

Bloomberg
First Published15 Jun 2024, 12:16 AM IST
Kraken Owner Holloway Builds on Seattle Vision With NBA Hopes
Kraken Owner Holloway Builds on Seattle Vision With NBA Hopes

(Bloomberg) -- Six decades after David Bonderman worked as a security guard at Seattle’s Space Needle, his daughter is now consolidating her control of that iconic corner of the city. 

Samantha Holloway, whose father made billions as the co-founder of TPG Inc., has taken over as executive chair of the Kraken hockey team, which plays in an arena her group partly owns, just steps from Seattle’s most famous landmark. 

But her ambitions are larger than that. She’s attempting to snag one of the National Basketball Association’s two proposed expansion teams, which would return men’s basketball to the city that lost the SuperSonics in 2008.

It’s a delicate balance for Holloway, 43, who built her life and career as a tech founder in Colorado before joining her father as co-owner of the Kraken and moving to Seattle in 2022. 

As she takes on a more visible role leading the National Hockey League team and carries on her father’s passion for sports, she’s careful not to get ahead of the NBA’s plans, while also positioning her ownership group to bring a team back to Seattle. 

“It would be an amazing market, and the NBA knows that,” Holloway said in an interview in Bloomberg’s Seattle office. “This is an exercise in patience for both us and the fans because we’re all really excited for what could be.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, in an interview this month with NBC Sports Boston, named Seattle, Las Vegas and Mexico City as among the favorites for new franchises once the league seeks bids. The NBA expects to receive an expansion fee nearing $4 billion from the winning bidders, according to Spotrac. That money would be shared by the owners of the existing 30 NBA teams.

Holloway said it’s too early to talk about other partners in a possible NBA bid besides the current Kraken investors, who include Andy Jassy, chief executive officer of Seattle-based Amazon.com Inc. 

The return of the beloved SuperSonics would come at a pivotal moment for Seattle, which stands between the social upheaval of the pandemic years and ambitious projects underway to reopen the city’s waterfront parks, reinvent downtown’s empty office buildings and host several games for the 2026 World Cup. 

Until recently, Holloway’s main connection to Seattle was through her father, a pioneer in leveraged buyouts and private equity.

Bonderman, 81, earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Washington. He later scored huge hits investing in companies such as Continental Airlines, Burger King, Uber Technologies Inc. and Airbnb Inc., amassing a net worth of $3.9 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. 

In 2022, he and Texas Pacific Group co-founder Jim Coulter tapped Jon Winkelried, previously a high-flier at Goldman Sachs Group, to lead the private equity giant into a new era.

Holloway built her own companies in Colorado, founding and investing in tech startups, but she said she’s always shared a love of sports with her dad. While Bonderman has stepped back from a more public role with the Kraken, the pair still make important decisions together.

During a recent dinner when the team named a new head coach, she recalled, her father leaned over and told her he was “really glad we did this.” She responded: “Me too, Dad.”

Seattle is well-positioned for an NBA franchise. Kraken and partner Oak View Group spent $1.15 billion to turn a landmark coliseum built for the 1962 World’s Fair into a state-of-the-art facility called the Climate Pledge Arena, named for the environmental commitment co-founded by Amazon. Having an arena that was purposefully rebuilt for basketball, in addition to hockey, could give Holloway’s group a significant edge over other potential bidders. Seattle’s WNBA team, the Storm, already plays there. 

“We built the arena in a very, very specific way to accommodate basketball,” Kraken President Tod Leiweke said of the renovated facility. “We spent a lot of time because we knew there was another big moment coming in the NBA.”

Now the Seattle Center campus — home to that arena and the Space Needle — is increasingly becoming Holloway’s empire. In addition to the arena project, she and her partners submitted the winning proposal to renovate Memorial Stadium, a Seattle Public Schools venue that could host students as well as the city’s Seawolves rugby team and other events. 

“It’s just an unbelievable opportunity,” Holloway said. “So that’s a consideration as we talk to folks in the city on how do we continue to improve Seattle Center so more people visit and everyone feels great about it.”

The partnership behind the Memorial Stadium project includes Oak View Group, which was founded by Tim Leiweke, the brother of Tod. It also includes the Kraken’s philanthropic venture, the One Roof Foundation, which is seeking nearly $30 million in private donations to support the Memorial Stadium project in addition to $107 million of public funds. Holloway and Oak View Group put forward the initial $5 million. 

“I feel a lot of pride in the city,” Holloway said, noting that this is where her two young children will grow up. “I’m drawn to ‘how do we continue to make this city great.’”

City officials often describe sports as a big part of Seattle’s comeback. The baseball field and the stadium that hosts Seattle’s professional football and soccer teams sit just south of downtown. Taylor Swift’s July concert in that stadium helped bring 1.15 million visitors to downtown. The baseball stadium last year hosted the Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game as well as the New Year’s Day Winter Classic hockey game, each drawing tens of thousands of fans. 

In addition to winning games, Holloway recognizes the importance of running a sports team as a profitable business, especially with the soaring valuations expected for the NBA’s next franchises. She also embraces her role as a community leader in Seattle, supporting the team’s foundation tackling youth homelessness, climate and access to hockey.

“We started with this initial premise that the wellbeing of every person is tied to the wellbeing of every other person,” said Mari Horita, who leads the Kraken’s foundation. “Sam is a 1,000% behind that, which is amazing when you have an owner like that.”

When Holloway talks about starting the Kraken, now in their third season, there are echoes of her experience as a tech founder. She described the need to “be able to change and iterate” and try innovative ways of operating. 

For example, the team in April announced it would move to a hybrid broadcast-streaming approach to televising its games next season as part of a multiyear partnership with Tegna TV stations and Amazon Prime. The Kraken is the first NHL team to take that approach with the streaming service.

“We have to take risks and we have to move quickly and we have to figure it out,” Holloway said. “It’s very much like a startup.”

--With assistance from Randall Williams.

(Updates with details of the foundation in 22nd paragraph. Kraken corrected the backers of arena financing in an earlier version of the story.)

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.

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First Published:15 Jun 2024, 12:16 AM IST
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