Calgary columnists: Flames won’t move without new arena, we need new arena to stop Flames from moving!

The arguments for spending as much as half a billion public loonies on a new Calgary Flames arena are rolling in, and they are, um, creative:

  • Beneath the headline “The economic case for CalgaryNEXT,” the Calgary Herald’s Deborah Yedlin argues that building a combination Flames arena/Stampeders stadium is necessary to keep the “creative class” (read: young professionals) in town. Her entire evidence: one “young lad” who moved back to Calgary “because of the business opportunities that exist here.”
  • Over in the Calgary Sun, columnist Michael Platt skips even the slimmest of economic arguments, and goes right for the heartstrings, with the story of an eight-year-old boy who died in 2012 after a battle with brain cancer, and to whom the Flames meant “happiness.”

The notion that sports teams draw residents who help boost the local economy is a venerable trope by now, but it’s entirely unsupported by evidence: Studies show that cities with sports teams don’t grow any faster than those without. (For that matter, Yedlin’s warning that without sports Calgary would turn into Buffalo is a bit bizarre, given that Buffalo has teams in the exact same two sports — hockey and football — as Calgary does.) And when business leaders in particular are asked why they choose to locate in one city over another, sports teams are way down the list, with such things as good schools and transportation infrastructure at the top — which kind of makes one think that it would be more worthwhile to spend public money on trains and schools instead of stadiums, if anything.

As for the happiness of dead children, Platt indulges in even more bizarre turns of logic. Check this out:

The truly cynical will say the script always ends with the team threatening to move, before public cash is inevitably granted — but in this case, there’s not even a hint of such posturing, and the Flames actually have a plan that offers a lot of public benefit for the public money spent.

That includes the development of the creosote-polluted west end, and a bunch of new sporting facilities for use by the public, plus the likelihood of major concerts and sporting events.

But beyond that, there’s the benefit of having the Flames.

Follow that? The Flames aren’t threatening to leave without a new arena, but let’s stop to consider what it would mean if the Flames left. With friends like these, who needs move threats?

Back in the non-pundit world, Alberta premier Rachel Notley was decidedly unenthused by the Flames’ request for an indeterminate amount of provincial funding to help clean up pollution at the proposed arena-stadium site, saying, “There are many, many capital requests and the well is, quite frankly, only so deep,” though she added that “if we get a request, we will consider it, like we would consider any other request.” That was enough to get Edmonton officials to say that if Calgary gets any provincial money for its arena, they want some too for the already-underway Oilers arena. This seems likely to be a door that Notley is not going to want to open — who knows what Lethbridge and Red Deer would ask for? — but as with everything else here, we’re just going to have to wait and see what’s just posturing and what’s actual policy.


12 comments on “Calgary columnists: Flames won’t move without new arena, we need new arena to stop Flames from moving!

  1. I get the implied move threat with the Flames – Seattle’s still out there, as well as Portland and Quebec City…not to mention KCMO (cuz everyone’s waiting for the return of the Scouts, natch).

    But where’s the move threat for the Stampeders? Where else can they go if there is not a replacement for McMahon Stadium?

    You want two stadia for the price of one? Well, how about two move threats for the price of one?

    Step up your stadium game, Stampeders.

  2. At the end of the day, there are so many variables, both economic and personal, that drive people moving that it is difficult for anyone to be pointed out as THE reason for someone moving to an area. I think the best thing municipalities can do is work on the basics (infrastructure, schools, parks and rec etc.) such that people who do live there actually talk it up to others and don’t make the place sound awful. No one moves because of a pro sports team. And this is even true of non-sports related “development” projects that often focus on expensive entertainment districts that look to “attract” young professionals. The reality is that young professionals move to these areas for work, often driven by corporate headquarters and other firms, and then choose to live downtown rather than the suburbs. Their moving is not necessarily a net gain.

  3. Sports columnists can always be counted on for this sort of uninformed commentary, since their perspective on economic development generally boils down to “I’d like a team to cover, so I hope they don’t move” and “a better press box would be nice.” They generally have no background in public policy (i.e. zero sum budgeting) or development economics.

    This sort of baloney has come from the mouths of people who should have known better, to include Thomas Boswell in Washington, DC and many others who never seem to remember to follow up when their promised “economic development is a bar in a shipping container and a surface parking lot.

    The peak is probably Boston 2024, where sportswriters were generally united that an Olympic effort was what Boston ABSOLUTELY needed to be “relevant”–in a city that is a center of education, IT, health, and biotech industries. Which just happen to be four of the strongest sectors of the US economy today.

  4. Sean – I am not sure the “no one moves for sports” is entirely accurate. I remember Jamie Dimon the CEO of Chase giving a speech in Miami at their Chamber of Commerce and he said one of the things that companies look for when deciding where to locate is if the place has major league sports. Personally while I moved to Cleveland because of a job, the city never would have been on my radar if not for the fact that I had been here many times for games and took a liking to the area.

    Same thing with the downtown entertainment districts. Sure young people move places where they find (or think they will find work) but unless they’re in a position where they have to take whatever they get they are really only going to look for places that have the amenities they like. Companies also go to the places where they feel they can attract people. Its why Gateway moved from North Dakota to California. From a dollars and cents perspective North Dakota is a cheaper place to do business but the tech talent is in CA.

  5. “I remember Jamie Dimon the CEO of Chase giving a speech in Miami at their Chamber of Commerce and he said one of the things that companies look for when deciding where to locate is if the place has major league sports.”

    Jamie Dimon can say anything he wants, and I’m sure it’s a factor for some people. But when business owners have been surveyed on most important factors, the presence of sports has been way, way down the list. (And no, I don’t have a link handy — I believe this was a survey I saw on paper, which means it’s http://www.somewhereinmy.closet.)

  6. “Same thing with the downtown entertainment districts. Sure young people move places where they find (or think they will find work) but unless they’re in a position where they have to take whatever they get they are really only going to look for places that have the amenities they like.”

    I’m not sure what economic environment you’re living in, but for most people taking work where you can get it is kind of the order of the day. Moving is expensive, and the idea of moving without a position in this day and age is potentially a prescription for bankruptcy, unless you have friends and family to lean on for a significant period of time.

    This is why “entertainment districts” are more of a nice bonus than a necessity, and are often sought by companies to be developed because it is a potential tool to be used for attracting talent. Not the other way around. It’s why Wal-Mart has gone out of its way to spruce up Bentonville, because while many people would likely want to work for Wal-Mart anyways, the ability to show off amenities as an attraction is important. Those amenities came out after the fact.

    Now corporations themselves use subsidies and similar games as sports teams to get the most lucrative deal they can get, and part of that may be looking for a tax free building in a newly “revitalized” part of a city. In fact that is exactly what many companies have done, but that is less a desire for entertainment districts, than a desire for a new building at little to no cost.

  7. Sean – while it has been the order of the day in recent years it hasn’t always been that way. Have you never gotten a call from a headhunter about a position and didn’t pursue it because the location didn’t appeal to you. Regarding moving without a job, I’ve actually seen plenty of that especially among young people. There was a study on migratory patterns back in 09 where they looked at the cities where young professionals were moving to. One of the big ones was Atlanta and the study showed that over 40% of the people moved without lining up a job first. Its not something I can do now because I’m 40 with a wife and responsilities and don’t really want a gap on my resume that I would have to explain away, but if you’re 22-26 and you’re ok with working in a bar for a few months until you land something in your field thats one way to go. Not saying its the smartest move but it often works out that way. Also remember that as much as metro regions compete with each other, municipalities within metro regions compete too. So even if these contrived downtown entertainment districts don’t lead to people moving to the area it does lead to people spending time in that municipality vs a neighboring one. Until new places started popping up in downtown Cleveland I could hardly ever get my friends to go downtown. Now I can’t find parking on a Saturday night.

  8. “Have you never gotten a call from a headhunter about a position and didn’t pursue it because the location didn’t appeal to you. ”

    I about spit out my coffee. No. No one receives calls from head hunters, because the vast majority of people don’t work in industries that head hunt, let alone pay for the expenses of travel to come interview or to offer competitive payment out of the blue. Even my wife, a physician, at best gets little cards in the mail and very rarely a call from a physician recruiter looking for someone to fill a niche in Nebraska.

    “but if you’re 22-26 and you’re ok with working in a bar for a few months until you land something in your field thats one way to go. ”

    That’s insane. No one working a bar can pay the bills of their schooling, let alone the myriad other debt most of us have racked up. The cost of student loans has inflated through the roof, and people with a mean desire to eat can’t pack up and move to a place without, again, the finances of someone else bankrolling them. I wonder how many of the people surveyed had financial assistance from family? Or has no school debt as their parents paid for everything?

    I’m not saying that amenities such as these don’t factor into people spending entertainment dollars, or don’t even engender some sort of personal loyalty to a city etc. But I would strongly argue that peoples movements are dictated by economic realities, be it the oil worker traveling to North Dakota, or the tech worker moving to San Francisco. You move where you can make an income for the most part, or attempt to shoehorn your career into an area where there is significant interpersonal support (friends, family, college) etc.

  9. If the major league stuff were true, it begs the question–why would anyone build a MINOR league stadium, if there’s no hope in getting the Jamie Dimons of the world to relocate?

    The answer probably is–because politicians at all levels love to be in front of these kinds of high-vis, big dirt-moving projects, and are willing to spend as much of a municipality’s resources as they can get away with. The justifications–whatever sound best–are made up to mask this.

  10. Sean – I guess we just have different experiences. Working in finance, I’ve gotten calls from headhunters (and by no means am I superstar) and if the job involves relocating the location determines if I pursue it. My friends in marketing are the same way. A friend of mine was offered a big salary to move to Syracuse. After visiting he decided against taking it because he said there was nothing to do there and instead sat unemployed for a few months until something else came along. I’ve also seen quite a few millennials pick up, go somewhere, and couch surf while working in a bar or something until they get situated. Not saying these are the smartest ways to make decisions but it happens.

  11. Aqib,

    I think the question isn’t one of appealing to guys who’d rather be unemployed, iti s a question of public policy and spending limited public resources.

    Itwould seem companies generally want an educated workforce, good logistics (when required), proximity to markets, and good quality of life for employees (i.e. education, housing, transport, etc.). Of course there may be outliers (finance may be one), but I don’t think the finance industry is going to move to Vegas or Sacramento because it has an NBA team.

    Syracuse HAS a AAA team (and major college sports) already, so adding a major league team likely isn’t going to attract a wide range of entertainment options that don’t already exist. So if you’re the mayor, do you spend money based on what Jamie Dimon may have said at a conference or do you make your land and budgetary decisions based on what the private (or certain parts of public) sector wants?

    Unfortunately for American municipalities, most mayors, executives, and governors would want to “get to yes” despite the near lack of impact.

  12. GDub – my point is when people say that “no one moves for X” or “Y doesn’t attract people” or “people only go places where/because of Z” they are referring to themselves and their circle. When I’ve done job searches outside wherever I am living at the moment or get a call about a job elsewhere I factor in all kinds of things outside of just the job itself and cost of living including weather, racial diversity/tolerence, proximity/accessibility to other cities I like, places of worship, and yes sports. When I was single nightlife was a factor now its good schools. You could back up the Brinks truck and I’m still not going to Mississippi or Arkansas. But I’ll take a little less to be in Toronto vs say Austin. I’m not the only one who does things this way.