Calgary mayor on Bettman’s attempted Flames arena shakedown: “That’s not how we operate here”

Monday’s attempt by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to shake down Calgary for more Flames arena money on the grounds that “the cost is never going to be lower than it is today” didn’t go over too well with subsidy-skeptic Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, leading to one of the better media skirmishes in recent days. First, Nenshi went before reporters and, in essence, said not to listen to anything that NHL guy says:

“I don’t know why anyone would think this is surprising or news, this is the man’s job, this is what he does,” said Nenshi.

“Perhaps in other cities that he has come to, the city councils have just written cheques based on back-of-the-napkin proposals without any consultation to the public or without any analysis, that’s not how we operate here.”…

“I know that Calgarians require very wealthy people from New York to come and tell us what we need to do in our community because they understand vibrancy better than we do,” he said.

Then Nenshi doubled down the next day:

(High point: “I never thought I would have a column in the Hockey News praising the fact that I am willing to ask questions of the NHL commissioner.”)

At which point Bettman went on Calgary radio and got into a fight with his interviewer:

(High point: “It would really be easier for me to explain it if you were not interrupting me,” right after he tried to answer a question about arena subsidies by talking about the owner’s charitable contributions. Second high point: “I don’t comment on clubs’ economics” right after being asked if the Flames turn a profit, immediately followed by saying “their long-term stability will be threatened” if they don’t get a new arena.)

This is shaping up to be a battle for the record books, especially with Nenshi enjoying strong public support for his “prove to me what’s in it for taxpayers” stand on the Flames’ arena plans.

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10 comments on “Calgary mayor on Bettman’s attempted Flames arena shakedown: “That’s not how we operate here”

  1. Re: Nenshi’s video – the mayor was called out by reporter Eric Francis during the 1st intermission of the Calgary/San Jose game, saying Nenshi was disgraceful in his handling of Bettman (if you’re wondering what Nenshi was referring to).

  2. Sportswriters are always such brave, intrepid, authority-questioning people. At least when they get worried they might not have a sport to cover for some reason.

  3. This is bigger than Calgary. This is Joseph Welch standing up to Joseph McCarthy and saying what everyone else was too afraid to say. If Calgary’s mayor is brave enough to stand up to a professional sports league, other mayors might grow a backbone too. And if the public stands behind the mayor, even in hockey crazed Canada, that gives the public in other cities courage to stand up to sports bullies too. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the NHL get support from the other three big pro leagues who have much more to lose than the NHL does should the Stadium-Arena Subsidy Complex collapse.

  4. I hope you are right, Jason.

    But even if Nenshi sticks to his guns (and while I like the man’s methods, it is worth noting that Edmonton politicians initially seemed unimpressed with the Katz group but ultimately gave him more tax dollars than he had initially asked for…) I’m not sure it changes the calculation in any other city or nation.

    Los Angeles has stood up to the NFL for more than two decades. Not only didn’t it stop other cities from giving away the keys to the vault, it didn’t even prevent the NFL from returning…

  5. Neil,

    Could there ever be a ground swell of support for a NAFTA like agreement between Canada and the US to block future arena subsidies from ever happening? Grandfather in the current deals if need be or give a date when these subsidies have to end and create an even playing field for all?

    I recall in the late 90s there was talk here in Canada of filing a NAFTA grievence with all the subsidies being showered on American teams or to woo Canadian teams away. Maybe I’m wrong or it was just a wish from someone.

    Make an official agreement and end the shenanigans.

  6. There was a NAFTA-like agreement between Minneapolis and St. Paul once not to steal each other’s companies. I think it lasted three months before someone violated it.

    My glib answer would be “If we could get the U.S. and Canada to agree to such a thing, then we wouldn’t need it.”

  7. Nenshi’s attitude is downright refreshing to see in a mayor. It makes me want to listen to a play through of “Hello Calgary” in their honor. The video even has McMahon stadium (in its ancient glory).

    Maybe the NHL has a version of this song, properly tweaked for each potential city just as this song was.

    Andrew, I always thought the exchange rate was a big factor in the Canada vs US funding. At least the Grizzlies cited that.

  8. 3 on 3 overtime !!!!!!!! Those ridiculous red lines behind the goalkeeper.The same amount of points for a regulation win as a shootout win ( What !? ).The shootout itself is ridiculous. Enough is enough with this guy.

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