Bettman to Calgary: New arenas are shiny, c’mon and give Flames tax money for one already

Look out, Calgary! NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has come to talk at you about why you should build the Flameswealthy oil-executive owners a new arena whether you want to or not:

“I actually spent an hour this afternoon with the mayor. We had a very cordial, open, candid conversation,” Bettman said. “I’m hopeful that the city and the Flames can be on the same page so this can move forward as quickly as possible.”

And what message did Bettman bring to Mayor Naheed Nenshi? If you had “I will not be shackled to a rusty girder,” you win the pool:

Calgary’s Scotiabank Saddledome is an “old, antiquated, inefficient building” that “doesn’t hold a candle to what has been done in new arenas,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said after touring the facility Wednesday.

Speaking to reporters ahead of Wednesday’s game between the Flames and Boston Bruins, Bettman repeated his comments from a day earlier, when he said the city is in need of a new arena.

“In terms of amenities, in terms of facilities, in terms of egress and the like, for all the events that go here, this building was built in the 1980s, they don’t build buildings like this anymore,” he said. “It’s a grand old building, it’s got a great roofline, it’s historic in many ways, but … these aren’t the facilities our hockey teams typically have.”

And for good measure, he dropped in the “arenas cause unspecified good economic things” argument:

“I’m not sure that people that focus on the deal in the appropriate way would say no taxpayer money,” said Bettman. “If in fact, a new project with development creates new revenues and new taxes that didn’t exist before, reinvesting it in the city, reinvesting it infrastructure, reinvesting it in quality of life, seems to make a lot of sense to me.”

Whether it makes sense to Nenshi — who has shown an admirable dedication to actually doing the math on a Flames arena project to see if it would work for the city — is going to be another story. But Bettman got his message, or the Flames owners’ message if you prefer, across in the media, and that’s what this game is all about at the moment. At least until the CBC website starts up an Actually Doing The Math section.

33 comments on “Bettman to Calgary: New arenas are shiny, c’mon and give Flames tax money for one already

  1. “these aren’t the facilities our hockey teams typically have.”

    Exactly! That’s what makes it cool! It’s not the same cookie-cut nonsense where you forget what city you’re even in!

  2. “I’m not sure that people that focus on the deal in the appropriate way would say no taxpayer money,”…

    Methinks “appropriate” just took on a very new meaning.

    • Right. How can the head of multi-billion dollar business still use an ancient phrase like “hold a candle to…?” What does that even mean? Even the Ol’ Yankee Candle store in the mall doesn’t talk like that. Maybe they use that phrase over at Wax ‘n Things, but who really shops at that end of the mall anyway?

  3. I don’t get how Bettman can badmouth the Saddledome when he talked wonders about the Barclay’s Center until the ice problems started…

    • I was just at Barclay’s for the first time this past weekend, and it’s stunningly horrible for hockey. I went to the Saddledome about 15 years ago and had a great experience. The league has the embarrassments of Arizona, Carolina, and Florida, and Bettman’s shaking down a place like Calgary? Sheesh! He has brass stones.

  4. All the arguments he has made are excellent reasons for the Calgary Flames to invest in a new building, not for the taxpayers of Calgary to do so.

    If the NHL wants to take a top 10 revenue franchise out of Calgary and make it a bottom third revenue franchise in Kansas City, Tucson, Quebec (where it will fare slightly better than the Jets will in Winnipeg long term, but no more) or Seattle (where it will be at best 7th or 8th on sports discretionary spending attractions list), it is welcome to do so.

    • Hypothetically, if the Flames moved to Seattle and became a Stanley Cup contender, they would be a top draw and a money maker. Seattle is a big front runner city w/ a lot of corporate dollars; if you contend for a championship and even win one, you will be beloved and draw fans, regardless of the sport.

      The metro area has tremendous potential in becoming a good NHL city (assuming SODO Arena is built) due to its popularity of Junior Hockey in the outlying cities of Everett and Kent–both in the top ten draws for WHL attendance.

      That being said, I believe Nenshi and the Flames will work out an arena deal and the team will remain in Calgary. The sport is too much of a religion to let an NHL franchise go. Also, Nenshi is very motivated to do a arena deal to get the Olympics in Calgary in the next decade.

      • They would be a top draw?
        Behind the Seahawks, Mariners, Sounders, NCAA football, possible return of the Sonics (which will have to happen before the SoDo arena get built) and other sports.

        Potential markets for major league franchises are not based on minor/junior league support in outlying suburbs… and having a greater avg attendance for Silvertips than cities like Lethbridge, Medicine Hat or Moose Jaw have for their teams is really nothing much to crow about.

        Seattle has always been “the next big thing” for the NHL. It probably always will be, unless somebody builds an arena (without public money) and is willing to pay and NHL franchise an annual fee to play in it.

        • I wonder how the ascent of the Sounder changes the outlook for a Sonics return. The Sonics left before the Sounder arrived, and now the Sounders are selling 500,000 tickets a year. So unless the Seattle population has increased, a new NHL/NBA team is going to find a lot of people’s sports budget already tapped out.

          • The Seattle population has grown since the last NHL expansion attempt in 95 and it will grow a great deal more in the next 10-15 years, with more than enough population and corporate dollars to support the NHL, assuming the team is playoff competitive. A lot of people have moved here from different markets, including NHL and they will be more than willing to support a successful product if it comes. If the NHL team wins in this market, it will be well supported just like any other franchise that wins, e.g., Seahawks and Sounders (Not as popular as the Seahawks I suspect.) Beating NCAA basketball would certainly be a slam dunk for the NHL as opposed to an NBA team.

            Keep in mind, the Puget Sound population numbers are similar to those of the Denver metropolitan area, which supports four major sports, including the NHL, with arguably less corporate dollars than the Seattle area.

            The operative word for NHL success in Seattle is winning. If they don’t win, they will be the 7th or 8th most attended sport. However, winning in Seattle, for anybody, changes the dynamic; The Mariners were poorly supported in the 70’s and the 80’s until they got into the ALCS in 95. Saw this with my own eyes–a lot of people who previously couldn’t have cared less about baseball all of a sudden became Mariner fans overnight all because of winning and that potential is there for a NHL franchise in Seattle that wins.

          • Seattle Resident: Winning doesn’t make or break hockey in the long term. No team in any sport wins every year. Every team has good years and bad years. The key is to have fans who show up even in the bad years and for hockey that means Canadians because they actually care about this sport.

            There are Canadians in Seattle. Hockey could work there. However, there are fewer Canadians in Seattle than there are in actual Canada.

            Moving a hockey team from Calgary to any US city is silly. Calgary is the 4th largest metro area in the one country that actually cares about hockey.

        • Question as always is who will move to Seattle to make the Sonics return a reality? Expansion isn’t happening so somebody would have to move. The Grizzlies sounded like a possibility but they just sold and new ownership sounds like they’re staying in Memphis. Too bad since they’re actually pretty good and would likely have been a hit in Seattle. The Kings and the Bucks are two other main contenders but the Kings are always bad and a horribly run franchise so would they even make it in Seattle? Many of the teams that might relocate would be bringing some less-than-stellar baggage with them.

          • Expansion may be a possibility by the year 2019-2020. It has not be entirely ruled out. Other than that, no teams appear to be on their way out of their present cities.

          • Some team will move there in 20 years. Seattle is to the NBA what LA was to the NFL–the ticket to a generation of new publicly financed stadiums in all the mid-sized rust belt cities.

          • Sacramento just built a new arena for the Kings, so I’d say its unlikely for them to move to Seattle for at least….10 years.

          • If someone offers enough money, expansion will happen.

            Does anyone really think that a “ballmer” like offer for an expansion team would be refused? The only hurdle is the apparent absence of an egomaniac with staggeringly deep pockets…

          • Hah. Yes. That’s the only hurdle. Just like the only hurdle to me and owning a $10 million mansion is $10M.

  5. Regarding:
    “In terms of amenities, in terms of facilities, in terms of egress and the like, for all the events that go here, this building was built in the 1980s, they don’t build buildings like this anymore,” he said. “It’s a grand old building, it’s got a great roofline, it’s historic in many ways, but … these aren’t the facilities our hockey teams typically have.”

    Calgary is currently averaging 18,700 fans per game (97% of capacity) in its arena. I am surprised so many fans risk their lives to attend these games! The fact that other cities have newer arenas is pretty much irrelevant. Those arenas do not compete for fans at the Flames arena. The best hockey arena in Calgary is the one they play in.

    Bettman should focus on keeping salaries in-line with revenues. NHL TV revenue, especially outside of Canada, does not compare with that of NBA, NFL, and MLB, yet players are paid comparably – average annual salary of an MLB player is $4.4 million, $2.1 million for NFL, $2.9 for NHL, and $6.2 million for NBA.

    It is because of Bettman’s incompetence, not to mention is dour personality, that, the NHL has any financial issues, if indeed they do.

    And, of course, no taxpayer should ever pay a dime for a major league sports venue.

    • Well said. It is undeniable that under Bettman’s tenure the NHL business has grown (as have all other sports properties, most of which he had nothing to do with, of course). The question is how has the NHL done relative to the other “major” sports?

      In average salary terms, they have fallen badly behind both MLB and the NBA since the early 1990s. The NFL average is artificially suppressed by the salary cap and resulting roster make up (lots of first and second year, and thus relatively cheap, players), but arguably on the salary front the NHL has gained slightly on the NFL over the last 3 decades (and it has it’s own soft cap, of course, as does the NBA).

      The NHL average salary is skewed somewhat by the ‘escrow’ requirements of the present CBA, which requires that a percentage of all contracts be held until the league’s annual financial statements are ‘ready’. I don’t remember exactly, but I think that about 17% of each player’s pay goes into escrow. In most years, they have gotten all or nearly all of that back in the summer… but not every year.

      If there is a major condemnation of Bettman’s reign, it is that the expansion of the game into non traditional markets has been responsible for at least as much “revenue sharing” support for some of the new markets as it has been for new revenues. He has also bargained away all the league’s digital media rights on long term deals to generate impressive ‘up front’ annual payments. Those payments are locked in for a decade or more – hence there will be little media related revenue growth until these deals expire. Other leagues will see media revenue growth over this term, putting the NHL further behind.

      The top 12 clubs in the league earn the vast majority of the league’s revenue (directly or indirectly). While their gross turnover has certainly ballooned over the past 25 years, are they significantly better off than they would have been without (some of) the extra revenue attributable to league expansion, but also avoiding the welfare payments they have to make to keep 6-8 walking corpse franchises alive?

      A club that sold for $80m 20 years ago would now fetch somewhere north of $350m in all likelihood. That’s great, but it does not outpace franchise capital appreciation in many other professional sports, and lags behind others. Do we credit Bettman for the 400% avg increase, or ask him to explain why his league’s teams have only appreciated that amount when others have gone up 500-900% over the same period?

      Capital appreciation is also very much location dependent. The Leafs were valued at $460m just a few weeks before two media companies agreed to pay $1bn for them. Most sports business pundits thought the Dodgers would be the first $1bn MLB sale. In fact, they became the first $2bn MLB sale.

      Do either of those deals make the Columbus Blue Jackets or Tampa Bay Rays more valuable?

      • Remember, the NHL went almost 20 years with very little national coverage in the USA. The average sports fan saw little of the greatness of LaFleur, Trottier, Gretzky or Lemieux until Bettman came along and got various deals with FOX, ESPN and the Versus/NBC. The outdoor games have been a huge success. People argue they are overdone but most places that have one have pretty good attendance. Las Vegas is paying $500 million for an expansion franchise. A few years ago that would have been an “Onion” joke.
        I certainly don’t agree with the NHL, or anyone, shaking down a community for corporate welfare. But you find plenty of groups doing that, unfortunately.
        If “Forbes” guesses of hockey valuations are right, Columbus is worth $245 million now vs $150 million a decade ago. Of course, that may not be what someone actually pays for it if it was sold. Building a new market takes time, sometimes as long as 30 or 40 years. Whether the NHL has the patience for that remains to be seen.

        • The problem with this analysis is that the NHL has been on television (for the most part national, but sometimes regional networks) in the US since the early 1960s (when CBS held the rights). That’s almost as long as the NFL has been on US televisions.

          Plenty of American sports fans saw Gretzky in his prime… just as they saw Bobby Clarke and the Flyers, the Islanders cup runs (I know, that sounds funny when you say it out loud…) the early ’70’s Bruins etc. Gretzky was mentioned on US tv dramas with some regularity and even appeared (unsuccessfully) in a cameo on a soap opera! So, yes, US viewers knew who he was.

          It is a beautiful fallacy to say that Americans do not support hockey because they haven’t been exposed to it. In some regions, they even like it a lot and are willing to pay to watch it.

          Professional hockey is a regional sport in the US. If that weren’t the case, the $2Bn NBC tv deal would have been for 2-3 years, not ten, and would not have included digital media rights.

          • NHL TV rights can be argued are highly inflated not only in the US but also in Canada. The networks are paying a fraction to the EPL and Liga MX for higher ratings and hugely superior demographics.

  6. Make sure flames are not paying a dime…. they have to send money to the sunbelt team…….. Canadians are paying for those teams… and seem to love it…

  7. Look out Calgary is right. Per Commissioner Bettman, there soon will be a beautiful up to date modern empty arena in Glendale AZ. The Flames should think about playing The Glendale Threat.

  8. Calgary’s appropriate response: “Hi Gary. Thanks for the advice. We’re the fourth largest metro area in the country than actually cares about your sport. You need us more than we need you. kthxbye.”

  9. Gary Barfman is demanding that Arizona taxpayers build a new arena for the Coyotes on the east side of Phoenix. Perhaps the Flames can then play in the new arena built by taxpayers for the Coyotes on the west side of Phoenix.

  10. If he thinks the Saddledome is bad, he should have seen what they played in before that. The “Stampede Corral”, built in 1950, held a whopping 6,475 fans and had extra-high concrete boards for hockey. That’s right, CONCRETE. You could check a guy into the boards and break his hip, or slip and fall and crash into them and break some bone of your own.

    I guess in the great sport of hockey, breaking the other guy’s bones would be considered a bonus!

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