Flames CEO: Mayor Nenshi was mean to us, we don’t even wanna new arena now

As surprise announcements yesterday go, this was less of a shocker since we’ve seen things like it before, but still a bit of a bombshell: Calgary Flames CEO Ken King announced that the team was cutting off talks with the city over a new arena after what he called “spectacularly unproductive meetings,” and will instead remain at the Saddledome for “as long as we can”:

“Scotiabank Saddledome will continue to host a couple million people a year,” he told reporters at a hastily-called news conference Tuesday afternoon.

“We’ll just go on and run our business and do what we can to operate and try and figure out what the future will look like at some point later.”

If you’re wondering if that was a threat, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was on hand to not make it any clearer for you:

“They’re going to hang on as long as they can,” the commissioner said. “At least, that’s the current view.

“That’s not a prospect that thrills them or anybody else. But it is a realistic assessment of the situation they find themselves in.”

This is partly the old “we can’t be competitive without a new arena” gambit, which we detailed in Chapter 4 of Field of Schemes way back in the first edition. The timing, though, is almost certainly intended to put pressure on Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who is in the middle of a re-election campaign, as well as the rest of the city council — or at least to send a message to voters that if they want arena negotiations to resume, they’d better pick some leaders with less backbone.

How well that will work out is hard to predict — the number of mayors who’ve been voted out of office for standing up to sports team subsidy demands remains zero, and Nenshi’s tough stand against the Flames owners’ demands has been fairly popular. Still, with the mayor’s poll numbers softening to where his re-election is maybe no longer going to be a walk in the park, King and the other Flames execs clearly saw an opportunity here and went for it; the puck is now in Nenshi and the council’s, uh, ice.

15 comments on “Flames CEO: Mayor Nenshi was mean to us, we don’t even wanna new arena now

  1. The “mathKing” should check his calculator batteries.

    The Saddledome seats about 20,000. The Flames play (alright, schedule) about 50 games a year if you include preseason and playoffs (insert Brian Burke joke here).

    The Flames have a maximum patron count of around 1m, assuming they sell out all games all the time.

    Ah, but the Hitmen, Roughnecks etc you say?

    Far fewer games and each much less well attended.

    Perhaps King is counting the staff, contractors and inspectors who walk through the doors, as well as their families and other dependents, in that number?

    • Concerts too, no? Nickelback fans count for something! (I’d suggest three-fifths of a person.)

      • Sure, but those aren’t necessarily “CS&E attractions”

        Unless we consider them to “own” the saddledome, which they do not.

  2. PS: quoting the Sun chain is a bit like quoting something heard on Fox News or Alex Jones’ “centre for lunatic fringe entertainment”.

    Nenshi certainly could be defeated, anything is possible. But the fact that one (or more) ultra right wing paper publishes a column suggesting he’s done is not evidence that this is true.

    • Yeah, I hated to link to a Sun column, but I was in a rush and it was the best thing I could find citing Nenshi’s falling poll numbers. (Falling from crazy highs, certainly.) He’ll probably still win re-election, but you can totally see where King & Co. would think “Hey, he actually has to care about public perception during this campaign, maybe we can use that to our advantage.”

      • Yep, that’s all it is, opportunism. Cue the King/Murray Edwards trip to Seattle and Quebec City.

        Everyone remember to panic on three…

  3. Do they have a specific relocation spot in mind? Because they’re currently 10th in attendance so this isn’t like Florida baseball teams who could move literally anywhere and instantly draw bigger crowds. I know luxury suites and a maybe a friendlier lease would mean extra money to the team but they have to be at least somewhat concerned about putting people in the seats.

    • That’s presumably one of many reasons they didn’t make a coherent threat. Just “Fine, we’ll stay put, but who knows what could happen then?”

    • Joey, they were 10th in the league with a truly awful on ice performance. In most years of decent performance they would be 5-8 in attendance and top 10 in total revenues also (even accounting for the low Cdn$.

      Put simply, there is nowhere (available) they can move to that won’t result in a decrease in overall revenue.

      The two favourites would be Seattle (where the NHL would be seventh or eighth on the pro/college sport attractions list) or Quebec City (which is less than half the size of Calgary and has a vastly smaller corporate base to appeal to for support).

      But hey, this same non threat threat lead to Katz getting far more in corporate welfare from Edmonton taxpayers than he was even seeking to begin with, so why not try it?

      • The focus should really be profit not revenue. If the Flames have to pay for their own new arena, they would end up with $20-40M annually in financing costs. Is the loss of revenue from relocating to a city that gifts you the cost of the arena less than the financing? I agree it would be tough, given Calgary is number 2 in Canada for corporate headquarters.

        • And “gifts you the cost of the arena” isn’t a sure thing, either. Neither of the Seattle developers is likely to offer the Flames a place to play without a cut of hockey revenue, given that they’ll have their own construction debt to pay off and would have to displace concerts for hockey. Quebecor might, but not only is Quebec might, but they’d want to own the team. I don’t even know who’d be third on the list.

  4. I really wish municipalities like Calgary would start throwing the Barclays Center back in Bettman’s face.

    Hey the Saddledome might be old but at least the pipes in the rink are steel…..

  5. I see this beautiful city negotiating working out just as well for Flames fans as it did for Sonics and Chargers fans.