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.