Gary Bettman to hold breath and turn blue if Flames don’t get arena subsidies

The Calgary Flames arena squabble has remained fairly quiet since the Flames owners failed in their attempts to displace Mayor Naheed Nenshi in last fall’s elections, except for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who won’t shut up about it. Since October, Bettman has declared that the Flames’ “sustainability” was being jeopardized by stupid economists who don’t believe arenas revitalize cities just because numbers show they don’t, said the Flames can’t be “viable for the long term” without a publicly subsidized arena, called the lack of forthcoming public funds “very frustrating,” and said that Calgary will never get the Olympics without a new arena, even if the IOC says the exact opposite. As on Friday, he was back on the sustainability tip:

“It’s clear that this building is the oldest building in the league. It’s clear that the team needs a new building. Calgary’s a great market, there are great fans here, but a building is as important a factor as anything else. The team’s competitive situation, financial stability is obviously being impacted with each season that they stay here.”

Bettman said that Calgary used to be a top 10 team that made money for the league, but now over the past few years, the NHL has been the one writing cheques.

“The cheques are getting bigger and that means the situation, financially, continues to deteriorate and that will affect, I suppose, the competitiveness of the organization.”

What does the evidence say? Let’s check out Forbes’ team revenue numbers, which are estimates but have been right on the money when actual revenue data is leaked. Here are the most recent charts from the Forbes Flames page (time moves right to left, so the most recent year, 2017, is at left):

So revenue has in fact been going up pretty steadily, though operating income (profits) has taken a dip as the team ownership started spending more money on players. The Flames have dipped from 13th to 19th among most valuable NHL franchises since 2010, but that’s more owing to other teams boosting their value in the interim than to anything going wrong for the Flames — “they’re still making money, just other teams are making even more now” isn’t usually what normal humans mean by “unsustainable.”

Bettman also said Friday that the Saddledome is costing Calgary concerts that it could otherwise get, because like the Olympics, that is totally the concern of an NHL commissioner:

“I was told that there were 27 acts, some of them multiple days, that have played in Edmonton since the building opened that haven’t played here,” Bettman said. “That goes to the quality of life of the city and that’s an indication as to the differences in the buildings.”

I have other news fish to fry this morning, so I’ll leave this to readers to fact-check. Be sure to check for acts that played Calgary but not Edmonton, too!

14 comments on “Gary Bettman to hold breath and turn blue if Flames don’t get arena subsidies

  1. Bettman trying to play off the Edmonton Calgary rivalry reminds me of the Simpson’s Springfield Monorail. “It’s more of a Shelbyville idea.”

  2. Can’t have the oldest stadium in the league! Off with their heads! That justification cracks me up……Tear down Fenway! LOL.

  3. Does Bettman know how time works? Someone will always have the oldest arena in the league, so that “fact” is utterly irrelevant.

    Then again, so is Gary Bettman.

  4. The Flames are such a mediocre, bottom half franchise, why exactly do they feel they are entitled to a state-of-the-art arena paid for by their fanbase? I say this as a Calgarian: They’ve given us very little to cheer for since 1988, and even less since the (first) lockout. 1 playoff series win since then….

    Why not bring home a Stanley Cup, or hell, why not manage to win more than 4 playoff series in the last 25 years (3 of which happened in the same year, 2003) before you show up, hat in hand, for a new toy.

  5. Bettman misplayed this entirely. His only threat available is relocation but Seattle was the most credible destination and now they’re off the table. Given Calgary is top 10 in attendance they always have known the Flames couldn’t just move ANYWHERE even if they were going to get a better arena deal. A second team in Toronto would likely do very well but the NHL has been steadfastly against that so there is still another option off the table. There just isn’t much reason for Calgary to be scared of relocation.

  6. So, two points….

    1. The Canadian dollar (in which the Flames, like all Canadian based teams take in the majority of their revenues) has dropped from $1.05 to USD to $0.78-0.80 to USD in the last four years.

    This means that the Flames are generating about 30% less revenue from ticket and concessions relative to their expenses than they were four years ago. Looked at another way, their approximate player payroll of $70m cost them just C$67m four years ago. Today that same payroll costs them about C$92m.

    Now, all NHL teams in Canada hedge currencies (as do most businesses that trade across the border), but at some point your giant pillowcase full of greenbacks is exhausted and you have to pay market rate for exchange. That hurts.

    2. The one thing NHL history shows us is that employing Brian Burke in an executive capacity damages both a teams on ice and business results. Hartford, Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary… it just goes on. True, he did get to hoist a cup in Anaheim, but if you look at the history of that team they went to the final 2 years before he got there. He inherited a great team and was gifted a couple of excellent players on top of that. He will always claim credit for the cup win, but Bryan Murray actually built the team he won with.

    The Flames were actually pretty good when Burke was brought in to “help” then GM Jay Feaster. Predictably, Feaster was given the bullet a few months later and the team has plummeted out of competitive status ever since.

    That doesn’t help revenues either.

  7. “Bettman also said Friday that the Saddledome is costing Calgary concerts that it could otherwise get, because like the Olympics, that is totally the concern of an NHL commissioner”

    We have no way of knowing… maybe Bettman takes the absence of “Wiggles” concerts in Calgary very, very personally.

  8. If the Saddledome keeps Calgary from hosting the Olympics, then hurray Saddledome, you saved the city.