Flames demand secret arena offer from Calgary, city negotiator says yeah that seems fair

When the Calgary city council announced a new Flames arena negotiating committee without Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who was the guy on the old committee who clearly knew the most about negotiating arena deals, it was a worrisome sign. But hey, maybe the new committee was going to be smart, too, and they just wanted Nenshi out of the way because the Flames owners hated him and this way they could bargain without him being a lightning rod for criticism?

Turns out, not so much:

Reporters were told that on May 31, Coun. Jeff Davison sent a letter to Flames’ CEO Ken King, asking for a new round of talks.

King responded with a letter which started with: “While we would never decline your formal request for a meeting, we do have some concerns based on past practice.”

King requested a preliminary discussion so the Flames can see what’s changed in the city’s position, and then the team could decide if it’s worth returning to the table…

King’s letter also came with a caveat.

“If we are to proceed, a simple and preemptive imperative is media silence. Public and/or media involvement must only be rendered in the event of an agreement,” wrote King.

So the Flames owners’ official position is: Tell us your offer, and we won’t tell you our offer, and then maybe we’ll consider discussing things with you. But nobody is to talk to the media about anything, because we will only negotiate — by which we mean listen to you negotiating against yourself — behind closed doors, with any open democratic debate to take place after the deal is already done.

That is … what’s Canadian for “batshit”? Surely Davison could see that, right?

Turns out, not so much:

He said the letter is a good sign.

“We haven’t heard officially from the Flames in months and getting moving on a conversation quickly was important,” said Davison.

Also, the CBC reports that Davison says he “understands the condition” of not revealing anything to the media.

If you want to bend over backwards to give Davison the benefit of the doubt: Maybe he’s just trying to nod and smile to get King and the Flames execs back to the table, and at that point he’ll start playing hardball. (And he did release the letter to the media, which shows he’s not going to negotiate totally in secret, though he also noted that the letter was going to be subject to freedom of information requests anyway.)

But still, why is he so eager to get the Flames execs back to the table, when it’s the team, not the city, that is desperate for a new arena? Nenshi’s approach — show me why we should build you an arena, and we’ll happily listen — may not have led to progress toward construction, but that’s largely because building an arena that the Flames would profit from would be a terrible deal for the city, while building an arena that wouldn’t cost the city much would be a terrible deal for the Flames. So yeah, there’s an impasse, but that’s only because $1 billion–plus arenas in medium-sized cities that already have perfectly okay if lacking new-car-smell arenas are terrible investments, something that no amount of smiling and nodding and negotiating is going to change. It’s still early, but “Please let us negotiate with you for this thing that you are demanding from us” seems like a very, very, very bad sign.

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9 comments on “Flames demand secret arena offer from Calgary, city negotiator says yeah that seems fair

  1. I may just decide to become Mayor in a major city (with my current career path not totally out of the question) so that someday when I get a communication like this I can take a front page ad out in the paper telling the team to go fuck itself. That is how our position has changed.

  2. Why are they so eager to get the Flames back to the table? Because an Olympic bid is going on at the same time, the Mayor desperately wants the Olympics, and they want to run the two things (Olympics bid and new arena) as a package.

    1. Essentially all of the modern history (last 40 years, give or take) of the Olympic games has shown that using that competition as a justification for building venues tends to be the single most expensive way to construct anything.

      If your city wants/needs a new pool, a new arena, a new amphitheatre or baseball/football/soccer stadium, just build one.

      Once you put an arbitrary deadline on it’s completion, you are pretty much guaranteed to overpay for it. This is even more severe in cases where a city is funding multiple venue construction projects simultaneously.

      The last winter olympics cost what, $30Bn? The next one could cost less (Sochi was off scale for a variety of reasons), or could cost more… we know the cost of the next anything is always more than the last one.

      Even if Calgary gets away relatively cheaply because they have “some” venues already (all of which will be at least 40 years old by the time the games are on), it’s still going to be a $20Bn touch.

      Ok, I wrote the word Olympics twice. How much do I have to pay the IOC for using it? Or will mere money be insufficient to compensate them for this transgression?

  3. So…. the media silence thing is only going to apply to the city, right?

    I mean, there’s been no evidence that King wants media silence in this so far… in fact, he has gone on every radio and tv station he can possibly find willing to offer him a microphone to turn his pockets inside out and get Calgarians all sympathetic toward his Millionaire’s plight.

    And where tax dollars are concerned, we should never forget that King’s team’s primary owner (Murray Edwards) recently went into tax exile so he didn’t have to pay income tax in Canada (or Alberta).

    I guess there’s no shame in running a company called “Canadian Natural Resources Limited” from an office in Calgary while declaring your residence to be in England….

    Come on kiddies, turn in those piggy banks… Murray Edwards needs your charity now!

  4. In other arena news (about 11:50 minutes in the podcast), NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly states that there is no news on the Arizona Coyotes arena progress, but there is a high level of interest in the market; they could be partnering with the Suns on an arena; and Andrew Barroway is looking for a partner.


    1. So the Suns owner has had a change of mind on sharing a new arena with the Coyotes???? From all the statements from Sarver, he would do such a thing when hell freezes over. When I read it in print or hear about it from a reputable source I’ll believe it.

      1. I seriously, seriously doubt the Suns owner, Mr. Sarver, is considering ‘partnering’ with the Coyotes owner, Mr. Barroway.

        It is Mr. Daly just creating a false narrative in the hopes that someone — anyone — will partner with Mr. Barroway.

        In fact, the City of Phoenix is being sued over hiding arena renovation concepts with Suns.


  5. As mentioned above, with Calgary having a fairly good shot at landing the Winter Olympics, I think Nenshi and the other councillors realize that at some point Calgary is going to be putting a significant chunk of money in towards a new arena for the Flames (not that I agree, I just think it’s inevitable).

    By lumping it in with the Olympics, they (the city council) can get 2 major benefits:

    1) They get the Canadian and Albertan governments covering a huge chunk of the cost.


    2) They obscure how much money Calgarians are actually gifting to the Flames.

    Also, I’m pretty confident none of the councillors want to be remembered as being in office when the Flames left Calgary (not that that will ever happen, but many people fear it might, especially if this drags on and King starts showing up for “exploratory meetings” in Quebec City/Houston/whatever the NHL’s bogeyman city of the month is).

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