It was only a decade ago that Hamilton’s Copps Coliseum was being considered as a potential relocation target for various NHL teams, or at least being used as a threat by them. The Ontario city ended up without a franchise, though, and now the 34-year-old arena — since renamed something about a bank — is being targeted for possible demolition and replacement, not because it’s too old, but because it’s too big:
The city’s general issues committee voted Wednesday to set up a steering committee, hire a project manager and look at partnering with private companies to replace the city’s largest entertainment venue with a smaller one.
The move came after city staff said Hamilton needs a “right-sized” venue to replace the former Copps Coliseum — one with about 10,000 seats rather than the 17,400 the aging arena has now…
The Bulldogs are the current main tenant, and the staff report predicts attendance at those OHL games would increase 20 to 50 per cent with a new facility. Increased revenue, staff say, would bring in $20 million over the next 30 years.
But it would cost as much as $130 million to build a new facility, the report says. And some councillors are hesitant to tackle that price tag.
Okay, so a couple of things: First off, the idea that sports teams and the cities that love them too much should be building smaller venues is an old one, and makes sense if the new sports marketing strategy is to sell fewer higher-priced tickets and charge everyone else to watch on TV at home. But that’s if you’re building new — the idea of spending $130 million just to get a new arena that is 7,000 seats smaller is pretty crazy, when you can reduce capacity at an existing building just by throwing a tarp over the upper deck.
The premise here seems to be that the Bulldogs junior hockey team — that’s under-21s — would draw enough more fans in a smaller arena to make it worth the expense, which is at best an extremely speculative notion: Yes, watching sports in a “right-sized” venue can be more pleasant, but enough so that an additional 1,000 to 2,500 people are going to turn up every night just because there’s no upper deck? (The Bulldogs currently average just under 5,000 fans a night in attendance.) And to make a $130 million investment pay off, adding even 2,500 fans apiece at 34 home games would have to spend about $100 each for the arena just to break even on increased attendance alone. (A city report projects that ensmallening the arena would also save a little under $1 million a year in maintenance costs, in which case an additional 2,500 hockey fans a night would just need to spend $90 each to make the numbers work.)
There are other possible upsides to replacing your arena — you can get more modern facilities including revenue producers like ad boards and luxury seating, you can relocate it elsewhere in your city and redevelop the old arena land, etc. — but that seems to be less of a motivation than this “the old one has 7,000 too many seats” thing. Though most likely the real motivation has more to do with the Bulldogs owner making noise about wanting a new arena, after the previous minor-league Bulldogs moved to Newfoundland and were replaced by the junior hockey franchise. So while a new Hamilton arena may not necessarily be the dumbest idea on the face of the earth, it seems only reasonable to consider it dumb until proven smart.