Saskatoon to maybe build $175m arena to save local businesses “millions,” this is surely great fiscal management

Saskatoon city officials have been talking about building a new downtown arena for years now, and for years now I’ve been relegating it to the small bullet points in Friday roundups, because it’s such an amorphous plan (the dollar figures have wavered between $175 million and $375 million) and because Saskatoon’s arena doesn’t even have a major pro sports team playing there, just the Blades (junior hockey) and Rush (lacrosse) and Rattlers (minor-league basketball). But that all ends today, and not just because Global News chose the report on this with the irresistible headline “Saskatoon city councillors want fewer homicides, new arena in 2020.”

No, the real kicker is this:

[Saskatoon councillor Randy] Donauer compared the SaskTel Centre to a used car, saying a responsible steward needs to plan for its replacement. He also said that concert promoters had told council that the SaskTel Centre is missing amenities which would keep attracting A-list talent to the city.

He said local businesses would lose out on “millions” of dollars if entertainers went to another venue in another city.

First off: Used cars have lots of moving parts that tend to break, while stadiums are mostly steel that can last effectively forever if protected from corrosion, so this is a terrible, terrible analogy. But more importantly, here we have an elected official saying, presumably with a straight face (Global News didn’t include video of Donauer’s comments), that his city needs to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a new arena because otherwise local businesses would lose millions of dollars if Paul McCartney and Barbra Streisand kept on skipping stopping in Saskatoon.

I am not an expert on Canadian finance, but I’m pretty sure hundreds of millions of Canadian dollars are still hundreds of times more than millions of Canadian dollars, so, you know, even if you see the main job of city governments is to prop up local businesses’ profits, maybe there would be cheaper ways to help Saskatoon businesses than building a whole new arena? Maybe?

Right now it looks like the Saskatoon council is only going to work on identifying a site for an arena in 2020, with any actual money to be allocated down the road, possibly because the city is already almost at its debt limit. So there’s still a long ways to go before anything gets decided, which will hopefully give Donauer a bit more time to learn about how money works.

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18 comments on “Saskatoon to maybe build $175m arena to save local businesses “millions,” this is surely great fiscal management

  1. Always pleased to see that you’re on top of the developments up here in Canada just like the ones in the U.S.!

    Tiny clarification – the Blades aren’t minor pro; they’re actually major junior. Younger age group and not professional (unless you believe the NCAA), although arguably a bigger business in Canada than minor pro is.

    BTW, in case you hadn’t seen, there have been more developments in the Hamilton, Ontario situation you covered a few months back:

    1. Thanks, fixed — I’m always thrown by how to refer to junior hockey in terms of the U.S. hierarchy of majors vs. minors.

      1. Junior hockey teams are basically equivalent to (privately owned) American Legion teams that primarily draw local ju-co aged kids. Much like the cape cod leaguers.

        Also, any mention of what will happen to Mr Hockey’s grace? He’s buried at the Arena there….

        1. Wayne Gretzky, Maurice Richard and Joe Montana all have statues outside buildings they never once played in.

          This isn’t an obstacle to a marketing machine worth it’s salt.

  2. Ah, city councillors… never met a vanity project they didn’t like (and, of course, like Edmonton’s city councillors honoured on a plaque inside the new arena, mostly won’t still be living in the city to pay the tax increases they have committed the residents to).

    I went to the arena’s website and looked back through 2018-2019 at events held there.

    It averages about ten events a month. For a couple of months every spring, of course the arena calendar has to be blocked off for potential Blades/Rush playoff games.

    Since 2018 the following large/relatively large acts/attractions have played at the former CUC:

    Michelle Obama
    Rod Stewart
    Cirque de Soleil
    Shania Twain
    Kevin Hart
    Alice Cooper
    Metallica (set the attendance record, IIRC)
    Keith Urban
    John Mellencamp
    Stone Temple Pilots (who ever is left…)
    Russell Peters
    Michael Buble
    John Fogerty
    Carrie Underwood
    Judas Priest
    Shawn Mendes
    The Dirt Band
    Bryan Adams
    Def Leppard
    Rob Zombie
    Marilyn Manson
    Elton John

    Coming in early 2020 are Jim Gaffigan, the Globetrotters (because of course they are), Celine Dion and ZZ Top. Also the Canadian “Oscars”, the Junos.

    So, Councillor, Donauer, who exactly has “Skipped” Saskatoon???

    in 2017, Bob Dylan, Ed Sheeran Tim McGraw (and Faith Hill) played there. In 2016 Garth Brooks did four scheduled shows and then added others when he discovered Ticketbastard was scalping it’s own tickets to the first ones (I don’t know all the details but it was a major FU to TB).

    And what acts that would EVER visit a city of <300k (even if you include suburbs miles away) have not done so simply because of the arena?

    None. That's who. But hey, don't let that stop you from building a monument to yourself… with other people's money, naturally. So glad I don't live in most of these arena-mad places…

    1. Thank god someone in the news industry is not afraid to say what needs to be said. This council and mayor need to go they spend money like water and pad their admin with yes men.
      Get rid if these idiots.

  3. Good move. If the Canadian dollar ever rebounds, you’d think the NHL would add a couple of Canadian teams for the next round of TV contracts. Maybe Toronto gets a 2nd, but I’d think Quebec City and Saskatoon are the logical choices.

    Rogers’ TV audience difference between all-Canadian team games and other NHL games are so stark. You’d think Rogers or TSN would up the ante quite a bit if they could virtually guarantee an all-Canadian doubleheader every Saturday night. Plus they’d add the prospect of more all-Canadian Playoff series, which tend to be huge.

    1. Smallest current NHL market: Winnipeg (pop 705,000 cma 780,000)

      Second smallest NHL markets: Raleigh (pop 470,000 cma 1.0m) or Glendale, Ariz (250k but with a 5m cma next door… so I don’t really count it as small market)

      Quebec city has a population of 530,000 with a cma of just over 700,000 (roughly the same as Hamilton and Winnipeg).

      Saskatoon, on the other hand, has a population of 275,000 and a cma of 325,000. It is significantly less than half the size of the next smallest market in the NHL. The NHL is not going to Saskatoon no matter how many arenas they build or how expensive each one is.

      Quebec city is a definite possibility…but it’s hard to see why an owner would pay $650m US to set up shop in a city of just 700,000 people. If they could buy someone else’s team for $110m like Winnipeg did and pay a modest relocation fee, perhaps it could work… but only as a tv property (which is why the owner of Videotron/TVA was interested).

      In many ways the NHL in Quebec City is like baseball in Montreal… if someone wants to do it, they are going to have to be very rich and content to live with a best case scenario of breaking even. Does that person exist?

      Hamilton might be a different story… but then, the NHL won’t go there for the same reason they stopped talking about a second team in Toronto as soon as they had control of the Coyotes back. You’d have to deal with the Leafs and no-one wants to do that. The Leafs/MLSe have been asked many times to “name their price” and have always refused to give a number.

        1. It’s a good question Brian, and I guess in theory they “could”. The arguments the Leafs ownership have always used is that ‘if you force us to split our market expect us to support any move to force you to split yours’.

          I’m not sure how viable such a threat is as no-one would consider putting a second team in most current NHL markets… But I guess there is always the possibility that someone could buy one of the 5 or 6 big money losing franchises and immediately relocate it to NY or Boston or Chicago or LA etc.

          The league has always denied there is any territorial ‘veto’ involved in relocations… others have said off the record that there is a 50 mile exclusion zone around the city limit of whatever municipality a team calls “home”. Nevertheless, the league does appear to require that the franchise in the “destination” location express no objection to the relocation. In the case of the former Rockies moving from Denver to New Jersey, this meant paying off both the Rangers and Islanders as I recall.

          1. I bet the Kings wish there weren’t the Ducks in Anaheim and wish that McNall hadn’t sold that half of the market off for some fast cash (cheating the NHL out of half of an expansion fee in the process).

  4. Back in the day the slim shady of the shadiest saskatoon councillors looked the other way, passing/ pushing to get an arena built under their terms , total corruption&illegalalities&because of the abolishment of capital punishment ther could of been a few less shady’s puttn’ around, u the city have an opportunity- now once in a lifetime to build such a structure in the downtown, where we all congregate, come together,u build it in the heart of town&we will all flourish like veins on a map

  5. WhereTF would they put an Areana dntn?????theres NO ROOM COUNCELORS omfg!!
    build one out SE Costco like where the N Costco is,it just makes sense. match the SE like the N it would make SENSE duhhh.
    then it actually worth paying the taxes.
    but if you put it in perspective Sask Place gets the acts BUT its NOT sufficiant anymore need elevators for Wheelchairs and better air control you cant breathe when concerts are on,ive had to walk out to the main floor cuz i couldnt breathe. ive talked to ppl that work there they said the same thing HARD TO BREATHE when concerts are on. we need updated NEW arena no less than 40 000 seating we r NOT a small city anymore, but NOT DNTN. my comment is they same as others ive spoke to about this discusion.

    just an FYI you would have to knock down half of DNTN meaning historic buildings to build a stupid arena ….

    1. 40,000? That would make it 90% larger capacity than the biggest current NHL arena.

      Winnipeg, Hamilton and Quebec City are all more than twice the population of Saskatoon and do fine with 15-18k arenas.

      I agree with you on the amenities front… access and building systems need to be improved. However, that can be done with a $15m upgrade. It doesn’t require a complete new building.

      A 20,000 seat arena downtown would be a disaster. However, if council wants to build a smaller performance only venue, it might be worthwhile. It would also be a LOT cheaper.

  6. Some remarks on why publically subsidized arenas are a bad idea. The short version is that there are no “millions” in extra revenue for anyone except professional sports team owners.

  7. I’m sorry but if they really want to drive local business they should start by making public transit less of a complete and utter nightmare so people coming from out of town for events don’t have to spend half their day figuring out how to get to events and can instead use that time looking at local business. We don’t need another dang stadium. We need more local initiatives.

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