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!