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Sticking to the script: Calgary's public posturing reminiscent of arena talks in other cities
Published Thursday, September 14, 2017 4:31PM MDT
Last Updated Thursday, September 14, 2017 6:56PM MDT
Negotiations between the Calgary Flames and the City of Calgary regarding a new NHL arena in Calgary have either fallen off the rails or continue to progress depending on which side you ask but a local sport administration professor remains unfazed by the respective approaches.
“First and foremost, I’m a Flames fan,” said David Legg, chair and professor of MRU’s health and physical education department. “I don’t want them to leave. I like having an NHL franchise, and particularly the Flames, as my hometown team.”
“As a sport administration professor and someone who is quite interested in the movement of franchises and how professional sports interact with local community, I don’t think I was surprised. This scenario has played itself out in a couple of other venues so I think it’s just part of the narrative, part of the story.”
Earlier this week, Calgary Flames president Ken King announced the NHL franchise was no longer pursuing a new arena in Calgary. “So it doesn't look like we're going to get there and I think it's time that we stop pretending and we're a little more direct and a little more honest with our fans and with our city about that fact,” said King on Tuesday.
The following day, Mayor Nenshi responded to King’s declaration and reiterated the City’s stance. “The city has always negotiated in very good faith here and we remain at the table, we remain ready to negotiate in good faith. Council understands the importance of the Flames to this city. We understand the importance of having the Flames downtown to this city. We worked very hard to come up with a deal that makes sense in this economy without impacting people’s taxes.”
Legg says King’s comments and Nenshi’s response should come as little surprise as the desires of both sides have not changed from day one. “It’s a negotiation. It’s like purchasing a vehicle. The Flames want to put as little money in as possible. The City of Calgary wants to put in as little from the public coffer as possible. It becomes this back-and-forth, back-and-forth, back-and-forth.”
“I think the mayor responded appropriately,” adds Legg. “He has to represent the public and the public dollars that could potentially be spent on this. I also think Ken King, representing the owners, responded appropriately too.”
During the negotiations between the Edmonton Oilers’ ownership group and Edmonton city council prior to the construction of Rogers Place, the team threatened to relocate to Seattle, Washington if a new arena was not built in Edmonton.
The MRU professor says the scarcity of professional sports teams, when compared to the number of cities in North America that could potentially host a franchise, has created perceptions of a sellers’ market but is quick to point out that a number of current NHL franchises, including the Ottawa Senators, Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes, have reduced the number of available seats to games. Legg says he doubts city council or Flames ownership want to see the Flames relocate.
“Ultimately, I think they both want the team to be here. The owners of the Calgary Flames don’t want to be the people to move their team to another city, as has happened in Quebec City, and see the team win a Stanley Cup the following year.”
Despite his belief the team will not move, Legg says it's difficult to ignore the perceived desire in Seattle, Kansas City, Quebec City or Hamilton for an NHL franchise. “I’m afraid that somebody else might swoop in and offer them a significantly better deal because it’s happened in the past.”
Mayor Nenshi is scheduled to address the negotiations between the Flames and the City on Friday morning at 9:00 a.m. and will release the details of the City of Calgary’s proposal to the Flames.