Stamps caught in the crossfire of Calgary’s arena politics

It’s not exactly clear what page it falls on, but this is definitely in the playbook.

If negotiations aren’t going your way, and you want to show the other side just how serious you are, just up and walk away from the table.

That should get a reaction.

That’s exactly what Calgary Flames president Ken King did on Wednesday afternoon, with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman at his side, when he said the organization — which also owns the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders — was done in their attempts to get an arena deal.

This isn’t an unusual tactic in the posturing for public money for a new sports facility, but it seems like an extreme move given the timing.

We are less than five weeks away from a municipal election, an impending date that prompted mayor Naheed Nenshi’s campaign to announce a grand plan for a cultural hub in the east end of downtown. Ideally, Nenshi said, the development would include a new arena for the Flames. Of course, Nenshi said, the deal has to be good for all parties, especially the taxpayers.

But something Nenshi said raised a red flag: a new arena wasn’t crucial to his plan.

Something Nemshi said certainly set off the Flames ownership group, which instructed King to deliver the message that they’re done: no more trying to deal with this mayor and council.

They are taking their puck and going home, though where that long-term home is, exactly, remains to be seen. They will play out the string at the Saddledome, both King and Bettman said, and nobody knows what happens after that.

There are other curious things about the timing. It comes on the heels of news that Seattle is going renovate their arena and will seek both NHL and NBA teams. Hmmmm, what a coincidence: a team has issues getting public money for a new arena and there’s a city looking for a team. A perfect match?

The likelihood that the Flames ownership group pulls up stakes and moves seems unlikely though. They are rooted in Calgary, and they literally own sports in this town. Under the Flames umbrella: the NHL team, the CFL club, a pro lacrosse team and a WHL team.

What exactly will they do if they move or dismantle the top dog of the business? None of the secondary parts has enough value for any single owner to take over. The Stamps were privately owned for years, but it would be tough for someone to ride in on a white horse if the Flames decided to ditch them.

The ownership group originally proposed a development that would benefit all parts of the organization, but now the Stampeders are going to be left out in the cold regardless of what happens. The CalgaryNext project seems so far in the rearview mirror it’s hard to remember that plan was to put everyone in the West Village.

Let’s be clear though. Once the election takes place, and rational heads prevail — with some being new to the scene — there is a good chance a compromise is made. The fact remains though a new stadium for the Stampeders remains a long way off.

That deal will probably be just as complicated, and it’s a given the ‘fieldhouse’ won’t make it into any new arena deal that gets tabled.

What this becomes is a clear election issue. If one of the people running against the incumbent mayor decide to take the side of the Flames on the issue, there could be a real division.

Nenshi is betting that the majority of Calgarians do not want the city to bow to the Flames ownership group. Most people here would be excited for a new arena, just not at the expense of what makes sense for taxpayers.

Right now, we’re at an impasse.

The next part of the playbook would seem obvious though: a new council will be chosen, and negotiations will start again once campaigns have ended.

Ian Busby

Ian Busby

Ian Busby has covered the Stampeders and the CFL since 2003, with eight years as a beat reporter. He is now a producer at Breakfast Television.
Ian Busby
Ian Busby
About Ian Busby (175 Articles)
Ian Busby has covered the Stampeders and the CFL since 2003, with eight years as a beat reporter. He is now a producer at Breakfast Television.

29 Comments on Stamps caught in the crossfire of Calgary’s arena politics

  1. Chris Robertson // September 14, 2017 at 8:17 am //

    There is a great opportunity here for Quebec City, Halifax or Moncton to bring all these teams to their City at once if they play their development cards right…

  2. Horsie will be happy as his Stamps get to stay in the Historic McMahan Dump stadium.

    • For almost 40 years, I watched games at Ivor Wynne Stadium and enjoyed every minute of it.

      The old girl had sight lines and atmosphere that the new place just can’t capture for me.

      And the memories!!!

      Not everything has to be new and shiny to be appreciated…

    • white stallion in red // September 14, 2017 at 11:11 am //

      True Story Dano…..every year when stampede is on 100s of American football fans pilgramige to McMahon and stay they several days. The have trailers and motor homes displaying flags of nfl and ncaa teams.

  3. World class city. Not. Broken down, poor facilities.

  4. white stallion in red // September 14, 2017 at 9:53 am //

    Calgary has never made sports facilities a priority unless it’s related to the Olympics. Having said that private organizations have given Calgary some great things. Look at Repsol sport centre, look at what winnsport has built at COP.
    The specific problem here is Nenshi’s and certain councilors contempt for private business. Calgary’s tax plans, and alienation of entities like UBER are proof of this.
    Calgary is a complex city with a population still growing despite the price of oil. It is very world class.
    I’m convinced Nenshi’s days are down to a few weeks and a new mayor and many new councilors will soon run city hall. Negotiations will reopen and a sensible agreement will be reached to benefit the flames but more so the tax payers and city as a whole. One thing I’m confident a new concil will do is consider the bigger picture not just 1 sports organization and their specific needs like was done 1 province over

    • yeah, what was BC thinking? Hey, maybe Calgary city council will do what Edmonton did and just give them everything. A new building, concessions, parking. Only in Alberta would something like that happen. SMH…yokels

    • Last I heard in the news, the mayor is quite popular and will likely be re elected.

      Sensible would be to have those who would benefit most from it, namely King and his cronies pay for at least half of it. After all, they own the football and the hockey team, which are housed by the two major structures in the plan.

      Saskatchewan is not having the economic issues that your city is going through. Besides, their facility only cost 278 million, 6 times LESS than yours….

      • white stallion in red // September 14, 2017 at 10:33 am //

        Still Popular in polling yes. But his popularity has been dropping drastically since the new year. There are also real true blue conservative movements right now that aren’t usually seen here at the municipal level. If Calgary’s true base gets out and votes he will be in trouble.

        • And you could be right…

          After the recent American presidential election results, polling and predictions should be held in some skepticism.

          With voting scheduled for this October, we will soon find out who will be sitting in your Mayor’s chair…

    • Bring on Bill Smith.

      Even in a story about Calgary you still had to take a shot at Saskatchewan huh. You’ve been bitter ever since Dad went “one Province over” to coach the Green.

  5. These are business people who want the tax base in Calgary, already having economic problems, to pay for their new play pen.

    This new sports palace is budgeted to be almost 2 BILLION dollars. Double the original estimate.

    Likely more by the time the ribbon is cut.

    Two-thirds of it covered by taxpayers by this method suggested by Flames head guy, Ken king…

    “Ken King, CEO of the ownership group, pitched a funding scheme that sees the owners kick in $200 million, the city contribute $200 million for the field house, $250 million would be borrowed and paid down through a ticket surcharge, and the remaining $240 million raised through a community revitalization levy that generates revenue on future property tax growth.”

    Some of this money generated by those who would likely not even set foot in any of the facilities.

    And once it is built, this place would not return a cent of property tax money, because it would be a city owned building.

    Let the fleecing begin….

    • white stallion in red // September 14, 2017 at 10:39 am //

      I think you are confused. You seem to be referring to the Calgary Next project. With was a stadium/arena in one. That project is pretty much on the back burner. This current negotiation was “plan B” with was strictly an arena in an area near the current saddeldome with us a highly revitalized area of Calgary.

      • You’re right…my apologies…

        Unfortunately, I can’t find any cost numbers for the Victoria park project. But, my understanding is that the franchise holders and the city would be partners in this, which will likely mean taxpayers’ money would be poured into this one too.

        This plan, from what I’ve been able to read about it, does NOT include a new stadium for the Stamps.

        Apparently, this is the one that King and his boys have just walked away from.

        Brian Burke also mouthed off about the city’s hedging. Not surprising…

        I enjoy sports, but these owners need to realistic about what a city can and can’t afford. And not everyone is a sports fan, but EVERY homeowner is a taxpayer and they should be heeded to as well.

        • white stallion in red // September 14, 2017 at 11:28 am //

          Cost estimates are 500 million…but as I’m sure you know..these things tend to inflate.

          From the outside your views seem reasonable. But living here you will see this current concil lead by mayor Nenshi has been very unfriendly to private business and development. He has gotten into very public disputes and even lawsuits over petty comments including a defamation lawsuit where he publicly called one a nazi he later had to issue an apology after spending $300,000 on legal fees that were covered by the city and eventually paid for by public donations.( and political influence no doubt) he’s resisted UBER operating in Calgary and recently had developers walk out on redevelopment of an old science centre site. I would say the problem could be him not the flames.
          The city will not release details but leaks suggest the flames would pay a third, surcharge on tickets would pay a third and the city would lend the last third to flames to be paid back…all while the city would collect property tax and reviews created. Would you agree to that if you were the flames???

          • Just an honest question, where did the figure of $500 million come from? The building in Edmonton was around $450 million. An extra $50 million is a lot of money.
            Does this include any land costs (I thought the new plan to build would still be on the Stampede grounds) or other infrastructure?

      • While we might all disagree with high levels of taxpayer subsidy……if the majority of teams in your league have these sweet financial deals… need to do it also to remain competitive.
        Monopoly economics in a sense….
        Swallow hard and keep your teams. Can’t imagine how folks in markets like Quebec City, St. Louis, etc. feel (the loss aspect I am referencing, not why they left)

  6. Snicker…….

    • white stallion in red // September 14, 2017 at 10:51 am //

      What so funny Scottsask .. believe it not some jurisdictions in this world think beyond their 2nd tier pro football team when making decisions

    • Well doggie – looks like we got us a donkey on a spit.

      Likes to spew about Sask but when poop gits flung in his direction he gits a little saddle sore I reckon.

  7. Red&White Forever // September 14, 2017 at 11:05 am //

    From what I heard yesterday, if the city is going to put in tax money, they want some return on it. Like a percentage of ticket sales, which I don’t think is completely unreasonable. If the city is going to pay for two thirds of a billionaire’s playground for millionaires, they should get a cut of the revenue the building makes. Obviously Murray Edwards, the organization, and the league see things differently. Are the Flames going to move? Let me put it this way: is there a better market for this team that will provide them with the ticket/merchandise revenue that Calgary does? I don’t see one. And if you’re thinking Seattle, or Quebec City, remember that the NHL moved a team from one of the largest markets in North America to one of the smallest in Winnepeg. Why? Because of ticket sales. It didn’t matter how big Atlanta is or how badly the NHL wanted a team in that market, people didn’t buy tickets. Twice.

  8. some jurisdictions are smart enough to build during a boom as opposed to being held up by their franchises during economic downturns. No one has ever accused Albertans of being smart though

    • white stallion in red // September 14, 2017 at 12:47 pm //

      Well the millions of people from Sask that have moved here might argue with the smartness if Alberta.

      Actually bacon..building during down times is often a smarter. Costs are cheaper, resources are available, and it provides emolyeement and a boost to the economy.

    • Canada is CFL // September 15, 2017 at 11:08 am //

      Please do not mass generalize all Albertans.
      I for one do not understand why we need a new arena but am on board for a major overhaul at Mcmahon but we are been overlooked in this fight.
      After been a season ticket holder and Tailgater for over 20 years (and we do invite Sask fans as well…..sorry no Horsie)I’ve seen minimal improvements and shrinking attendance which goes hand in hand.

  9. building freeways and infrastructure during downturns and creating employment like that, yes. if youre talking public money for a hockey rink or football stadium then building during a downturn seldom flies.

  10. Seattle Flames, here they come!

  11. OH man….I knew I wanted to read this thread! Shots fired…..shots fired!

Comments are closed.