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C'mon Calgary: Flames billionaire owner can build his own arena

The team – and Gary Bettman – are pushing the city to put up money for a new rink. And while the team needs one, they should put up the dough themselves

It’s tough being a small-market team in the NHL. The Calgary Flames play in the worst arena in the entire league and now it appears as though they won’t be able to form a partnership with the city to get a new one built.

Oh, wait…Calgary is one of the nation’s biggest cities and Flames co-owner Murray Edwards is an actual billionaire and one of Canada’s richest men? OK, scrap what I said.

The posturing coming out of Calgary lately is beyond absurd. Team president Ken King used Eric Francis to get his message across loud and clear on Tuesday, saying that talks with Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi were not going well and that the Flames “were no longer going to pursue a new facility.”

Nenshi, who is seeking a third election term soon, is on the record as saying that if any public money were to be used for a new arena, there would be have to be real public benefits.

Now, it’s easy to conjure up scenarios where a new hockey arena would benefit the public, but this has been disproven time and again by economic impact studies. Without going into too much detail, when you give tax money (or potential revenue through tax breaks or bonds) to help a private company build an arena or stadium, you are taking that money away from schools, hospitals or any other major public project that governments pay for. And don’t get me wrong – new arenas are awesome – but only a slice of a city’s population actually uses them and those folks still have to pay to get in (and most likely pay stunning amounts for parking).

If King, Edwards and crew truly care about the city of Calgary, they’ll use ownership’s money to build a new facility. That’s what the Toronto Maple Leafs did, that’s what the Montreal Canadiens did and, more recently, that’s what the Vegas Golden Knights did. Heck, that’s what Seattle plans on doing and they don’t even have a team yet – though the timing of Calgary’s gripes does seem a little on the nose, regarding Seattle’s announcement, doesn’t it?

And sure, Detroit and Edmonton received public funding for their latest arenas – but that doesn’t make it right. The Oilers, remember, made a very public trip to Seattle when negotiations with the city were going poorly in 2012. It was unseemly and owner Daryl Katz managed to drag Wayne Gretzky into the mess in the process (and really, Calgary: do you want to be like Edmonton? Pretty sure that’s heresy in Alberta).

The fact is, the Flames can afford to build a new arena with their own money. The bluster from Brian Burke? That’s what he does. The fact commissioner Gary Bettman is ominously telling Calgarians to think about what they want before Nenshi’s election day? Not surprising.

Because here’s the thing about Bettman: he literally works for the owners in the NHL. I’m not sure people always realize this. His job is getting them what they want. On top of that, the Flames have favored status with Bettman, as Edwards is part of his inner circle. There’s a reason Edwards was behind only Boston’s Jeremy Jacobs among owners on our annual People of Power list: he has Bettman’s ear at all times. Of course Bettman is going to speak as forcefully as possible in Edwards’ favor.

Now, it is true that Calgary needs a new arena. The Saddledome is easily the worst rink I’ve been to in the NHL and with Flames fans putting their team top-10 in league attendance for the past few years, they deserve an upgrade. Heck, this team could play for a Stanley Cup in the next couple of seasons. They deserve the upgrade, too.

But Edwards and company need to pay for it themselves. Are the Flames going to leave Calgary over this arena flap? Ha ha ha…no. If there’s anything rich people hate more than spending their own money, it’s being a social pariah: what’s the point of hosting a gala if everyone boos you?

The Flames are bluffing and if the good people of Calgary are smart, they’ll call that bluff.


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