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On The Arena Negotiations

Ken King’s comments on Sportsnet 590 may be unsettling, but is not necessarily indicative of the direction that arena negotiations are going in.

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Scotiabank Saddledome during the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Huffington Post

In an interview with Toronto’s Sportsnet 590, Calgary Flames Sport and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) President Ken King seemingly dropped a bombshell to Calgary Flames fans on Wednesday last week.

Many have perceived this statement to be a threat to the city that the team will re-locate. People may jump to conclusions about the intent of the Flames CEO, but at the end of the day, Ken King suggested that the Calgary Flames will relocate if they cannot strike a deal for a new arena. Whether or not this would make business sense is up to Ken King, Murray Edwards and the rest of the CSEC owners. Certainly, the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation seems to have performed well in the city, due to their majority stake in teams like the Hitmen, Stampeders and the Roughnecks.

Flames fans understandably are upset but should not be surprised at the comments made by the Flames CEO, as they reflect the true nature of negotiating for an arena. It wasn’t a long time ago in 2012 that Edmonton Oilers team president Patrick LaForge and president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe visited Seattle where they reportedly toured KeyArena, the only sports facility that would be available within the next few years in Seattle.

If the Edmonton example is to teach us something, it is that posturing is a mainstay in arena negotiations. The Seattle visit was exactly that; posturing to try to get Edmonton city council to meet a $210 million demand by Katz to Edmonton taxpayers. Fast forward 5 years later, we see a new ICE district in province’s capital and a new arena which can seat about 18,500 fans.

Coming back to Calgary, it seems that Ken King was either trying to emulate the Katz strategy or simply being direct about arena negotiations. Yet, despite the tussle over CalgaryNEXT, Calgary city council and CSEC seem to be inching closer towards a Plan B option in Victoria Park. In fact, two weeks before the Sportsnet 590 interview, King told an audience at the Chrysler Club at the Scotiabank Saddledome that CSEC has been working closely with the City on that specific plan.

This ‘Plan B’ seems to be a much more viable area of compromise between CSEC and the city. Early in the year, the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation announced that a new $150 million plan to revamp Victoria Park into a ‘cultural and entertainment district’ which is referenced in a City of Calgary document. While there is no indication that a new arena in the area is part of that plan, I have little doubt that CSEC and the city are discussing the viability of building a new arena in the area.

So, when Calgary Flames fans read comments from Ken King or Mayor Naheed Nenshi on the process of negotiating for an arena, keep in mind that at the end of the day, posturing on both sides will be concerted. But the decision to approve the building of an arena lies with Calgary city council, and not the mayor’s office. While Brad Treliving and Brian Burke will be hard at work trying to attract coveted free agents to Calgary, Ken King and the Calgary Flames ownership group will be behind-the-scenes, working with the City to negotiate the framework of a new arena.

The process of getting a new arena is difficult, but as Flames fans, we should trust our city councillors and the Calgary Flames ownership group to reach a deal that will benefit Calgarians and the Flames organization.