Francis: Bettman says with Nenshi, Flames have 'no prospect' of getting new arena
By Eric Francis, Calgary Sun
First posted: Wednesday, September 27, 2017 10:46 PM EDT | Updated: Thursday, September 28, 2017 01:26 PM EDT
Gary Bettman said he knew six months ago an arena deal would not get done in Calgary under the city’s current administration.
Bettman said a meeting in Calgary with Naheed Nenshi in March made it crystal clear where the mayor’s head is at with regards to the importance of pro sports in a city.
“When I was with the mayor on March 15, he was describing to me the terms of a deal that I knew were just not from the real world,” said the NHL commissioner in a phone interview from his New York office, mere hours after updating the NHL’s board of governors on the Calgary situation.
“We were having a theoretical conversation about the importance of arenas and major league sports franchises to a city, which he indicated he didn’t believe in. I said, ‘Well ... what if the end result of this is that the Flames have to move?’ And he said to me, ‘Then they’ll have to move.’”
“Based on that meeting, I knew (the Flames owners) had no prospect of getting a new building on any terms that made sense. And that being the case, I completely understood their decision to disengage.”
Bettman was in Calgary two weeks ago to be informed by Flames ownership they too couldn’t see a resolution and would cease attempts to negotiate with the city.
When asked how the various impasses in Edmonton’s arena negotiation compared to the stalemate in Calgary, Bettman pointed out the big difference stems from the will of the respective mayors.
“(Reports of the Edmonton arena deal being dead) was the media reporting – the fact of the matter was I was in constant contact with Mayor (Stephen) Mandel and (Oilers owner) Daryl (Katz), and I always believed that would get done,” said Bettman.
“This couldn’t be more opposite.”
Nor could the financial outlook of the two Alberta clubs given the significant disadvantage the Flames are at without all the revenue streams a new building like Rogers Place provides over the 34-year-old Saddledome.
“I think that’s the critical element,” said Bettman, when asked how big a role the Flames’ aging arena has played in the team’s demise from being a top-10 revenue generator in the league to being a recipient of revenue-sharing cheques.
“This has been happening over the last couple years. We’re going down a road — we’ve already started on it — and it’s heading in the wrong direction.”
Which begs the question, how long can the Flames realistically expect to stay in Calgary without a new arena?
“They’re not moving this season, but I don’t know how long they can hang on,” said Bettman.
“This isn’t an imminent issue, but it's something that’s coming around the bend at some point. I’m not a soothsayer, and I’m not going to prognosticate other than to say the situation will continue to deteriorate.”
Until the team moves.
Or they find a way to broker a deal for a new arena, which more than likely isn’t happening under Nenshi’s watch.
His fate as Calgary’s mayor will be determined in the Oct. 16 civic election, which could help determine how short or long the Flames’ stay is.
Bettman points out the competitive disadvantage the Flames are now at financially could eventually hasten their departure.
“Do you remember the late 1990s and 2000s when the team couldn’t be competitive and was losing money and the building was half-empty?” Bettman asked, alluding to the team’s SOS campaign of 1999.
“Calgary has great fans and is a great hockey market, but the people in Calgary aren’t going to stand for a team that can’t be competitive.
“The fact that the city is not focusing on how to provide for essential infrastructure is something beyond their control or ours.”
Asked when he was here Sept. 12 what Calgarians can do about the situation, he suggested they ensure their voice is heard, alluding to their power at the polls.
On Wednesday he insisted, “I don’t weigh into politics.”
Flames president Ken King, who reiterated Wednesday he is done talking, has said the same thing, which is comical as their public 'He Said/Nenshi Said' has made this one of the primary election issues.
As it should be.
How long can anyone expect the Flames to resist sale talk before Quebec City, Seattle or another city starts trying to entice the Flames with serious offers?
“That’s something you’d have to ask (the Flames),” said Bettman, who is loath to move franchises.
“They’re not issuing any threats, and what they’ve said is they’re going to hang on as long as they can. I don’t know how long that is, and I don’t think they do either.”
Has he fielded interest from potential buyers?
“I get contacted all the time by people in markets that are interested in having a team,” Bettman said, adding he’s “distressed, disappointed and concerned” about the situation.
“It’s terrible because nothing is going on, and there’s no prospect of anything going on.”
And for that, they pin the blame squarely on Nenshi.
Francis: Bettman says with Nenshi, Flames have 'no prospect' of getting new aren