This past weekend featured the annual National Hockey League All-Star Game in Tampa Bay. One of the things that fans have come to expect from the All-Star Game is a one-on-one chat between legendary broadcaster Ron MacLean and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. Since Bettman spoke to media, he once again touched base on the ongoing Calgary arena saga.
In addition to muddling a lot of the details regarding the City of Calgary’s most recent offer to the Flames – and denying that the Edmonton Oilers ever threatened to leave for Seattle – Bettman implied that no new Flames arena would kill any chances of Calgary landing the 2026 Winter Olympics.
BETTMAN: The type of deal that they think is appropriate for a new arena, which we think Calgary needs especially if they’re going to mount an Olympic bid. The location, the vision for the arena surrounding, they’re just in two different places, so the ownership has given up.
MacLEAN: Do you think that the Olympic bid might be the intangible that gets this deal done?
BETTMAN: I don’t know. It might be that the Olympic bid fails ’cause there won’t be a new arena, and clearly if there’s going to be an Olympics in Calgary, which would be great again, they need a new arena.
But that’s not actually true.
The Calgary Bid Exploration Committee put together a gigantic report as part of their work examining the feasibility of a 2026 Olympic bid. In it, they determined that they would need two arenas to host hockey and another arena for figure skating and short-track speed skating. A spruced-up Stampede Corral and a proposed New Event Centre would host hockey, while the Saddledome would host figure skating and short-track, with the notion being the three buildings would be the centerpiece of a Stampede Park “venue cluster.” (They can’t do hockey at the Markin MacPhail Center because of transportation capacity issues getting in and out of Winsport, so they don’t want to cluster too many events there to avoid crushing gridlock.)
In the event that there’s no event centre on the horizon, the bid committee could utilize a building outside of Calgary; the Servus Center or Centrium in Red Deer, or Rogers Place in Edmonton seem like good bets due to their proximity to Calgary. The downside of that approach would be that “clustering” the events and venues was done to minimize security costs and simplify logistics. Expanding to other locales pushes up costs and makes the games more challenging to pull off properly, both of which would factor into the IOC’s decision-making when weighing competing bids.
In an ideal world, there’s a logical arena deal in place that doesn’t bankrupt the City, and that building would play a key role in hosting an Olympics (that also doesn’t bankrupt the City) in 2026. But the absence of a new arena would not necessarily result in no Olympics, and it’s pretty deceptive to suggest that.