As Seattle’s progresses, an update on Calgary’s arena saga

National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman is in town today, making his annual stop in Calgary to say a quick hello, check in on a thriving Canadian franchise with top 10 attendance, and throw gasoline on the tire fire that is the sprawling arena saga. However, the context has changed significantly since his previous visits in March and September of last year. Since we last saw the commissioner Seattle has struck an arena deal and begun what’s already been a tremendously successful season ticket drive for their prospective NHL expansion team; meanwhile, Calgary has continued to develop its pitch for the 2026 Winter Olympics.

Earlier this week, amidst the swirl of Seattle’s ticket drive and Canada’s successful performance at the 2018 Olympics in South Korea, we headed down to city hall to talk to Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi during a break in a city council meeting.

Have you heard from the Flames lately?

No, nothing.

I ask because Seattle begins their season ticket drive this week and private money was a significant pusher in getting that deal done. Would the City be open to working with directly with a private entity other than the Flames on an arena?

Absolutely. We’re open to anything on this. And really what we’ve seen over the last several months as you well know, ’cause you know it better than I do, is that we have a deal in Seattle which is 100% private money, we’ve had a deal in Long Island which is 100% private money, and we’ve had the owner of the Ottawa Senators suggesting that he doesn’t want any public money. So clearly there is a universe of options out there that are worth exploring.

Are we discussing any of those universe of options with Ken King and the Flames?


Will CMLC be taking over the file on the City’s behalf, in terms of talking with the Flames?

Again, I’ll reiterate this, this is sort of an odd line of questioning. The City continues to be at the table. We never left the table. It’s up to other people to call and suggest that they’re willing to talk.

Is necessarily the clock ticking on the Olympics having any impact on [arena] discussions from your side?

Not at all. It would be helpful to know what was happening on one file for the other one, but that said the Olympic group has very clearly shown you don’t need two arenas in order to do [the Olympics]. There’s very few cities in the world that have two 20,000 seat arenas that would be interested in hosting a Winter Olympics so it’s definitely possible to do without. It certainty would be nice to do with.

In terms of timelines, here’s what we’ve culled together from various Olympic online sources and Nenshi:

  • Calgary’s participating in the “dialogue stage” of bidding, along with Sapporo (Japan), Sion (Switzerland) and Stockholm (Sweden). Unless cities in the dialogue stage bail out, they’re automatically progressed to the “candidature stage” beginning in April.
  • City council is slated to vote on putting forward a bid in June, pending the availability of the bid contract (expected in June or July) and support from the federal and provincial governments to help fund it.
  • The formal process would involve Calgary telling the Canadian Olympic Committee of their intention to bid, and the COC would submit Calgary’s intentions to the International Olympic Committee. The IOC selects cities to bid in October from the pool of submitted notices of intent.
  • The host city is expected to be selected by the IOC in September 2019.
  • MontanaMan

    So sick of this never ending saga but the reality is it doesn’t look good for getting a new arena regardless of how it’s paid which doesn’t bode well for the future of the Flames.

  • Heeeeeere's Johnny!

    I have one thought for both sides in this dispute. GROW UP!!!

    None of this “take my bat and ball and go home” Mr. King. And Mayor Nenshi none of this “I’m still here if you want to talk to me” holier than thou sh!t.

    Progress happens when strong people with integrity recognize that there is a conflict and they STEP IN to solve it. They don’t push away and sling blame.

    Get to the table children!!

    • where.is.ville?

      Couldn’t agree more. It is pathetic. Cities need up to date sports and entertainment facilities if they want to count. Do we want to be Winnipeg or Quebec City after their teams left. Get back to the table and hammer out a deal.

  • Derzie

    Everything Nenshi said is correct and non-confrontational. Painting him with the same brush as Ken King is lazy. King is a greedy, arrogant SOB that is mad because the patsies who used to haunt city hall are gone in the new Calgary. The old boys network is weakened and he can’t stand it. People who thought things were fine before (i.e. the white/overpaid) hate Nenshi. It’s a new world and I see no scenario where Ken King wins. Never thought I’d see the day but so glad it’s here.

    • MontanaMan

      I’m not sure what this article has to do with race but you seem to want to take it there. Don’t forget, the “old boys network” brought the Flames to Calgary and can sell them to Seattle as well. As far as your anti-capitalist rant, who do you think pays the bills with corporate boxes and season’s tickets? If you don’t care if the team stays in Calgary, say so but I for one, hope they can find a way to stay.

    • Honkydonk

      Glad you are happy when so many are not. Reality is this is a poisonous and polarizing subject now and that is dangerous because it’s evident the people in this city is split on this.

      Meanwhile we still have actual poison rolling into our rivers and water and so I ask/ City Hall what are you doing about that specifically? Provincial what are you doing about that specifically?

      Furthermore what are you doing with a downtown that is only 60 percent occupied? Where are the strategies on that? The diversity in our business segment and investment?

      Everybody loves a Nenshi/Obama until they lose their jobs.

      Our schools are crap, our infrastructure is crap. We all deserve better yet it will continue like this

    • Honkydonk

      Ken King is no longer part of this and I’m sure publicly it will come out why and maybe then you would have a little bit more self restraint in subjecting an individual when you don’t know them personally. Just a little self restraint would be amazing thank you

      • slapshot444

        “Ken King not longer part of this”. Did I miss something?? KK still around as President is he not, or did leave when I’ve been hibernating during this crappy winter?

    • optimistic pessimist

      Publicly calling out your partners idea as ‘half baked’ is considered confrontational in my books – maybe you should ease up on the purple koolaid.

    • Blando

      I can’t believe what you just alluded to. I don’t care much for Mr. King either but to turn this into a white privilege issue is ridiculous. King will spin it to get things his way, Nenshi does the same. The issue should be left at that two different approaches as are many negotiations. We should argue the issues not some conspiracy nonsense.

  • MarbledBlueCheese

    Idea: encourage this team to move to Houston or Quebec or Albuquerque or something. Then Calgary can file to have an expansion team. Wipe the slate clean!

    • Honkydonk

      Glad you are happy when so many are not. Reality is this is a poisonous and polarizing subject now and that is dangerous because it’s evident the people in this city is split on this.

      Meanwhile we still have actual poison rolling into our rivers and water and so I ask/ City Hall what are you doing about that specifically? Provincial what are you doing about that specifically?

      Furthermore what are you doing with a downtown that is only 60 percent occupied? Where are the strategies on that? The diversity in our business segment and investment?

      Everybody loves a Nenshi/Obama until they lose their jobs.

      Our schools are crap, our infrastructure is crap. We all deserve better yet it will continue like this

  • Off the wall

    Sure, why don’t we just have Calgarians own it. Buy out the corporate greedy owners.
    No one has to move overseas for tax reasons.

    King and the gang will be a distant memory. We hire our own staff, get rid of Burke, GG, Cameron and the dead wood.
    Make Skylardog in charge of analytics. Heck the sky’s the limit. Just like a Co-op, locally owned and operated.

    Yes this is a joke, but it was fun to play “ Let’s make a deal” on Friday.

    • BendingCorners

      Assuming the owners are willing to sell (does it need to be unanimous or can some sell and some not?), the team plus the arena might cost 1.2 billion CAD. Calgary has about 400,000 ratepayers so that works out to 3,000 each. Is that a one-time mandatory addition to everybody’s tax bill (which is effectively what municipal financing is)? Or do buyers just bring proof of residence and a cheque and buy shares in the new Flames Public Corporation and agree to cash calls when more money is needed? It might work but I’m not sure how many of us – including retirees and low wage renters – would be willing to fork over that kind of money.
      Anyway, nothing seems to be happening so it’s a question for some future year not for this one.

      • MontanaMan

        If people aren’t willing to see a $50 increase in their property taxes, you think they’ll put up money for the team? I have asked this question on previous arena related discussions and still haven’t heard the answer – given the latest proposals of split costs, what is the increase to each household’s property taxes if the City pays a share? If it’s $500 a year, there’s an issue. If it’s $50 a year, why the fear mongering? I don’t know the answer but if someone does, please chime in.

      • optimistic pessimist

        Finance over 20 years and recognize community participation? Foundation, players and owners? Or put our money into public art and architecturally recognized buildings?

  • Theo4HoF

    The Flames already got the saddledome for free and want another hand out. The greed of the flames owners is despicable. It seems the fans give nothing but support for this team and get nothing in return except no playoffs and first round exits. The flames could leave and we would probably still see just as much playoff success.

    • MontanaMan

      That’s a fair opinion but make no mistake about the impact of losing an NHL team would have on the city. Ask Quebec or Winnipeg how it not only impacted their business community but culture and civic pride. When it’s gone, it’s usually gone for awhile or for good.

  • Seattle_Flames

    Why didn’t you ask nenshi how $4,600,000,000 of Federal, Provincial, & city taxes makes sense for a 2 week event? Instead you lobbed him softballs to puke out more propaganda.

    • class1div1

      I get a kick out of Nenshi using the “heavily subsidized arena” up north as a political card in his hand, while denouncing any subsidies’ for a arena here.

  • PlayitagainSam

    This is a joke that it has gotten to this point. The team and the City of Calgary should be ashamed of themselves. It’s gonna get worse before it gets better.

    • Parallex

      Why should the city be ashamed of itself? They’re still willing to negotiate. It’s the Flames acting like a spoiled child because they’re bring told that they have to spend their own money on a new toy

      • MontanaMan

        To be fair, you have no idea if the city or if the Flames are willing to negotiate. Only those in the room truly know. Nenshi and King can say what they want but you don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes.

  • Honkydonk

    This article is pointless and those in the know would agree with me. Speculate all you want on this but flames ownership is done trying to make this work full stop.

    You won’t hear commentary from them and you will not hear them try to re invogorate their efforts and that itself is evident in where this goes.

    You see these owners have been truly passionate about this city and team and that is why they chose to buy the flames. They haven’t made any money owning this team.

    Take away everything and all the noise. Go into that room when they put the West Village project together and you will soon find out how passionate the owners were about it. They believed in its vision.

    It really saddens me as an observers to see what has become of conversation in our communities today. So many comments and so little informed about the issues that are empowered with a vote and a voice.

    Canada makes nothing folks. Nothing! Retail and general commerce along with Real Estate and development oh and energy has driven our economies and local communities.

    Now you have geologists working at registry’s because they cannot find a job here. We have maxed out and squeezed every drop we could out of real estate and retail is hitting a wall.

    So many seem to think it’s the social issues that require attention. More tax more investment and those are stop gaps my friends.

    If we don’t become a welcoming place for business investment including regulatory Andre tax burdens you will see this city become nothing more than a larger version of Red Deer than a city moving towards innovation and future.

    Like I said I had to renew my vehicle registration and was serviced by a geologist. Tells you right there the polarities of this issue and it’s sad

    • FuNky ANGER

      You lost me when you said they haven’t made any money owning this team. Might want to check that fact one more time. Pretty sure they could sell this team for $650 million or more.

      • MontanaMan

        And who do you think put up their own money to buy the team bring them to Calgary? Not the taxpayers. Not the City and not the Province. If their investment is profitable I say more power to them. I forgot, profit is a dirty word in Canada.

      • Honkydonk

        Yes they could sell this team for $650 million you are correct. Does that mean they have made any money owning this team till they sell? NO:

        And if you take what they paid out for this team and the add to it during these years the markets would have netted them a pretty sum individually also.

        Let’s stick to facts please and not what has been likened to conversation which really is just puke up these days

      • Honkydonk

        I would just like to further add. I don’t know exact figures so do not quote me but how many hundred of millions have been spent and taxed as a result of this team in this city over the years? I bet it’s a pretty hefty sum

          • Honkydonk

            How much of that do they draw out via retained earnings as a dividend to each owner specifically? News flash my friend they haven’t taken divididents for a very long time. Earnings stay in the business as spend investment the following year.

          • MontanaMan

            But Honkydonk, you’re destroying the allusion of the big bad billionaires stealing all the money, making gross profits and not contributing anything to society. For starters, people should check out the Flames Foundation who have contributed more than $30 million to charity since 2002 including $3 million last year. Recipients this year include the Alberta Children’s Hospital ($250k); YMCA ($250k) and $150k to a camp for children with cancer – Camp Kindle – which the Foundation has pledged $1,000,000 to. What other organization in the city contributes $3 million to important charities in the city? You can like or hate the ownership group but you can’t deny the impact they have on Calgary.

          • Brad6669

            Good on them for doing things to promote their brand in the community. Just don’t portray them as impoverished poor men who aren’t trying to negotiate their way into a sweetheart deal where they reap all the profits.

        • Brad6669

          Moreover, ATB Financial donates millions to communities in Alberta every year. Does this mean the tax payers should pay to build them a brand new, state of the art corporate headquarters that they get to profit exclusively from?

          • MontanaMan

            We are talking about a sports franchise, not a business. If you want a clearer picture, see how much the owners contribute to charities on their own or through their companies. It would be in the tens of millions. And I don’t see anywhere that I labelled them as “impoverished”. Yes they make good money. They are good businessmen and thats what they do, but like the economic downturn in Alberta, ask organizations who rely on giving campaigns from the oil patch if they are suffering and they are. My point is they funnel a lot of money into very worthwhile causes through the Flames Foundation. They don’t have to – they choose to. And if there’s no team, there’s no contributions of millions of dollars each year. Who is going to make up the loss? It’s not a threat, it’s a fact.

          • Brad6669

            How are sport franchises not businesses? Point is there are numerous corporations that contribute millions of dollars annually to communities across the province (see RBC, Shaw,, Telus, etc…), yet they’re not clamoring for a handout to build new corporate headquaters.

  • Pete_R

    As much as I want to support the Flames, I have seen no evidence that they were negotiating in good faith. As was revealed in an article last year, the Flames aren’t just talking arena, they want to buy and develop the land around the area for their own profit as well. If it was just an arena deal, this would be done by now.

    • class1div1

      You say that like it’s a bad thing. The Stampede Board had 30 year’s to build around the Saddledome and did nothing. They have no vision, and obviously wanted nothing to do with development around the arena. So why would the owner’s want to partner with someone with no vision or development expertise ?


      Exactly! Katz bought the entire area known as the Ice District in Edmonton, which is now siphoning money from other areas of Edmonton and lining his pockets with cash that would’ve be more evenly distributed within the Edmonton economy. I don’t want this to happen in Calgary.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    Bettman said the Flames used to contribute to the NHL’s revenue-sharing program, but have become increasingly reliant on it of late.

    So the Flames are now welfare bums like the Coyotes and Canes. “Cut your hair and get out and find a flaming job, you bum!”

      • BlueMoonNigel

        The last time I saw that ex-newsie was at the intersection of 4th AV & 10th ST SW. He was walking amidst the cars stopped at the red light carrying a sign that said, “Hungry, Homeless, Helpless. God bless you for your help.” I gave him a loonie.

  • Kevin R

    Flames are not going to initiate a darn thing, why should they. Just keep operating the way they are. It’s not that bad of a deal with the Dome, they still sell out & have waiting lists for season tickets. I see Florida teams like the Panthers & Canes playing in half full buildings. On the surface, it probably gives this pompous Mayor the feeling of having the upper hand on this hard line approach to the team. These Owners aren’t stupid, they won’t bring this up in public again. The company line of a new building is off the table, period. But they watch. They watch while other cities enjoy Grey Cups being played in new building of Cities that have them, other cities getting the NHL Draft hosted while Calgary gets snubbed for hosting these events. They watch the progress of our Calgary Olympic Committee as they bid for the Olympic games. The best thing that can happen for the Flames is if Calgary gets the games. Suddenly the Cities options get a little bit thinner when trying to juggle costs versus upgrading venues for the games when they are uncertain what the Owners intentions are with the franchise & the urgency starts to shift over to the City.

    Even if the Flames are recipients of Revenue sharing, one thing is for certain, they are making money & sharing revenue. The Owners can wait this one out indefinitely, heck 4 years is nothing, they may get lucky & the City wake up & get rid of this Mayor. I don’t see any urgency from the Flames, they make money, they have a good deal on a antiquated building, the league has a salary Cap & has controlled their biggest cost of doing business. If the City wants to bring a Private to build the arena, first thing they will ask, is, are the Flames going to be the anchor tenant? Going to be tough to answer when the Flames aren’t at the table & have no urgency to do so. Wonder who will have the upper hand then. Lots of moral of the story lessons are going to be learned when this is all done.

    • Justthateasy

      I completely agree. The Flames going to go on playing where they are right now and making whatever money they make. If they start to lose money they will cut costs.
      What grates my ass is the downtown library that cost 2/3 as much when we already have over 20 libraries across the city. This is nothing but a monument, a tribute to the legacy of this spendthrift mayor and Council.
      So what if the saddledome and McMahon Stadium are the oldest in the country!!
      What we need are competitive teams.
      Idiots Munchi and Baitman can both shove it.
      End of story.

      There you go. I’ve said what I really feel.

        • BlueMoonNigel

          The other day I overheard an 11-year-old boy at a local ski hill tell his parents that he dreamt of Calgary hosting the Olympics so he could kick some Norwegian and Russian ass in front of mommy and daddy. That’s a good enough reason for me to give thumbs up to Nenshi to hike my taxes so he can make a solid bid.

      • BlueMoonNigel

        Take that library out of downtown and yet another reason for people to not go to the core. Consider the number of folks who work at the downtown library plus the patrons who are there to do actual library business and those who are looking for a warm place to nap. Then you have to include the army of security staff who works there–reminds me of the old HK airport–plus the cops and EMS crews who average 5 trips there per day. That library is a going concern. That library keeps a lot of folks in the clover, in the know, in from the cold and in demand.

        • McRib

          You know who opposed Libraries…. Hitler. The alt-right are the new fascists it’s seems. Education is literally the best thing you can do for a society. I’m currently finishing an online masters and you can hardly even get in the door of any library in town they’re jammed to the gills from open to close.

  • McRib

    Bettman and the Flames are hilarious. YOU HAVE ZERO LEVERAGE!!!! No city in all of North America is willing to publicly fund an arena anymore. I spend A TON of time in the USA (fourth generation American) and Americans vehemently oppose public money going into arenas, far more so than Canadians. Everywhere else like Quebec, Houston, Kansas City, etc that they could go already have arenas owned by someone else (built using private money), so our ownership won’t get any of the profit sharing and are way better off to take the deal they have been given because they get 100% of profit sharing, plus Calgary is a Top. 15 market despite our ownerships propaganda to say differently. The moment Calgary leaves (they won’t because that would be a $300+ Million relocation fee, essentially the same amount the cities deal would cost them up front to build an arena with 100% profits) a floundering franchise like Carolina or Arizona would be here in a moment to take the cities deal (because it is a good deal and far more than the Flames would get anywhere in the USA).

    • class1div1

      Your opinion falls to piece’s with the “A floundering franchise would be here in a moment to take the cities deal” You need to remember that, right or wrong, our major also told the NHL to piss off.Why is it you think that this is just about propaganda from the ownership ? There are many dynamics involved here, that go beyond simple greed..

  • WillyWonka

    there was a time in m life when i organized much of my schedule in a way that allowed me to take in all the flames games, which i watched from beginning to end.
    those days are over. Now i PVR the games, might watch it later, might not. Some days I watch from the beginning, but just as likely to switch the channel when the Flames are down 1 or 2 goals.
    Two lock outs, the robbed cup in ’04 started to sour me, but Bettman coming up here and threatening us loyal fans with “consequences” if we don’t bend over and write a blank cheque and the ongoing postuing of King and Bettman have taken most of the rest of any joy or pleasure i got from watching this team. you try to stay tuned s you can really enjoy the team, the players, but the smell of the disingenuous comments from the league and ownership soil even this.