Could a new arena attract more major concerts to Calgary?

Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
11 months ago
It’s no secret that the Saddledome is old.
Opening in 1983, the Saddledome is the second-oldest building in the National Hockey League. The only older building is Madison Square Garden, a building that’s undergone several major renovations to the point where it’s a new building inside the older building’s shell.
A common justification for shelling out big bucks, both public and private, towards a new Calgary arena is that it will be a modern facility that has the ability to host fancy concerts that an older facility simply cannot. The Saddledome’s concave roof sure is pretty, but between age, the potential for snow load, and the increasing rigging requirements for sound, staging and lighting for big-time shows, it just isn’t up to snuff.
Here’s what Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation CEO John Bean said at the press conference to announce the new arena deal:
“This announcement will help us put Calgary and the province back on the map for major concerts. We heard from our friends to the north… that they were getting messaging that some of the big acts won’t actually come over the Rockies because they could only hit Edmonton, and if they could hit Edmonton and Calgary they’d come back. We were counting the number of concerts that weren’t coming here that were going to Edmonton, but we were missing counting some concerts that weren’t coming to Alberta, so we’re really excited about that.”
The “we’re falling behind Edmonton!” cries have been common for the past decade, but the comparisons to Vancouver are fairly new. But are they reflected in what’s generally happening?
We decided to check the data, looking at non-sports events from the events listings at ConcertArchive.org. We wanted to compare the four western NHL markets: Vancouver (Rogers Arena), Edmonton (Rogers Place), Calgary (Saddledome) and Winnipeg (Canada Life Place, Bell MTS Centre at the time). We focused on the three pre-pandemic years to look at broad trends.
Rogers Arena46384041.3
Rogers Place44263936.3
Bell MTS Centre21263025.7
Rogers Arena also hosts the NHL’s Canucks and the NLL’s Warriors for about 50 dates per year. Rogers Place hosts the NHL’s Oilers and WHL’s Oil Kings for about 75 dates per year. The Saddledome hosts the NHL’s Flames, WHL’s Hitmen and NLL’s Roughnecks for about 84 dates per year (and now host the AHL’s Wranglers, but didn’t at the time). Bell MTS Centre/Canada Life Place hosts the NHL’s Jets and AHL’s Moose for about 79 dates per year.
So broadly-speaking, Rogers Arena is the busiest building, averaging 41.3 non-sports events (and around 91 when you factor in sports). Rogers Place isn’t far off for non-sports events at 36.3, and it’s actually slightly busier than Vancouver’s building when you add in sports, totalling around 111 dates per year. Winnipeg (25.7) and Calgary (23.0) are neck-and-neck when it comes to non-sports events, but overall the Saddledome is slightly busier than Winnipeg’s barn, at 107 dates to 105.
But this doesn’t address Bean’s contention about the types of concerts or shows that hit Alberta… or don’t.
We spot-checked the acts that played Vancouver’s Rogers Arena in 2017. Of the 46 dates taken up by non-sports acts, 19 dates were played by acts that didn’t hit Calgary or Edmonton that year. Among those acts: Ariana Grande, Snoop Dogg, The Weeknd*, John Legend, Shawn Mendes, J.Cole, Neil Diamond, Bruno Mars*, Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar, Tom Petty, Zac Brown Brand, Janet Jackson and Jimmy Buffett. (*-The Weeknd hit Edmonton on a second tour in 2017, while Bruno Mars did three shows in Vancouver, two in Edmonton and zero in Calgary.) But that still leaves about a dozen acts that hit Vancouver and Edmonton and skipped Calgary altogether.
Generally-speaking, the thought process behind a new building is two-fold: a new building would draw more concerts to the new arena than the Saddledome, but it would also upgrade the type of shows that would be drawn – and the ticket prices that can be charged for more premium events. That’s essentially what’s happened in Edmonton; Rogers Place is slightly busier than Rexall Place was during its final years of operation, but it’s also drawing bigger acts who can command higher ticket prices.
So if you’re interested in the “keeping up with the Joneses” conversation, Bean’s claims about concerts not hitting Calgary (and sometimes also Edmonton) that are going to Vancouver are supported by the available data.

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