Calgary Threats All Too Typical Of The Arrogance In Professional Sports

Go jump in a lake! And I’m just being polite. What should be said merits much stronger language that can’t be printed on a blog without the risk of offending someone or committing slander and libel.

In the ending days of this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs we now hear the Calgary Flames threatening to leave the city if a new arena is not built to replace the Saddledome and soon. They will not “threaten to leave”, they say, they’ll just “leave” without any notice. The Saddledome ia 31 years old, the second oldest arena in the NHL behind Madison Square Garden which recently had a $1 billion renovation done to it.

If hockey wasn’t so loved by Flames fans, the proper response should be, “Here’s your plane tickets, and they’ve been charged to your account. Out on your fanny, as fast as you can go. We can live without you for 20 years and more, just like Los Angeles did without NFL football.” And, “You are right. The Saddledome does need replacing. But you build the new arena with your own money. Don’t expect we taxpayers to do it.” See if the Flames actually take them up on that stand.

I didn’t know that expensive sports arenas usually built by taxpayers and their governments were supposed to be replaced every two or three decades and paid for by the same taxpayer fans. But why stop there? If this a valid principle, it should be applied for everybody.

For instance when I lived in Canada, I dwelt in a beautiful house that was over 100 years old. If I come back, I want you to build me a bigger more modern one with your tax dollars. And Toronto’s CN Tower is now 42 years old and no longer the world’s tallest structure. It’s ancient by sports leagues’ standards. Rip it down and build something taller than the new king in Dubai. In New York, the Empire State Building was built in 1931 and got surpassed by the Freedom Tower. Let King Kong really demolish it this time and build something more fitting and taller on the site. The new Empire State Building. And for a project of replacing something old that is really challenging, how about tearing down that obsolete Great Wall of China that never did its job properly and replacing it with something like the Berlin Wall or the Hoover Dam?

In Calgary, we have the “Calgary Next” project on the table, a joint NHL-CFL arena-stadium complex that nobody really knows what the cost is. The official planners say it costs $890 million. The “realists” say it will cost more than $1 billion. It doesn’t even take into consideration if any new facilities should be also built to get an NBA team and a MLB franchise. Therefore politicians and taxpayers should take a long time to consider all aspects of such a mega-project. But the Flames and Commissioner Gary Bettman want it steamrollered mindlessly right away.

The Flames seem to be taking their cue from the NFL which recently deprived loyal fans in St. Louis, Oakland, and San Diego of their traditional teams needlessly instead of expanding the league. That’s the NFL way. Everything is okay until a “better deal” comes along. Then regardless of tradition, support, loyalty, money and resources that have been invested, strip a city of its franchise unless they can top the new proposal. If the Saddledome is too old, what is to be said of Fenway Park in Boston and Wrigley Field in Chicago? MLB seems able to live with such “old dumps”.

During the Obama administration, 45 million Americans (and uncounted Canadians) got unofficially classified as “poor”. Yet they are called upon to build sports palaces with their tax dollars for rich people which they can never hope to enter. In 1971, the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL built Texas Stadium, the first sports facility to have luxury boxes. In effect Dallas officially introduced privileged seating into sports facilities, an unspoken recognition of a social “class” system, that is supposed to exist only in Europe and Asia, but not in the United States, the land that the Declaration of Independence proclaims is free and equal.

Since then steps to take away professional sports from the “common fan” have increased without any barriers. Today there are sports arenas and stadiums with privileged seating. There are expensive ticket prices, in many cities that only corporations can afford. There is expensive sports merchandise that is exactly the same quality as ordinary merchandise except it has a team logo on it. There are expensive cable and pay tv packages. The CFL for instance is no longer available on free television.

The Calgary Flames stance comes from this arrogant, unrealistic sports world that has been built. A world where cities and taxpayers are routinely blackmailed. A world in which loyalty of a franchise to its city lasts as long as the old facility for which the team probably clamored to be built suddenly becomes obsolete in the eyes of its tenant, or a better deal comes along somewhere else. A world in which rich men with money to spare demand cities build new sports palaces for them for free while 45 million and growing struggle just to get an unemployment insurance cheque.

Of course when everything is kosher again and the taxpayers and their spineless officials give in and build a new facility with public funds, we’ll get the propaganda ads again. We’ll see the sports figures interacting with and giving back to the community. We’ll be glad to know that these role models can spare such crumbs for us. Because the few moments and crumbs that they do give probably are only a tiny morsel of what the communities have given to them.

 

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