In the wake of Calgary’s ultimatum of possibly leaving if the 31 year old Saddledome arena is not replaced in the immediate future, it is good to remind these dwellers in the unreal world of professional sports and especially the taxpayers and (usually) their spineless governments who are called upon to provide most, if not all the funds for new sports facilities, which in many cases do not fulfill the dreams they are supposed to bring about, that in many instances, a huge waste results. Here is a partial list in both hockey and other North American sports of the terrible waste of capital and other resources to build the wrong sports facilities.
1. Montreal Olympic Stadium
The Olympics and their arrogance always want the grandest spectacle possible that usually lasts for the three weeks the games last. Especially to see on the first day, a group of athletes clad in their official attire walk behind two people, one carrying a sign with the country’s name on it and another carrying a pole with a piece of cloth on it which is deemed the symbolic flag of its country. For such a spectacle, the cost of the 1976 stadium was over $1 billion dollars. But after the games were over, most Montrealers decided they did not like watching the CFL Alouettes and the MLB Expos play in that facility. Today the Alouettes play somewhere else, the Expos are gone and probably won’t return until a new baseball stadium is built for them.
2. Toronto Skydome
It was overdue that Toronto get a new stadium in the 1980s. Both the Toronto Argonauts and the Toronto Blue Jays had dreams of playing in some better place. There was talk of getting an NFL team and the Olympics. And a few extra perks like a retractable roof were icing on the cake. If you are going to build something like that, you might as well go all the way. Fair enough. But for heaven’s sake, you choose the right design and build it right. In certain sections of the SkyDome upper deck, nobody can see if a fielder has caught a ball if it is hit to that part of the ballpark. You have to wait for the replay on the big screen to know. Then Toronto Argonaut fans decided they did not like watching football in the stadium any more than the Montreal fans did in theirs. Today the Argonauts play somewhere else. And plans for an NFL team and the Olympics went into the can when it was found out that the Skydome only seats about 50,000 people. A stadium that was built for over half a billion dollars is now only worth about $25 million.
3. Barclay’s Center
The New York Islanders play in the worst arena in the NHL. The arena has the second smallest seating capacity ahead of only Winnipeg. There is bad ice and still worse, 1,000 obstructive view seats for hockey. The Islanders despite having a competitive team cannot sell out the arena. Recently, Hartford sent them an open letter inviting them to move to a renovated XL Center where they would become the new Whalers. The very existence of the franchise in New York is at stake if they cannot find a suitable new arena.
1. Copps Coliseum, Hamilton
In the mid-1980s, Hamilton built a new arena in anticipation of NHL expansion. Everyone liked it and Hamilton played host to most of the games of the 1987 Canada Cup. The NHL announced plans to grow the league through the 1990s to becoming 30 or more teams. But during the first expansion in which Hamilton was a front runner, the potential bidder, Tim Donut did not like the NHL’s terms and wanted to renegotiate them. The NHL like all North American sports leagues refused to make any concessions and the new Hamilton team became a returned Ottawa Senators. Hamilton’s arena still makes money but did not fulfill the purpose for which it was built. The NHL continues to cold-shoulder Hamilton, thanks mostly to Toronto and Buffalo who want extensive compensation from a new Hamilton franchise. The Hamilton city council has offered to spend $50 million to upgrade the arena. The market is there, the arena is there but one of the two best Canadian markets without an NHL team still has no franchise.
2. Videotron, Quebec City
In 2010, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman issued three factors for the readmission of Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford which had lost their NHL teams two decades ago. They had to have a sufficient fan base, a proper NHL arena, and a suitable owner (No mention of a $500 million entry fee). Quebec always had the fan base, now they have the arena, but the NHL cannot abide the potential owner, Pierre Karl Peladeau who made many enemies on the NHL Board by his separatist politics, his obstructionist business practices, his inappropriate racial remarks about an NHL Board member, and his general untrustworthiness and unpredictability. No other suitable Quebec City owner has yet appeared, so an arena that the NHL loves, that has a fanatical hockey fan base, has no professional hockey tenant.
3. Sprint Center, Kansas City
This arena which opened in 2007 was built to get both an NHL franchise and an NBA team. But no investors for either a hockey or basketball team trusts the Kansas City market. The NHL has played exhibition games there which were either half full or a sellout depending upon who played. Other cities are considered well ahead of Kansas City for NHL and NBA expansion. The Sprint Center makes money like its counterpart in Hamilton but still does not have a professional sports team tenant that was supposed to be the main reason for it being built.
League Treachery And Arrogance
1. Dome Stadium, St. Louis
St. Louis opened a 70,000 seat domed stadium in 1995 to lure the NFL back to the city. There is nothing wrong with this facility and the Rams got good attendance. But St. Louis is not as big a market as Los Angeles, the second largest market in the United States. So when Los Angeles, which had snubbed the NFL for two decades finally decided to build a suitable stadium, the NFL immediately cooked up phony excuses and shifted the Rams back to where they came from. The Rams were soon followed by the San Diego Chargers and then Oakland was moved to Las Vegas. Both the Raiders and Chargers played in older stadiums which the arrogant NFL long hated and was only waiting for a “better deal” to come along to move the teams. Of course the NFL only had to expand the league and no city would have lost its team but that was never a considered policy of the most arrogant and ruthless sports league in North America which allows franchise shifts, sometimes on only the mere whim of a prissy billionaire owner. That extensive casualty list includes both Los Angeles teams, Oakland (twice), St. Louis (twice), Cleveland, Houston, San Diego, and Baltimore. It is also important to note that there were websites listing Minnesota, Jacksonville, and Buffalo as well as the three victim cities as other potential casualties. So much for fan loyalty, tradition, and local investment.
Wrong Location And Bad Product
1. Gila River Arena, Phoenix
13 years ago, the then Phoenix Coyotes were glad to move into this new arena, built especially for them in Glendale, Arizona. Today both Glendale and the NHL have publicly declared they are finished with each other after only 13 years. Each side claims that the arena is too far away from downtown Phoenix and Glendale further asserts that nobody is going to support a team that in truth has only produced one contending team for the Stanley Cup in its entire existence. Suburban Tempe turned down a chance to build a new arena. A bill to provide more public funding for yet another arena has come to nothing. An arena, only 13 years old now has no professional league tenant with the blessing of its community.
So Calgary and its taxpayers are fully justified in taking their time and closely examining any deal for any new sports facility including the joint NHL-CFL Calgary Next mega-project. In the fickle world of North American professional sports, the entire project could blow up in their faces leaving an immense bill to be paid that could be financially crippling. You only get one shot with these immense sports projects so you better take your time and get it right.
As for the Flames and their threats of moving, they should be showing cooperation, not unbridled arrogance. They are only saying what they are saying because of the fanatical devotion of their fans. As mentioned in a previous article, nobody is talking about leaving or tearing down the Empire State Building even though it is 86 years old. There are no complaints about old Wrigley Field and Fenway Park in baseball. Just what IS wrong with the Saddledome? What does it lack? It has never been completely spelled out. There were no complaints by the Flames 31 years ago.
This is just a power play, more of the arrogance from the unreal, greedy world of North American professional sports. Go ahead and leave Flames, if that is what you want. But Calgary without the Flames would not only be heartbreaking for their fans, but an embarrassment for the NHL. What does the league want, another Phoenix situation? There should be more answers and explanations on the table that are owed to the Calgary taxpayers. They are not a bottomless pit. Since when are arenas and stadiums “owed” to sports franchise owners? And since when does the public have to deal with blackmailers? If the Flames were to move, Calgary would be better off without such owners and its league.