It’s not exactly clear what page it falls on, but this is definitely in the playbook.
If negotiations aren’t going your way, and you want to show the other side just how serious you are, just up and walk away from the table.
That should get a reaction.
That’s exactly what Calgary Flames president Ken King did on Wednesday afternoon, with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman at his side, when he said the organization — which also owns the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders — was done in their attempts to get an arena deal.
This isn’t an unusual tactic in the posturing for public money for a new sports facility, but it seems like an extreme move given the timing.
We are less than five weeks away from a municipal election, an impending date that prompted mayor Naheed Nenshi’s campaign to announce a grand plan for a cultural hub in the east end of downtown. Ideally, Nenshi said, the development would include a new arena for the Flames. Of course, Nenshi said, the deal has to be good for all parties, especially the taxpayers.
But something Nenshi said raised a red flag: a new arena wasn’t crucial to his plan.
Something Nemshi said certainly set off the Flames ownership group, which instructed King to deliver the message that they’re done: no more trying to deal with this mayor and council.
They are taking their puck and going home, though where that long-term home is, exactly, remains to be seen. They will play out the string at the Saddledome, both King and Bettman said, and nobody knows what happens after that.
There are other curious things about the timing. It comes on the heels of news that Seattle is going renovate their arena and will seek both NHL and NBA teams. Hmmmm, what a coincidence: a team has issues getting public money for a new arena and there’s a city looking for a team. A perfect match?
The likelihood that the Flames ownership group pulls up stakes and moves seems unlikely though. They are rooted in Calgary, and they literally own sports in this town. Under the Flames umbrella: the NHL team, the CFL club, a pro lacrosse team and a WHL team.
What exactly will they do if they move or dismantle the top dog of the business? None of the secondary parts has enough value for any single owner to take over. The Stamps were privately owned for years, but it would be tough for someone to ride in on a white horse if the Flames decided to ditch them.
The ownership group originally proposed a development that would benefit all parts of the organization, but now the Stampeders are going to be left out in the cold regardless of what happens. The CalgaryNext project seems so far in the rearview mirror it’s hard to remember that plan was to put everyone in the West Village.
Let’s be clear though. Once the election takes place, and rational heads prevail — with some being new to the scene — there is a good chance a compromise is made. The fact remains though a new stadium for the Stampeders remains a long way off.
That deal will probably be just as complicated, and it’s a given the ‘fieldhouse’ won’t make it into any new arena deal that gets tabled.
What this becomes is a clear election issue. If one of the people running against the incumbent mayor decide to take the side of the Flames on the issue, there could be a real division.
Nenshi is betting that the majority of Calgarians do not want the city to bow to the Flames ownership group. Most people here would be excited for a new arena, just not at the expense of what makes sense for taxpayers.
Right now, we’re at an impasse.
The next part of the playbook would seem obvious though: a new council will be chosen, and negotiations will start again once campaigns have ended.
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