Last year, I wrote this article. It did not go over well, but it is still relevant today.
“The Calgary Flames have a great support system that has remained patient through some difficult seasons lately, so it seems kind of weird to consider this franchise packing their bags and heading somewhere else. There is one factor, however, that makes such a move possible, and that is the home arena.
The dilemma was magnified when the Edmonton Oilers and Detroit Red Wings announced plans to replace their old and obsolete arenas. The Oilers have officially ended their history at the Rexall Place, which was opened in 1974, and will move into Rogers Place next season. Meanwhile, the Red Wings are one season away from departing the Joe Louis Arena, which was opened in 1979, and moving into the Little Caesars Arena.
This will make the Scotiabank Saddledome, the home of the Flames, the oldest arena that has not underwent a severe renovation. While Madison Square Garden, the home of the New York Rangers, is the oldest NHL arena (completed in 1968), it has had two full renovations that were completed in 1991 and 2013.
The Scotiabank Saddledome was completed in 1983 in order to give the relocated Atlanta Flames a sufficient home in Calgary and to host the 1988 Winter Olympics. It has been a successful venue for the Calgary Stampede, the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen, and the National Lacrosse League’s Calgary Roughnecks.
There is one small problem with the Flames, however. Unlike the other teams that share the venue, the Flames have to cope with the ever-changing adjustments to the ideal NHL arena. The Pittsburgh Penguins made one of the most technologically advanced arenas in the NHL, and they added touch screens in the luxury suites of Consol Energy Center.
Each added feature raises expectations for future arenas.
While the Flames have made some efforts to keep up with the ever-changing necessities (like the Avison Young Club), the building’s age has caught up with them. The heavily concave roof has limited the total arena space, and the one-level mezzanine set-up has resulted in many logjams getting from Point A to Point B (comparable to the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum). Also, the Alberta floods of 2013 did not help the arena’s reputation.
While there is the CalgaryNEXT project planned, it has not been confirmed, so other markets could be on the verge of asking for the NHL franchise. Seattle is the 15th largest market in the United States, and they have plans on building an arena that could spark the return of the SuperSonics and perhaps an NHL franchise. Also, Seattle would remain in the Pacific Division, which would prevent another crazy realignment (I am leaving Las Vegas and Quebec out for now because they might collect an expansion franchise).
Calgary has proven year after year that the atmosphere in the Saddledome is top-notch, but that can only do so much for a business when the arena is poor. With the Oilers and Red Wings making changes, the Flames could be playing games in the worst facility in the NHL in just a couple more years.
Time will tell how much leeway the Flames will get with their incredible fans, but the Saddledome’s age is quickly becoming evident. If a project is not started in the near future, then other markets, especially Seattle, will lick their chops in an attempt to bring the crazy hockey setting into their own backyard.”
Since then, Rogers Place has been a success if you ignore the ridiculous ticket prices that came with it. The Little Caesars Arena will host its first Red Wings game at the beginning of this season.
Unfortunately for the Flames, nothing has happened involving future plans for a new arena. In fact, they took at step back.
Flames President and CEO Ken King declared on September 12 that the team was no longer pursuing a new arena. Let the red flags fly.
This means that recent talks of building an arena in Victoria Park, which is where the Saddledome resides, is out of the picture for the near future. As of now, the Flames have no plans for what to do next, and things are looking very bleak.
The next opportunity for a positive update would be in October. Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi is looking to retain his position in October’s election, but there is no guarantee that talks of a new arena plan would resurface regardless of who is the mayor of Calgary.
This gives Seattle a chance to makes its claim. They have already talked about renovating the KeyArena, and as of September 12, Seattle and the Oak View Group have made an agreement to go through with a $660 million renovation of the 55-year-old arena. This renovation is going to begin in 2018 and be completed in 2020.
This means that Calgary may have just three years to get something together. Gary Bettman has not confirmed a Canadian team’s relocation to the United States since the 1990’s, but there is no denying that he is willing to do it again. If he takes an approach similar to Roger Goodell with the Chargers, Rams, and Raiders, then 2020 could easily be the deciding year of Calgary’s fate.
Hopefully the Flames and the city of Calgary are able to join heads and come up with better ideas for keeping the team in Calgary. Otherwise, the team’s fate may be very grim over the next couple of years.