Rexall Place has been home to the Edmonton Oilers since 1974, but has not always been called "Rexall Place." (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
Just checking here. Wondering how long it took you to roll your eyes into the back of your heads when Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz made his public plea for taxpayer money for a new playground.
For me, it was shortly after Katz was described as a “pharmacy billionaire.”
Give Katz credit, though, he looked very sincere in the designer suit that is standard issue for guys of his ilk. He acknowledged that his ownership group has been guilty of some serious public relations gaffes, but assured Edmonton city councillors that, “our hearts are in the right place.”
How nice. Now if you can just find out where your checkbook is, everything will be fine.
Those who have reacted with outrage that the Phoenix Coyotes are looking for all sorts of tax concessions from the City of Glendale to prop up a money-bleeding team that nobody watches should be no less indignant that the Oilers are now going to their taxpayers with cap in hand.
Discuss amongst yourselves whether or not public money should ever be used to build arenas for professional sports teams, but regardless of where your opinion falls, this is ridiculous. After all, this isn’t exactly the days of the Edmonton Investors Group here, a group of civic-minded business people who kept the Oilers alive during the lean years. This guy is a frickin’ billionaire who owns a team that sells out every game.
I’ve always found it incredibly amusing how captains of industry generally want as little government in their affairs as possible, except when they need money from the public purse. A new rink in downtown Edmonton would cost somewhere between $400 million and $450 million and Katz’s group wants the hardworking people of Edmonton to put up north of $200 million to build it.
And what does Katz get in return for the city of Edmonton basically financing the rink and taking all the risks in owning and building it? Hey, he’s not asking for much, just that the Oilers pay minimal rent and get virtually all the revenues out of the building, both hockey and non-hockey related.
Geez, you’d think the taxpayers would be lining up to get in on a deal as appetizing as that one. After all, if they hand over their money, Katz has already agreed to put his mask and gun away and pledged to keep the Oilers in Edmonton.
And it’s not as though Katz isn’t willing to do his part. He’s prepared to put up $100 million of his own money to build the rink – a promise he made when he bought the team, then rescinded, then offered again – as well as $100 million toward a $1 billion downtown revitalization project. But what really rankles is he pointed out to the Edmonton city council that, along with the $200 million he spent on the team two years ago, that puts his investment up to a whopping $400 million.
Whoa, cowboy, wait a minute here. You’re lumping your purchase of the team in with your investment? If memory serves, the Edmonton Investment Group wasn’t keen to sell the team until you came along with your checkbook a couple of years back. In fact, didn’t EIG chairman Cal Nichols refer to your attempts to buy the team as “a hostile takeover”?
We’d have to think you did your due diligence on the Oilers’ financial situation before you agreed to spend $200 million on the team. And if you get the money to buy the rink and ever sell the team, we’re taking a wild guess here, but we’re willing to bet you won’t be sharing the profits from the sale with the people who gave you the arena money in the first place.
The Oilers play in an antiquated rink that needs to be replaced. We get that. Katz is losing millions of dollars each season because the Oilers are the only team in the league that doesn’t get non-hockey revenues from its building. We get that, too.
So if that’s the case, round up some investors from the private sector or put up the money yourself and build a rink. Then you can run it as you see fit and keep all the money from the Oilers and the Toby Keith concerts and the Barney the Dinosaur figure skating shows.
Asking the city to put up the money and get paid back by adding a tax on Oilers tickets and on the increase on property taxes from the new buildings in the area all sounds so simple. But who exactly do they think will be paying those taxes? Yup, the very people who gave the Oilers the money in the first place.
If Katz needs a new rink, let him pay for it himself. Anyone who can afford to give Shawn Horcoff $5.5 million a year to be his No. 1 center for the next five years can find a way to build a rink without hosing the taxpayers.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears regularly and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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