Here’s what I would do if I were Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel. I’d call Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz into my office and tell him that if he thinks he can get a better deal by moving his underachieving, perennial non-playoff team to Seattle, then he should fill his boots. Oh yeah, and don’t let the door hit you on the rear end on your way out.
I’d call his bluff. And then I’d watch him squirm.
Sure, Daryl, feel free to take your team from one of the most devoted, patient and zealous fan bases in the world and take it to a place where you’d clearly be a No. 2 tenant behind basketball and have few revenues beyond the traditional hockey-related ones. Go to a place where your product would be way down the pecking order for the local sports fan and where fans would be far less forgiving of your team’s proclivity for finishing at or near the bottom of the standings.
Clearly, two can play hardball here. And it’s time the mayor and Edmonton city council went up to the plate and stood up to Katz. There was a time when he was seen as a savior for the Oilers, but it turns out he’s actually no different than that used-car salesman who peddled Wayne Gretzky and would occasionally use the good people of Hamilton to get himself a better deal in Edmonton.
As has been widely reported, Katz and his entourage were in Seattle Monday touring KeyArena and taking in a football game, all of which just happened to fall on the same day that Seattle city council accepted hedge fund manager Chris Hansen’s proposal for a $490 million downtown arena and the day Mandel set a deadline of Oct. 17 for Katz and the city to come to an agreement on their deal to build an arena and sports entertainment district in downtown Edmonton.
Of course, the city thought it had a deal with Katz on a cost-sharing deal to build a $450 million arena and real estate development a year ago. Surprise, surprise, but the costs have gone up to about $475 million and there’s still about $100 million for which someone needs to take responsibility before the whole thing can be built. The provincial government in Alberta didn’t turn out to be the patsies Katz and his group were hoping they would be, so now Katz is taking his mask and his gun and demanding more money from the citizens of Edmonton or he’s threatening to take his team somewhere else.
And this is where city council in Edmonton has a chance to show some spine and tell Katz that it is sick and tired of him jetting off to Hamilton or Quebec City or Seattle every time he doesn’t get what he wants. It can tell Katz that he’ll receive his $125 million from the city – and there are those who think it could end up being twice that much once the final bill and all the infrastructure needed for the building are tabulated – and that’s all. He can go out and raise the rest from his billionaire buddies or, gasp, go into his own pockets. If not, he can feel free to move his team wherever he wants.
Katz is counting on Edmonton city council caving and that’s why he’s shaking the city down for more money. But it would be interesting to see what he will do if he doesn’t get it. Nobody in their right mind truly believes he would leave Edmonton and the gold mine of revenues it represents. And if he follows through on his threat, then the people of Edmonton should run him out of town.
But if Edmonton ever lost its team, it would get another one sooner or later either via expansion or relocation. It happened in Minnesota and Winnipeg and might happen again in Quebec City. The moral of this story is that the NHL knows it can do well in a traditional hockey market where it is the biggest game in town. And so do a lot of other people.
Katz claims he’s losing money at the Rexall Centre, so his answer to that is for the city to kick in hundreds of millions of dollars for a new arena and entertainment district where almost all the revenues will go to him. Of course, being the civic-minded guy that he is, he’s only concerned with revitalizing the downtown core.
And there’s little doubt a spanking-new arena and real estate development would do just that, but how exactly does that benefit the people of Edmonton? Will it instantly make them richer and give them more disposable income to dump into the downtown? No, people will spend their money downtown instead of places such as the West Edmonton Mall. Big whoop.
So Mr. Mandel, here’s a free piece of advice. Tell Daryl Katz to take the deal he has or leave. The people of Edmonton have done their bit already.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.