NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman went through Alberta last week, and along the way he made sure to suggest that the only way the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames could have any long-term security was if the cities coughed up money to help them build new arenas.
In Edmonton, Bettman sold not just franchise stability, but also appealed to the idea of revitalizing the city:
“This is the second-oldest building in the league, this is the smallest market in the league and if this team is going to have success long-term, they need a new arena, there’s no question about it. With the (current) lease expiring in 2014, people need to focus on the new arena. Having a new arena downtown in any city can be used as a opportunity to revitalize either a community or a region or all of downtown by having 200 nights or more (events) that bring people to an area, not just the arena, but an entertainment district.”
Bettman also said that the NHL would be happy to provide information about how a new arena can revitalize a certain area of a city.
In Calgary, Bettman hit upon similar notes and further appealed to the vanity of residents by talking about “world class” cities:
“Arenas have a certain shelf life. A new facility can be used to rejuvenate a certain area of the city that may not attract people on a regular basis. Cities that aspire to maintain their status as world class generally choose to invest in them because they are important to their citizens and important to a way of life… There’s an economic reality to what new arenas provide. If the Flames are going to continue to be successful and stable, ultimately they are going to need a new arena.”
The nice thing about the trip for Bettman was that he barely even needed to alter his tone as he moved from city to city. The speech was essentially the same; long-term stability, revitalize the city, etc. It’s the same speech he’s been giving for years, the same speech that people in Glendale probably wish they’d never listened to.
The fact is that arenas are not a cure-all, as the current situation in Phoenix shows all too well. They can help the economic bottom line of ownership, but in and of itself that’s not a reason for the public to build them.