Bettman made the comments while speaking to media on Tuesday evening while in Calgary to attend the Flames’ first playoff game of the 2022 post-season. He suggested that he believes there is an urgency to build a new arena for the NHL team.
“If we’re going to hold any league events here, there needs to be a new building,” he said.
“I don’t think that comes as a surprise to anybody.
“I think it’s a priority for the City of Calgary, I think it’s a priority for the Flames, I think it’s a priority for the people that live in Calgary and want concerts and family shows in addition to NHL hockey.”
Bettman met with Flames ownership on Wednesday and an update on the replacement for the aging Saddledome was on the agenda, but the commissioner did not meet with city officials during his short trip to Calgary.
Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp said it was “encouraging” to hear Bettman’s comments about the need for a new event centre in the city.
Sharp, who chairs the city committee tasked with resurrecting the project, said she agrees that Calgary will miss out on major events unless a new arena is built, and remains optimistic the project can be done.
“I wasn’t surprised by any of the comments,” Sharp told Global News. “(I’m) optimistic and also grateful that we are talking about it at the NHL level and seeing that we want some progress there as well.”
According to Sharp, the next public update on the arena project will come on May 25 — the next scheduled meeting of the city’s event centre committee.
Sharp said she hopes it will be a “fulsome update” but added some details need to remain confidential.
“You have a committee that is so dedicated to making sure this happens and you have a city administration that’s very committed to making things happen,” Sharp said. “So, when you put that all together, great things will happen.”
The agreement between the City of Calgary and Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) to build the next home of the Flames officially came to an end on Dec. 31, 2021, with just weeks to go until construction was scheduled to begin.
Costs had ballooned on the project from its initial price tag of $550 million to $634 million between 2019 and 2021.
CSEC said at the time that there was no viable path to complete the project due to rising costs, as well as concerns with the infrastructure and climate costs attached to the development permit by the Calgary Planning Commission.
Since then, the City of Calgary has confirmed it has entered initial talks with a third-party facilitator which is tasked with determining whether Flames ownership is interested in re-entering negotiations with the city and finding other parties that may be interested in partnering on the project.
According to city administration, the name of the third party can’t be disclosed as there haven’t been any letters of agreement signed just yet.
Still, Bettman says he is “always optimistic.”
“Obviously there’s nothing going on right this second to report that would indicate that there’s going to be a solution immediately, but my hope is that everybody can figure this out.”
Despite that, there is hope that a deep run for the Flames in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs could make the prospect of a new facility more of a reality.
Moshe Lander, with the department of economics at Concordia University, said the playoffs could help improve the Flames’ bottom line after two years of lost revenues with no fans allowed to attend games due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s probably what pulled apart that deal at the last minute in Calgary, that the Flames realized that they lost out on 40-50, maybe as much as 80 home games of full capacity; and that’s the type of thing that hurts,” Lander told Global News. “This is the year then where they can make back some of that money and that might help them to bridge the gap a little bit that they opened up six months ago.”
Lander said home playoff games are “pure profit” for teams as player salaries have already been paid for the season given how the NHL’s deal works with organizations around the league.
“I think that once (Flames ownership) can imagine there’s going to be that steady revenue stream coming again, then they can say, ‘alright, how much of that revenue stream can we allocate towards the arena,'” Lander said. “That’s the thing that can close that gap on them.”
Since Mayor Jyoti Gondek was elected, Bettman said he has also had conversations with her about a new building, and added he remains “hopeful” that such a project will one day come to fruition.
Bettman also noted that while he believes the Flames’ arena may be due for a replacement, the one thing that isn’t in need of a tune-up is the fans.
“The fan level of enthusiasm and attachment to this team — the Flames — is always something that I marvel at,” he said. “I think the second night of our playoffs is showing that we’re off to a terrific start.”
The Calgary Flames kicked off their playoff run on Tuesday evening against the Dallas Stars.
Flames ownership did not respond to Global News’ request for comment.