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With new Calgary Flames arena deal dead, what comes next?

With a new Calgary Flames arena deal officially dead, the future of the team at the Scotiabank Saddledome–which is literally falling down–is now under debate.

Lots of things are under debate, actually. A little background: On Dec. 21 Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (“CSEC”) pulled the plug on a deal with the city for a new arena, as rising costs and an expansion of the arena plan by the city caused CSEC to halt the project: “the City and CSEC have been unable to resolve a number of issues relating to the escalating costs of the Project.” When the agreement for a new Calgary Flames arena was reached in December 2019, the funding was split 50-50 between the city and the Flames owner. But with the city adding more conditions to the project, such as infrastructure and climate costs, and then telling the Flames to cover these costs, the owners decided to take a hike.

And halting the project will have some real-world consequences for both the team and city residents. The deal between the Flames and the city for a new arena was the centerpiece for a larger Victoria Park development, and much of that plan now appears to be on hold as well. And while no one is openly raising the possibility that the Flames will leave Calgary, there are definitely some issues that need to be addressed.

For starters: the physical condition of the Scotiabank Saddledome, which opened in 1983 as new home of the Flames. It can’t go on as it: a new roof alone could cost up to $200 million, with the current roof in bad shape (pieces are falling down, leading to the installation of netting below the ceiling). Financially, the Flames are not in bad shape; Forbes estimates the team generates $71 million in annual revenue, ranking #18 in the NHL in the 2021-2022 listings, just below the Vegas Golden Knights and just above the Minnesota Wild. The Flames have not yet raised the specter of leaving Calgary, but perhaps that will change; one issue is that there doesn’t appear to be any billionaires seeking an NHL team; COVID-19 seems to have halted talk of Houston, Quebec City or Kansas City investors working for a team.

Rendering from October 2021 courtesy Calgary Flames.

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