This morning, while getting my morning coffee, I overheard a senior ranting to her friends about Mayor Stephen Mandel’s visit to New York City.
“Waste of taxpayers’ money!” she said. And she went on to say that if NHL commissioner Gary Bettman wants to facilitate downtown arena negotiations with Mandel and Oilers’ owner Daryl Katz, he should have come to Edmonton, rather than asking our mayor to head to the Big Apple.
She had an interesting point. After all, Bettman was in Winnipeg on Sunday for the Jets’ home opener. Why not make a pit stop here?
If you’ve ever been in a business negotiation, you know that having the home-field (home ice?) advantage is a big deal. But, in this case, no one is really sure what Bettman can do. He hasn’t invited Northlands — which wants to be paid for a no-compete clause — and he isn’t about to go around asking the other owners to help with the $100 million funding shortfall for the Edmonton’s downtown arena. They are too busy keeping the Phoenix Coyotes afloat.
And this is what gives our mayor and city council a heck of a lot of bargaining power. Katz does not have our city held to ransom. The fact that Bettman is asking to facilitate a meeting between the mayor and Katz can be seen as panic on the league’s part, not a show of strength.
Think about it this way: You are a businessman who has invested hundreds of millions in an NHL team. Seems like a safe investment. Then, a bunch of other NHL teams run into serious financial difficulties. The Phoenix Coyotes are available to the first warm-blooded bidder. The New Jersey Devils, as the New York Post reported, are allegedly in a financial mess. The St. Louis Blues are for sale, and the only offer to come in was much lower than the US$190 million threshold set by the current owners. The Islanders had their arena proposal rejected by Long Island voters and no one is really sure what the future holds for that team.
Basically, there’s a glut of NHL teams on the market. So, any threat of the Oilers relocating seems rather empty. If you were in the market for a hockey team that you wanted to relocate, why buy the Oilers when there are cheaper commodities available? If Katz wanted to sell the team now, he’s have to slap a “PRICE REDUCED” sticker on it like he was selling a house in Detroit. The only way the Oilers keep their value is if they stay in a hot hockey market — as in, right here.
And there’s another issue, of which council is fully aware. Katz’s prime business lies with the Rexall chain of pharmacies, not the Oilers. And there are a lot of pharmacies in Edmonton bearing that blue Rexall logo. If Katz were to move a team that regularly sells out its current arena, he knows that Edmontonians would stop shopping at Rexall. It’s happened before; when Edmonton (along with three other teams) wanted to merge into the NHL from the WHA in 1979, the move was originally rejected by a large number of NHL teams. Those objections came from the likes of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks and Montreal Canadiens. Fans in Edmonton joined a boycott of Molson products, as Molson was a major sponsor of the NHL and owned the Canadiens. The boycott forced the Canucks and Canadiens to change their votes.
And, if Quebecor boss Pierre-Karl Péladeau was to try and take the Oilers to Quebec City, my guess is that the Edmonton Sun, 24 Hours and the Examiner would also feel the wrath of angry Oilers fans.