Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Oil Spill: Cleaning Up Edmonton's Hockey Franchise

The Edmonton Oilers haven’t been relevant for quite a while. It has been more than 20 years now since former owner Peter Pocklington allowed LA Kings owner Bruce McNall to have a little chat with Wayne Gretzky during his honeymoon, convincing him (and his wife) that a move to Hollywood was is Gretzky’s best interest. Late in the summer of 1988 the Oilers exiled Gretzky from the Great White North and with him, an era that included four Stanley Cups in a 5 year span. Since then the Oilers have had their moments but for the most part have been mired in mediocrity. New Owner Daryl Katz is hoping to change all of that.

According to the Sports Business Journal, the Oilers are negotiating a contract with an “internationally renowned” architect who will design a new hockey arena that will be the gem of a new downtown entertainment district. Whoever the architect is (the Oilers won’t name names until the deal is final), the article makes it obvious is obvious he or she is not someone familiar with designing sports arenas, so it should be a pretty interesting building.

Along with this famous architect Katz will hire two other partners to help with the design. This will include a group based in Denver who DOES have experience with sports arenas as well as someone local to make sure Alberta building codes are being followed. It looks as though this operation will get pretty expensive. Early estimates place costs at $450 million for the arena with an attached practice rink and another $100 million in additional costs to develop the surrounding area. L.A. Live, the Arena District in Columbus and the Gaslamp Quarter near Petco Park in San Diego have all been looked at as templates.

To date, no public funding has been approved to subsidize construction. This is very refreshing since in other sports, teams are constantly screwing with their books to show loss where there is profit in order to cry poor and garner tax dollars to help them build their palaces. Included in this area will be hotels, condominiums, restaurants and nightclubs, office towers, and student housing supporting three local colleges.

Typical Oilers Fans

Time will only tell whether or not a new stadium will help turn around a franchise with a rabid fan base hungry for a winner. Studies have shown that a new baseball stadium creates what has been coined as “the honeymoon effect” which increases attendance by as much as 37% in the first year of a new stadium’s life. I don’t know if the Oilers are selling out, and I understand that differences between baseball and hockey may alter that increase substantially, but it certainly won’t hurt. With that extra revenue, a couple good young players (they had the #1 pick in the draft this past year and will probably have a high pick again), and they easy ways you can circumvent the NHL salary cap, the Oilers can give their fans the competitive team they deserve sooner rather than later hosers.

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