Not that it’s going to stop us making jokes about the “Seattle Flames,” or “Quebec Flames,” but I really hope that this latest relocation drama ends up being anything resembling a line in the sand for this whole new arena/franchise relocation mishegas that really should be a crime. You hardly need me to tell you that cities building new arenas on the backs of taxpayers for the benefit of billionaires for no apparent result other than the enriching of the latter is one of many despicable aspects of modern government and society. But that list has gotten so long now I feel like it benefits from hiding behind the other ones.
A quick recap if you don’t pay attention to things in southern Alberta (or as my Vancouver-native friend referred to it, “Fucking cowshit smelling fucking hellhole): The Flames have been angling for a new building for a couple years now, trying to replace the now 34-year-old Saddledome. It hasn’t gone anywhere, as Calgary’s mayor Naheed Nenshi has basically, rightfully told them to go screw. So last week, CEO of the Flames Ken King said they would no longer seek a deal with “this administration.”
Basically, he’s trying to influence the mayoral election that comes next month. While that’s sickening enough, most of us don’t really bat an eye at a multi-million dollar corporation trying to swing elections simply for their benefit. Our entire country is now built on the fucking concept.
But what I think Nenshi might realize, or hope that he does, is that cities should really no longer fear their teams moving away.
Yes, at first that sounds a tad callous. We know what the Hawks and hockey have meant or do mean to us in our lives, and at first the thought of that going on elsewhere is a jarring. But much like every other industry these days, sports too have become globalized and the definition of “local” is pretty hazy.
Take the Flames. While it’s pretty hard to nail down just how many season-ticket holders the Flames have, even if it was just about your average 10-12,000, that’s really only a drop in the bucket of people when you’re talking about a metro area of 1.3 million. And that’s if we assume that every season-ticket holder goes to every game. The Flames average ticket price is in the top half of the league, though that numbers is ballooned by high-priced premium seats. Tickets are pretty cheap in the upper tank.
But let’s say your average, non-season ticket holder goes to five-to-seven games a year. That’s not much to lose, when you really think about it. You would hope people could find something else to do for a week’s worth of nights (I mean I couldn’t, but if I’m representative of society we’re in bigger trouble than first thought).
And these days, your arena doesn’t have to be a five-minute drive away to follow the team. NHL Center Ice and NHL.tv mean that were the Flames to fuck of to the PNW or La Belle Province, their dedicated fans could still watch every game. This isn’t the Dodgers switching coasts and suddenly being out of the lives of everyone who loved them before. Ditto the Colts and Baltimore. Television wise, Calgary residents could watch the same amount of games they do now wherever the team is, whatever that number is.
Or, if such a move turned off those fans forever from the Flames, though it be anathema to them now, they would have the option of going completely turncoat on the Flames and planning one or two weekend trips to see the other team in Alberta live to get their live fix. Yeah, it’s a good three hours and I probably wouldn’t drive half an hour to spend anytime in Edmonton, but it’s an option.
While you would lose something of a “community” feeling without a team in town, some do replicate that online, at least partially. How many of you actually live around here? When we looked at this years ago we were pretty surprised at how many of you didn’t. Two of our new writers don’t live anywhere near here, do you doubt their passion? Again, it’s not the same as physically being around each other–though if you’ve spent enough time around hockey fans you know this isn’t always the most pleasant experience anyway–but it’s better than nothing. And I’m fairly sure a bar or six in Calgary would still be Flames bars where people could gather to watch the team, as they do now when they can’t get tickets or can’t afford them.
If the worst should happen, and the Flames decamp for elsewhere, I think the residents of Calgary, after the initial shock wore off, would realize they’re not missing all that much. The games would still be accessible if they wanted. Their fellow fans would still be around. There would still be plenty of places to talk about the team and sport. It wouldn’t be the same, but it well might be enough.
And the hope would be that if one city can finally say, “No,” to its sports teams and tell them to build it themselves or they can get fucked, maybe another one would find the courage too. After all, Seattle lost its beloved Sonics years ago, but it hasn’t fallen into the Puget Sound as far as I know. Life went on. While there are still fans angry and bitter, have their lives been truly altered? It’s eminently survivable.
Our teams, no matter where they are or where we are, are more accessible than they’ve ever been. I hope fans and owners soon learn that fully.