Calgary Flames will move without a new arena, says Ken King

Calgary Flames president and CEO Ken King says the team will move if it can't strike a deal for a new arena.

"There would be no threat to move, we would just move, and it would be over. And I'm trying my level best to make sure that day never comes, frankly," King said during an interview on Sportsnet Fan 590 in Toronto on Wednesday. 

"If people smarter than us in more powerful positions than ours don't feel that we're a critical piece of the social, economic and cultural part of our city, then who are we to argue with that?"

Earlier this week, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the proposed CalgaryNEXT project in the West Village — which includes an arena, stadium and fieldhouse — is dead. King disagreed, saying the project is "resting."

On Saturday, Nenshi said in an emailed statement he is "confident that a new project that has public benefit for public money exists." 

"And I know both sides are working very hard on that," he said. "The owners of the Calgary Flames have repeatedly assured Calgarians that they would not threaten to move the team, and I assume that they have not shifted from that position. I plan to enjoy the playoff run while letting the conversations continue."

Council is looking at the possibility of building a new arena near the Saddledome in Victoria Park, and King said he's happy to participate in that process. 

Emotion over economics?

Threatening to move the Flames could be an effective tactic to convince Calgarians to part with their tax dollars, according to New York-based author and investment analyst Martin Fridson.

"It's emotion overriding the economic aspects of it," he said. "And that's what they're counting on. So I think it's a highly successful, highly effective tactic."

Fridson, who wrote about sports arenas in his book Unwarranted Intrusions: The Case Against Government Intervention in the Marketplace, said it's a poor use of tax dollars, but public opinion can be swayed by the possibility of losing a big league team.

"Losing something you already have is more powerful emotionally than not getting something that you didn't have but wanted," Fridson said.

"Here's a team, it's built up a following. It's got fans. They're committed to the team. They know all the players names … and now all of a sudden that's going to disappear. They personally feel diminished by that."

The estimated cost of the CalgaryNext project ranges from $1.3 billion to $1.8 billion, including cleanup of the creosote-contaminated land along the Bow River west of downtown. 

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