THE Edmonton city council held its meeting that Oilers owner Daryl Katz declined to show up at yesterday, and voted unanimously to call a halt to all arena negotiations. The highlight was a totally awesome tirade by councillor Kerry Diotte, to wit:
“How can we even consider giving any tax money to a billionaire team owner when we haven’t seen detailed financials. That’s just not fair…”
“And we’re proceeding anyway to do a partnership with somebody and we don’t know how much money they make or lose? It’s ridiculous…”
“In Scottsdale [Arizona], when the Phoenix Coyotes first went there, they tried to sell [the city] on doing a deal without the financials and they told them to get lost. I suggest we do the same thing.”
For the record, Katz says the Oilers are currently losing money, while Forbes estimates they’ve averaged $11.3 million a year in profits over the last five years.
So what happens now? The Edmonton council also voted to direct the city to “explore potential avenues” and report back on “the status of the City’s current, transferable investments in a potential downtown arena project,” which the Edmonton Journal translates as “investigate the possibility of cutting the Katz Group out of the deal altogether, and letting the city finance, build and operate the arena on its own.” That’s unlikely to go well — even without Katz demanding a ridiculous lease, it’d be tough for Edmonton to make back the upwards of $450 million arena cost from arena revenues alone. But at least for the moment, the city is now asking the right question — “Can a new arena work for Edmonton residents?” — in place of the old one, “How high do you want us to jump, Mr. Katz?”
*Neil deMause is co-author of Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money into Private Profit, Revised and Expanded Edition (Nebraska Press, 2008) and runs the stadium-watch Web site fieldofschemes.com from which this article is reproduced.