Calgary Needs .. #12: A New Arena. But Who Should Pay For It?

Father Son Florida Panther Hats

The tickets were $25 each, the hats were $30, and the popcorn featured unlimited refills. We didn’t have to pay for parking, and every single member of the concourse staff greeted us with a huge smile. Such is the experience when you go to a hockey night in Sunrise, Florida.

When we went to Florida for a week chasing animals on our winter vacation, one of the first things I did was check the Florida Panthers‘ schedule to see if the team would be in town. They had a Friday night tilt against the St Louis Blues during our stay, and so I started looking for tickets.

Florida Panthers Hockey

I had heard stories about how tickets in Florida go for a song, one of the deals around Christmas had $99 packages that included 4 tickets and hot dogs. While the lower bowl tickets were cheaper than Canadian NHL teams, they were still over $100 list.

So I dug into StubHub and quickly found a pair of upper bowl seats.

BB&T Center in Florida

I had season tickets for the Vancouver Canucks with a similar view a few years ago for triple the price we paid.

The arena looked like it was 40% full, there were upper deck sections that were completely empty and the lower bowl and scattered empty seats. It wasn’t the hollow experience I’d heard about, but the arena wasn’t full. Officially, the attendance was at 72% capacity on a Friday night featuring a tilt between two top NHL teams.  So that shows what I know about crowd estimates.

While the crowd felt sparse, the people who were there new their stuff. There were jerseys everywhere, and the fans cheered in all the right spots and even jeered former Panther Jay Boumeester whenever the current Blue touched the puck.

bbt center

Sure, the fans behind us were explaining the rules of hockey to a friend, but you could see that at any rink in the NHL.

When you go to catch a Florida Panthers game at the BB&T Center, park for free at Sawgrass Mills across the street. It’s a huge mall featuring outlets, restaurants, movie theatres, and more. While Zacharie and I went to the hockey game, my wife and Charlie stayed behind to watch a movie.

You’ll need to make a day of it when you go to a game, Sunrise, Florida is an hour northwest of Miami, and a good 40 minute drive from the dense populations lining the Atlantic coast. It’s on the edge of the Everglades, almost in the middle of nowhere.

bb&T Center

10 minutes from the arena, my sons and I chased alligators and turtles at the Sawgrass Recreation Area, the arena is in a terrible location.

But they put on a good show. The Florida Panthers are a fun team, the arena is bright, open, and clean. The tickets are cheap, the popcorn plentiful, and the service staff smiling the entire night.

CALGARY NEXT?

Which made me wonder what would happen if/when the Calgary Flames get the new arena they’ve been canvassing for.

I don’t disagree that Calgary needs a new arena, and a new stadium, and a field house. Our Saddledome isn’t equipped to bring in big events, the sight lines for the press level seats are terrible, and it’s more than 30 yrs old. By the time a new arena gets built, the old ‘dome will be pushing 40 and will be well past its prime.

Have a look over at the just about 60 yr old McMahon Stadium and it’s hard to make an argument agains the need for new facilities in Calgary.

But who should pay for it? We all saw what happened in Edmonton when owner Daryl Katz made subtle threats to move the team to Seattle. It worked and the Oilers will move into a new barn next year. The Flames haven’t been so bold, but they have been on the offensive with the Calgary Next proposal.

After tweeting about my experience in Florida, I was contacted by the team at Calgary Next. They invited me out for coffee to lay out the pitch about why the arena was needed, why the location was great, and how it would be funded.

It still didn’t add up to me. If this area is so perfect, this location so great, why wouldn’t the Flames gobble up all the land and develop it (again, as the Canucks did on a corner of their property).

The pitch is basically: we’ll pay for a bit of the arena and give you something awesome to build around making the City some money because other people will build around us. We’re a cherry on top, sprinkles will want to come.

I’m still not sold.

As a parent, when my kids see the next big shiny thing I often have to triage my decisions instantly into ‘need’ or ‘want.’  I agree we need a new arena in Calgary.

And, after seeing hockey in Florida in a big, bright, new arena, I’m a fan of the Calgary Next idea of a revitalized West Village with a stadium and arena at the hub.

But, as someone who saw an ownership group in Vancouver fund and build their own downtown arena, I lean towards insisting the Flames do it on their own.

What do you think?

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