Staples: We hated Katz’s threat, but it’s good that he said it
There will be no progress on arena deal without open dialogue
EDMONTON - Edmontonians hated the threat that Oilers owner Daryl Katz delivered with his trip to Seattle and his followup news release that stated it’s prudent to explore moving the team if a deal can’t be worked out on a downtown arena.
At once, the anti-arena faction scoffed at Katz. They claimed he’s bluffing, that there’s no way Katz would ever leave such a fine hockey market as Edmonton, that this is about grinding dollars out of a gullible public and pliable city council.
But Katz’s trouble isn’t just with those who have never supported a downtown arena deal and never will. It’s with those city councillors and private citizens who have supported the downtown arena project and/or who love the Oilers. This group exploded with outrage on Twitter and talk radio.
As a result, the arena deal today is a big, ugly, stinking, collapsing mess.
But thank goodness for that. It’s about time. Not a moment too soon, either.
This arena deal will go nowhere unless the Katz Group starts saying in public what it’s long been saying in private, even if Katz’s message is profoundly unpopular at times.
To get a deal, the Katz Group has to win public support, and there’s only one way to do that, by actually having an open dialogue with the public. Maybe you can build a business empire by taking over a dozen drugstore chains in private negotiations, but nobody gives a hoot about drug stores and the public isn’t being asked to pay anything in those deals.
A different approach is required on a downtown arena deal. Right now, not even the staunchest supporter of a downtown arena on city council knows what the Katz Group truly needs to make a deal. This has left them in an impossible spot. Why would they fight for a deal when they don’t know what the deal is? They can’t support thin air.
Of course, the Seattle threat was a risky step for the Katz Group. Katz has now damaged a compact that existed between him and his most important supporters, Oilers season ticket holders. The compact went like this: if you fans have patience, if you support the Oilers in down times when the team is losing, this will give management time to rebuild the team properly with the high draft picks that come with finishing low in the standings.
Edmonton fans took up this deal by filling Rexall Place even as the team bottomed out three years in a row. But the Oilers are now loaded again, having drafted first overall picks Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov.
For Katz to now suggest that all bets are off with the future of the team in Edmonton when his lease at Rexall is up in 2014 is a slap in the face to the Oilers faithful.
But, at the same time, this is the real Katz we’re finally seeing here. He’s no Oilers saviour, no hero of the city, just a guy looking out for his own interests. If you had him on a pedestal, you were wrong to put him there. Better that he speak his mind so we know where we all stand.
And, yes, maybe Katz is bluffing, as Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux made clear he did to get an arena deal in Pittsburgh. “It wasn’t a possibility,” Lemieux told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review about his threats to move the team. “We had to do a few things to put pressure on the city and the state, but our goal was to remain here in Pittsburgh all the way.”
Katz could be doing exactly the same thing here. Or it could be that Katz would get so ticked at Edmonton and enticed by another city that he’d sell or move the team.
My take? Edmonton is a strong hockey market, but it hasn’t always been so, and it might not be down the road if the local economy again tanks. This is something Katz must factor into his thinking on a deal that is to stretch for 35 years.
But to make his case, Katz must first open up his books to city council’s main negotiators. Once city council has a better idea of where the Oilers stand financially, the Katz Group must come before city council and make its case in public.
What does the Katz Group need to proceed? We all need to know, the sooner, the better.
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