|Maybe Winnipeg and Edmonton have it right. Instead of investing solely in a major league like the NHL, these cities have diversified and continue to deliver quality professional sports to local fans. They have teams whose players dont earn more in one game than most of us make in a year, and whose tickets dont cost an arm and a leg. When will Calgary get into step?
Local investors should consider bringing in an alternative level of professional hockey, for starters. Lets say a franchise to compete against the Edmonton Roadrunners and Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League. There are many precedents to prove it works.
For example, all three Prairie cities have long been home to successful Canadian Football League franchises. These are teams that many purists consider to be of lower quality than their National Football League counterparts in the U.S. That viewpoint may be true from an overall skill perspective, but in terms of entertainment and cost, its out in left field. For years, fans in Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg have been able to enjoy great football for $150 or less for a seasons worth of games. And dont forget, most CFL players earn five-figure salaries, like the majority of their fans. The National Lacrosse Leagues Calgary Roughnecks are also an example of players earning realistic salaries and providing excellent entertainment for a reasonable price.
In Winnipeg, they have the Goldeyes, a team in the independent, professional Pioneer Baseball League. In this low-pay league, fans also benefit with tickets ranging from $3 to $15. Not surprisingly, the Goldeyes also receive much local support. Now Calgary and Edmonton are going to serve as homes to teams in this league. For the Calgary Vipers squad, game tickets will range from $8.50 to $12.50 a ticket. This could be the right calibre of baseball to flourish in Calgary, which has seen other pro teams come and go for a variety of reasons.
But getting back to hockey, while professional hockey fans in Calgary often cant afford to watch games live, Winnipeg and Edmonton fans simply go to the rink. Tickets for the Edmonton Roadrunners begin at $14.50 and climb to $39 per seat. Tickets to watch a Moose game have a high end of $30 per seat and begin at $12. Cheap, no, but far more inexpensive than Flames tickets, which start at $25 for seats higher than the nose-bleeds and climb to $170 for a seat closer to terra firma.
Yes, the makeup of the cities varies. Edmonton and Winnipeg are more blue collar while Calgary remains a rich, white-collar (and white-Stetson) city. And the reasons Winnipeg and Edmonton have their American Hockey League franchises are quite different - Winnipeg because it had no money, Edmonton to try and save money. Winnipeg was squeezed out of the NHL in 1995-96 because it was too small a market for that leagues economic climate.
NHL owners in Calgary and Edmonton use this small-market argument to explain their "low" payrolls and the difficulties they face operating in a league of millionaires. Its just a matter of time before the Flames and Oilers franchises falter, regardless of when and how the contract with the NHL players is settled. If theres someone out there with big bucks to invest, pay a visit to Edmonton and Winnipeg and see how their pro teams, with lower player salaries and lower ticket prices, work. We need a hockey team like that here.