News surrounding the Oilers proposed arena development has been coming fast and furious over the last couple of weeks. First, the Katz Group issued an ultimatum of sorts for a deal to be reached by the end of October, which also included a disclaimer on the $100M for surrounding development and included the purchase price of the Oilers as part of Katz's commitment to Edmonton This was followed by a bizarre email from Patrick Laforge to key supporters that wasn't exactly a "call to arms" but did encourage supporters to contact the City to voice their opinions. And finally word came late last week that Mayor Mandel would be travelling to New York City to meet with Gary Bettman who would help facilitate an agreement between the City and Katz Group.
For a number of reasons, I haven't supported the Oilers and the Katz Group in their quest to secure public funding for a new arena. In fact, I've found the manner in which the Katz Group has gone about the negotiation process comical as they have a City Council that I believe wants to help them and yet they can't seem to keep themselves from shooting off a toe or two every couple of weeks with a not-so-veiled threat to relocate the team or, as was the case recently, a strange and inaccurate email from the hockey team's CEO. But as bizarre as the process has been, that Gary Bettman is involved, well that just ups the bizarre factor to a whole new level.
To put it simply, having the Mayor fly across the continent to meet with Bettman borders on the ridiculous. He isn't now, nor will he ever be, a partner in any new arena in Edmonton. He doesn't, as far as I know, have $100M to cover the funding gap. He doesn't have any suggestions on a non-compete agreement with Northlands. Why, then, should he ever be in a room with the parties that need to get these things figured out? If his role is simply to help facilitate talks I would think that there would have been someone available in the Edmonton area who probably could have done the job of facilitator and wasn't also employed by Katz.
Remember, Bettman is employed by Katz and the other 29 NHL owners; he works for them, not the other way around. In theory his involvement may not seem like a terrible idea but with his employer being one of the parties in the room, he isn't impartial, and thus any value he has as a facilitator goes right out the window. Put yourself in a similar position: would you really be of any use to the process? Would you say anything that wasn't completely in line with your bosses wants or desires? Of course you wouldn't and neither will Bettman. He's not impartial in this process and therefore his role as a facilitator makes no sense.
But as if having Bettman in the room wasn't weird enough, word came out yesterday afternoon that Bill Daly will be joining the conversation today. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. The man who works for Bettman, who works for Katz. Considering that Bettman shouldn't be part of this process, then what exactly does having Daly in the room provide? If he isn't in charge of making sure everyone's water glass is full then I really don't know what he's doing there.
To up the whole process to absurd, Bettman has asked for a media blackout until the meetings are complete. That's a nice request but Mayor Mandel doesn't work for Bettman, he works for the citizens of Edmonton, the good folks being asked to hand over hundreds of millions of dollars to a billionaire. Considering the interest in the arena issue in Edmonton the Mayor should have issued a statement. He didn't have to provide a blow-by-blow recap of the meeting, just a short simple statement along the lines of "There was good dialogue today. I'll be bringing the rest of Council up to speed tonight, and we'll see how tomorrow goes." The statement itself doesn't really say anything but it avoids the impression that the Mayor is taking his cues from Bettman.
Again I'm not against having a facilitator get involved, especially with Katz's land options set to expire and Council seeing this as a priority, but that facilitator shouldn't be an employee of either party. If at the end of today there is an agreement in place on either of the outstanding items - the additional $100M or the ridiculous need for a non-compete agreement with Northlands - that sees the City investing additional money into this project it will have the distinct look of 30 NHL owners sitting down and bullying the City of Edmonton into a deal. I know some fans will be fine with a deal in any form, but that will leave a very bad taste in my mouth.