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The Arena Debate - Everyone Has Been Here Before

Photo By Heimokramer (Own work) [GFDL] via <a href="" target="new">Wikimedia Commons</a>
Photo By Heimokramer (Own work) [GFDL] via Wikimedia Commons

Over the course of the last week, I've received three e-mail complaints concerning the Edmonton Oilers' proposed arena debate and The Copper & Blue's silence on the issue thus far. Why haven't we published anything on the issue, even an opinion piece? Is the silence an editorial directive? Do we fear the team's reprisal if we take the con position? How could we ignore an issue so important to the future of the team?

The silence is not an editorial directive, the writers here are free to write on any topic they'd like. The reprisal question is just silly, given the multitude of articles critical of the organization published here over the last three years. As to why we've ignored an issue so important to the future of the team, I can't answer for my colleagues. I, however, have ignored the issue because because it's been a foregone conclusion for a very long time.

A new municipal or government-funded arena has been assured since June 18, 2008 - the day Daryl Katz was approved by the NHL as the buyer of the Edmonton Oilers. That same day, Northlands lost their partial ownership in the Oilers. From that day forward, it didn't matter if it was Daryl Katz, Rowdy Yates, or Bill Gates buying the team, the Edmonton Oilers were getting an arena.

Everything that's happened since, the propaganda, the negotiations, the grand tours, the pitches, the council hearings, the media, the arguments -- it was all pre-ordained. This same exact dance has happened hundreds of times accross the continent in the last 40 years, from 8,500-seat minor league baseball parks and 18,500-seat soccer stadiums to vacant 17,700-seat hockey arenas and 67,000-seat football meccas. Each time, an extremely wealthy owner or ownership group steps forward and unveils (typically with a press conference and a very fancy scale replica of the future area) a grand plan for an arena or stadium replacement, a plan that involves millions to hundreds of millions of dollars from various levels of government coffers, with little or no government control over the money nor the ongoing revenues. The plan is backed by the promise of billions of dollars of private capital by way of real estate development around the new facility and millions of dollars of tax revenues through a revitalized neighborhood, restaurants, and parking. Every once in awhile, a local government will reject the proposal and hold firm, rejecting the entire thing from start to bitter finish, but those governments are exceptions to the rule.

The typical response is to begin the long, slow negotiation process between an exorbitantly wealthy man and a group of marginally powerful politicians. There are lunches, hearings, interviews, debates, and rallies, all in the name of "public good". Pump enough government tires and the world is your oyster.

When the process doesn't move quickly enough, the owner threatens to keep the team in the area, but move it to an area run by a different group of marginally powerful politicians. When that fails, the owner threatens to move the team to another city, a city willing to build a stadium perfectly suited to the owner's wishes. Even though owners have openly admitted that such threats are merely a ploy, they work so often and so well that every owner uses the exact same threat. It's that final threat that moves the process along as cities cave and grant each of the owner's wild requests and construction starts forthright.

All of this was decided for Edmonton and the Oilers before the first public proposal and request from Katz and the Oilers. There's no way to avoid it - the Mayor and Council didn't come out against it like in Seattle or on Long Island - because there is no political will to do so. Couple that with widespread media support and an in-your-face campaign by the team and there's nothing anyone can do to stop it.

So you see, it's not that I'm ignoring this very important issue to the future of the Edmonton Oilers, it's that I just don't care. It was set to happen since the day Katz bought the team and it's going to happen no matter what, and everything written for and against, each debate about it, the shouting and yelling -- it's all wasted energy.