All Habs has a transcription of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's interview with Ron MacLean last night on CBC. The topic of conversation, of course, is the Phoenix Coyotes/Jim Balsillie saga, and it's well worth reading, particularly when the subject of public financing comes up:
MacLean: So here you have that free financing, let’s be honest.
Bettman: What free financing?
MacLean: 20 years, 20 billion dollars has been spent by taxpayers in North America to build 60 arenas and stadiums, right?
Bettman: I don’t know what the number is.
MacLean: That’s the report in the book out of the caps (?) business school in London, that’s the most recent book. Paychecks and checks, something like that. You can look into it. It’s 20 billion over the last 20 years. You know that free financing exists, correct?
Bettman: I’m not exactly sure what you’re talking about.
MacLean: Here’s an example. The Minnesota state legislature has just waived a $32 million to $48 million loan, the state, to the city of St. Paul to build the Xcel Energy Center, right. Now the city gets that 32 waived, the millions they owe the government, the state government, now they’re turning around and building Craig Leipold a 4,000 seat practice rink. So that kind of financing goes on, the beneficiaries are the owners and the players...
Bettman: Meanwhile Rob Bryden had to build his own exit ramp to what was...
MacLean: I’m not saying Canada’s gone along with it, that’s the United States mainly.
Bettman: Actually, Canada has a history of not spending taxpayer money on infrastructure improvements. It’s probably one of the reasons that Quebec and Winnipeg moved because there was no prospects of a new building, and at that time I didn’t want to see those teams move, but we reached the point that nobody wanted to own a team in those markets anymore. That’s the difference. We think there are people who want to own a team in Phoenix.
This difference between Canada and the US, this willingness of American taxpayers to subsidize arena construction and franchise operations, plays a huge part in making American cities more attractive as NHL markets. Interestingly, Jim Balsillie's plans for Hamilton include the government ponying up the money for the bulk of renovations to Copps Coliseum. While the politicians are all on board right now, who says that's likely to remain the case once the bitter reality of fund-raising begins? This comes from Joe O'Connor at the National Post:
He was even going to fix up the arena, and foot the bill. Or so it was assumed, until the Hamilton Spectator reported on Tuesday that Balsillie and his public relations machine neglected to mention that he would front some of the cash to begin transforming the Hamilton city-owned Copps Coliseum into an NHL worthy facility if, in the words of Balsillie spokesperson, Bill Walker, who spoke to the Hamilton Spectator, the Steel City was willing to "work with the upper two tiers of government to seek infrastructure funding."
So, Hamilton gets an NHL team, but Ontario taxpayers, and Canadians from sea to shining sea, would be expected to fund a reported $120-million renovation. Earlier in the week, an Environics poll indicated that 69% of Canadians supported the Balsillie bid to bring the team formerly known as the Winnipeg Jets home. But the poll made no mention of Joe Canuck having to pay for an arena's refurbishment in the middle of a recession that, depending on who you talk to, is going to get worse before it gets better.
What do you think of the Balsillie gambit now, Joe Canuck? The billionaire has put his money on the table, and it would appear to be your turn to ante up.
Here, perhaps, is where the "Make It Seven" PR campaign has its ultimate target. Even if Balsillie can win his legal fight to obtain and relocate the Coyotes, he may have a tougher battle convincing Canadian taxpayers to spruce up Copps Coliseum for him.