September 25 2012 10:07PM
Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz doesn't give a crap about what people think about him. He's a billionaire. A BILLIONAIRE. I laughed out loud when I read a comment to that effect on Twitter last night. Alas, it's true.
As any all-about-the-number girl will tell you, there is no such thing as a millionaire who is ugly or fat or short or bald or who smells bad. Pick any deficiency you'd like, a big stack has it covered. Having never dropped my panties for a greasy, stubby-fingered troll with a thick wallet and a black card, I can only assume the same holds true, squared, for a billionaire.
Even allowing for that, the reality that monied people play by different rules than the rest of us do, Katz hasn't done himself or his efforts to strike a deal for a new downtown arena for the Oilers any favors with the way he's gone about his business since doling out cheques to the EIG to buy the team.
In fact, Katz couldn't have done a worse job of PR, of selling himself and his vision to the citizens and hockey fans of this city, if he tried. His latest gaffe, a stunt in which he showed up in Seattle with Kevin Lowe, Patrick LaForge and Wayne Gretzky in tow Monday – Katz can find his way to Washington but he can't or won't drive across town to meet with city council – was a not so subtle attempt to put a gun to the collective head of this city.
Whether Katz realizes it or not – he might be so detached from the hockey fans of Edmonton (he used to be one) that he doesn't care – what he actually did with that ill-advised photo-op in Seattle was stick the barrel of that one-shot gun in his own mouth. If Katz doesn't change his approach, and soon, if he doesn't figure out he's alienating huge segments of a fan base that is, or at least was, dying for a reason to get behind him, he might as well pull the trigger.
Jason Gregor wrote an insightful piece today about Katz's charade in Seattle and the implied threat that comes with it. While I don't discount the possibility the Oilers could move if Katz doesn’t get the deal he wants – I wrote about it here – I'm also of the mind he's looking for leverage to get a deal here. That's understandable. It's his method I can't, for the life of me, make any sense of.
Think back just five years ago, before Katz started cutting cheques to Cal Nichols and Bruce Saville and the rest of the EIG. Could there possibility be a better situation, more of an absolute godsend, for Edmonton hockey fans than having a local boy made good, a billionaire no less, ride to the rescue with his cheque book in hand? An Edmontonian. A billionaire who grew up watching the Boys on the Bus. How do you screw that up? Let us count the ways.
When Katz took over the Oilers he had a city full of hockey fans just waiting to get onside with him. He hasn’t fostered that. He hasn't talked to the people who buy tickets to watch his team play, who buy the jerseys – the same people who'd be lobbying their city councillors to stop dragging their feet and get this arena deal done now if he'd made even the slightest effort.
Is Katz frustrated at how this project has dragged on for years? Sure he is, and he should be. But he's had a big hand in that, both in the business end of the deal behind closed doors and publicly by way of his astounding inability and apparent unwillingness to at least attempt to get a passionate fan base lined up behind him. How tough, in this town, is that?
Instead of going that way, Katz pulls a page out of Peter Pocklington's Shit Show Negotiating book and rolls into Seattle. Now, he's got mayor Stephen Mandel declaring a deadline of Oct. 17 to get back before council. This arena project should have been a slam-dunk. It's anything but that now.
It should never have come to this, but here we are.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.