NHL Notebook: Construction on Calgary Flames’ new $1.2-billion arena to begin 2024 and potential NHL expansion in near future

Photo credit:Scotiabank Saddledome
Aleena Aksenchuk
6 months ago
After years of striving for a new arena, the Calgary Flames are getting their wish, as the finalized agreement for the new event centre was confirmed Thursday.
The finalization for the arena was made public as Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek, members of the Calgary Flames organization, as well as public officials like Premier Danielle Smith were on hand Thursday to announce ground would break in 2024.
The arena is set to replace the fading Scotiabank Saddledome, constructed in 1983, located in the southeast end of downtown Calgary. Its successor will not only house a prestigious NHL-standard rink but will also feature a community rink, additional parking, transportation and infrastructure improvements, and street-level enhancements around the building. The area will be positioned next to the Saddledome and is expected to be ready for the 2026-27 campaign.
In terms of financing, the Flames will shoulder $356-million of the total $1.22-billion cost of the new structure. The Alberta government will contribute $330-million, and the city of Calgary will cover $537-million and any other additional expenses.
The new arena is designed to accommodate around 18,000 to 18,400 fans, a step down from the 19,289 the Saddledome oversees, which peaked at its highest capacity of 20,230 in the 90s.
Along with the arena comes the 35-year commitment the Flames have made to stay in Calgary.
“I think it’s important for Calgarians to be able to root for their home team knowing they’re going to be sticking around,” Gondek expressed.
The Saddledome has been home for not only Flames fans, but also the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen, and the National Lacrosse League’s Calgary Roughnecks. The iconic venue has seen a handful of exemplary events that include: the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, the 2012 World Junior Championship, the 1988 Olympic Winter Games, and the women’s curling championship the Tournament of Hearts in 1995, amongst many others. The area will be demolished at the province’s cost as Dreeshen noted it would be the “final piece of the puzzle.”
The Saddledome ranks as the second-oldest NHL arena next to Madison Square Garden in New York.

NHL looking to expand to 33 or 34 teams in near future

Growing the game is always a grand topic of discussion across various leagues, and for the NHL, it might be a discussion that is closer to actualization than anticipated.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman indicated that the league is actively exploring expressions of interest in expansion, and appears to be on board with the idea. However, following Wednesday’s annual preseason Board of Governing meeting, he emphasized that the league is not ready to open a formal expansion application process just yet.
“We aren’t there yet, and it’s just an expression of interest. As you all know, I take meetings all the time on a variety of subjects, so if someone wants to talk, I’ll talk to them.”
According to Daily Faceoff‘s Frank Seravalli, Bettman noted potential interest from places like Houston, Atlanta, Quebec City, and Salt Lake City.
Even though there is a ‘matter of when, not if’ mentality swirling around the hockey world, potential candidates must keep in mind a crucial checklist of considerations before creating a formal application: market size, arena, hockey-suitable building, ownership stability, and other requirements that the current interested parties have yet to meet.
In terms of Houston looking to expand their sports horizons to become a part of the NHL landscape, they seem to align well with the circumstances of the Arizona Coyotes, particularly if owner Alex Meruelo is unable to secure an arena in the Phoenix area. Servalli also noted that Bettman said the Coyotes are unrelated to future expansion.
“I think they are incomparable to each other,” Bettman said. “They are on different tracks. We remain optimistic that Alex Meruelo will be able to get a building going in the not-so-distant future. I know he’s trying hard, so we will see where things are come February.”
With the topic now firmly in people’s minds, the subject of expansion fees has come to the forefront. In 2020, the Seattle Kraken signed a cheque for $650 million in expansion fees, and more recently, the recent sale of the Ottawa Senators saw Michael Andlauer and his group signing off on a reported $950 million. This information sets the stage for the next wave of NHL expansion fees to potentially reach into the billions.
Only time will reveal when the right owner saunters along, and slaps down a hefty investment, with the right markets, a top-notch arena, and the idea to expand the NHL. If the league does find a suitable owner and place for the job the league will become the world’s first 33-team professional sports league.

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