Let’s cut through the sports angle and put in plain terms exactly what’s happening here:
A massive, multinational company is inserting itself into Calgary’s mayoral election, attacking an incumbent whose policies are preventing said company from obtaining hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer handouts, and overtly threatening citizens that unless they vote the way the company wants, they’ll leave town.
Oh, and about all of this, Gary Bettman has the gall to say, “I don’t weigh into politics.”
That description above is, of course, the fundamental conflict at the heart of the entire stadium financing scam, where teams and leagues demand public money for their private business while functionally extorting taxpayers and elected officials with the threat of relocation. But rarely has it been so blatant as this.
Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi has led the opposition to the Flames’ demands for a new arena, so the NHL has targeted him as its main obstacle to getting the city to make a deal. With Nenshi up for reelection on October 16, the Flames and the NHL have taken their negotiations public, with an unmistakable message to Calgarians: Vote him out or we’re out of here. Earlier this month, Bettman, flanked by Flames CEO Ken King, announced that fans “need to make your voice heard if you think the city is moving in the wrong direction.”
Here’s Bettman describing previous talks with Nenshi:
“When I was with the mayor on March 15, he was describing to me the terms of a deal that I knew were just not from the real world. We were having a theoretical conversation about the importance of arenas and major league sports franchises to a city, which he indicated he didn’t believe in. I said, ‘Well…what if the end result of this is that the Flames have to move?’ And he said to me, ‘Then they’ll have to move.’
“Based on that meeting, I knew [the Flames owners] had no prospect of getting a new building on any terms that made sense. And that being the case, I completely understood their decision to disengage.”
The message intended to come across is perfectly clear: Nenshi is the problem.
(Bettman gave his two interviews very soon after meeting with the NHL’s Board of Governor’s on the Calgary situation, so it a safe bet that this is a concerted media strategy, designed or at least approved by the league’s true powers.)
The Sun’s Rick Bell actually called Nenshi for comment rather than acting as Bettman’s stenographer. Here’s the mayor’s version of that meeting:
“[Bettman] certainly did say, ‘You know, if you screw this up the Flames are going to leave and that is going to be miserable and it’ll destroy your city.’ I remember very well saying to him, ‘That would be an awful outcome but it’s not going to destroy my city.’
“He intimated it is the end of a political career if you lose a hockey team.”
Nenshi, a particularly popular mayor, is expected to face a tougher challenge in this, his bid for a third term. But he remains the favorite. The NHL is probably going to lose again. But it seems intent on dragging its enemies down with it.