CALGARY – The Calgary Flames’ sports empire continues to grow.
The NHL team announced Thursday it has increased its stake in the CFL’s Stampeders from five per cent to a majority position.
The Flames already have a controlling interest in the Calgary Roughnecks of the National Lacrosse League and own both the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League and Abbotsford Heat, their American Hockey League farm team.
“I don’t think (we’re) too big,” Flames president Ken King responded to questions about a perceived monopoly.
“Now, in fact, with the addition of this team it’s the right size.”
The Flames have a six-member ownership group led by chairman Murray Edwards, a billionaire oilman who owns Canadian Natural Resources.
The CFL transaction, subject to league approval, is expected to be finalized in the next few weeks.
King also announced a new five-year contract for John Hufnagel, the Stamps head coach and general manager, perhaps as a way of illustrating that things will not be changing at McMahon Stadium on the football front.
Hufnagel had two years remaining on his current contract but the new deal will kick in this season.
The Stampeders were sold in 2005 by California businessman Michael Feterik to a 12-member group that included former Stampeders players John Forzani, Dave Sapunjis and Bob Viccars, businessman Ted Hellard and former CFL commissioner Doug Mitchell. Some members of the group have remained anonymous.
Hellard served as co-managing partner until selling his shares in 2010. Forzani remained as chairman.
Forzani said Thursday the group of owners had always planned to sell the team at some point. They bought it as a means of getting control back in local hands at a time when the franchise was struggling.
“We’re very very happy with what’s transpired here, but at the same time we’re a bit sad,” Forzani said.
“That’s why with the exception of one, none of the owners want to leave. It’s fun.”
Forzani said the one who wanted to leave approached him three months ago to express his desire to sell his shares.
The man was one of the group who has stayed behind the scenes. Forzani declined to identify who it was other than to say he was 75 years old.
“We’re not going to disclose the breakdown (of the sale). Saying it’s a‘majority’is good,” Forzani said when asked about how much of the tam changed hands.
“It was important for the Flames to put their shoulders to the wheel that they have a majority.”
King confirmed the Flames and Stampeders will work towards co-ordinating their operations, but wouldn’t say when that would happen.
“We would seek to integrate them but everybody here is going to be fully tasked I assure you,”he said.
“We’re coming right up to the start of the season. To the degree that we can help out we will do so, but everybody here is going to be gainfully employed.”
King tried to deflect questions relating to the city’s two aging sports facilities. The Flames went public in 2008 with their desire to replace Scotiabank Saddledome.
The Saddledome is one of the NHL’s oldest buildings, having opened in 1983. It underwent a major renovation in 1995. The Flames’lease expires in 2014.
McMahon Stadium was built in 1960 and had some renovations in 2010.
“It would be logical to look at whether a stadium would accompany a new (arena). But that’s not the endgame. It’s probably something that we will take a look at,”King said.
A former Stampeders quarterback, Hufnagel was brought in as head coach to replace Tom Higgins in 2008 and immediately guided the Stampeders to a Grey Cup title that first year.
The Stampeders finished the 2011 season 11-7 and went on to lose to Edmonton in the West semifinal.
“People have asked me if this is a vote of confidence. It is, but truthfully the only real vote of confidence I can get is to win football games. That’s what we plan on doing,”said Hufnagel.