CALGARY – The Calgary Flames added to their professional sports empire in Southern Alberta with the purchase of the National Lacrosse League’s Roughnecks.
The Flames also own the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen and have a minority ownership stake in the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders.
Flames president Ken King said Tuesday there will soon be a re-branding of the NHL team and its various business interests with something akin to Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. in Toronto.
“You’ll see at some point in the not-very-distant-future that it will likely be Calgary Sports and Entertainment or some version of that,” King said following Tuesday’s news conference at Scotiabank Saddledome.
The Roughnecks join two other NLL franchises with NHL ownership. The Colorado Avalanche and Mammoth are owned by Stan Kroenke. Terry Pegula purchased the NHL’s Sabres, and NLL’s Bandits along with it, in February.
The Flames bought the Roughnecks from Brad Banister, who has operated the team for a decade in Calgary. While the purchase price wasn’t revealed, the NLL’s expansion fee of US$3 million is an indicator of a franchise’s price tag.
The Roughnecks won NLL titles in 2004 and 2009 and have averaged about 10,000 spectators per game at the Saddledome.
Banister put the team up for sale on the eve of the 2011 season. He issued a plea for financial help in February and told the players their paycheques would be late.
Despite the distraction, the Roughnecks went 11-5 in the 10-team league and made it to the division final before losing to Washington.
Banister said Tuesday “the foot got too big for the shoe,” but he’s happy the Roughnecks will remain in Calgary under the control of an organization with the know-how to run a pro sports team.
“This is the best option for the Calgary Roughnecks for sure,” Banister said. “It belongs in this building. The people who just bought the team have expertise and hopefully can take it to the next level.”
While Roughnecks captain Andrew McBride and veteran Kaleb Toth both lauded Banister for bringing the NLL to Calgary, they agreed it was a relief to have financial stability.
“We’re going to be getting our cheques on time,” Toth said. “That’s the best thing for our league, is to be financially set with people who own the buildings, own the teams.
“When you’re a silent guy that has to pay rent, you don’t get all the revenues. It’s pretty tough to maintain and that’s been the biggest problem with the Roughnecks. Now with the Flames, getting all the revenues, getting all the concessions, there’s no doubt in my mind they’re going to make money.”
Toth hopes the Flames’ marketing power can increase attendance to 16,000 or 17,000 per game. King believes that’s possible.
“I think it could be a capacity crowd for the sport,” King said.
McBride says more hands on deck to handle off-floor matters will allow him to save his energy for the game.
“Myself, I don’t have to be on the phone for seven extra hours a day and getting 100 text messages,” the captain said. “As captain, you have to deal with a lot of things. So I was talking to Brad, talking to the coaches and talking to the players.
“Maybe it kind of took away from my play the last couple of years, but now to just be able to focus on the play, I think it’s going to help me out.”
Buying a lacrosse team is a minor transaction for an NHL club when comparing the scale of their economies. The average annual salary of an NLL player is US$20,000 compared to the NHL average of US$2.4 million.
Banister says the Roughnecks’ annual operating costs ranged between US$1.9 million and $2.1 million. By comparison, Flames forward Curtis Glencross recently re-signed for $2.55 million per year.
Many of the lacrosse players have day jobs. Toth, for example, recently left his job as a sales rep for Red Bull to take a job as a letter carrier with Canada Post. He can’t work right now because of Canada Post’s labour dispute with its union.
“Lacrosse season can’t come quick enough,” Toth said.
King says a lacrosse team is a good fit for the Flames in giving them more inventory to sell to consumers.
“It’s an intelligent part of the package,” he said. “We do think we have some expertise in managing sports in ticketing and marketing and advertising. We’re logical owners of this team.
“Business operations will be the least problematic. We need to make sure it’s a great team and Brad did the best job of that that anybody could do. He won championships. That’s the legacy he leaves that we need to live up to.”