EDMONTON – The owner of the Edmonton Oilers says he never realized that threatening to move his NHL team to Seattle would trigger a firestorm of fan anger against him in the Alberta capital.
“There was probably a little too much (bare-knuckled Mark) Messier and not enough (graceful Wayne) Gretzky in the way that we conveyed things,” Katz said Monday in a radio interview.
“What we didn’t consider was how our supporters or our fans would feel and that was wrong and I apologize for it.”
Katz, speaking in an interview with a team employee, was following up a full-page ad he took out in local newspapers Saturday apologizing for the Seattle gambit.
The Seattle gambit had brought a deluge of angry, personal, and even vulgar comments against Katz on social media and in letters to the editor.
In the weekend ad, Katz promised in future to be more open on what the Oilers want in the proposed new $475-million cost-shared downtown arena.
“In hindsight, I have underestimated the degree to which it would be up to us to make the case for public funding,” he said in the ad.
“Public communications is not in my nature. Chalk that up as a personal shortcoming.”
City councillors and Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel called the apology a good first step, but said Katz still must make his case in public why the team feels the deal it made with the city a year ago needs to be changed to deliver millions of dollars more in public subsidies per year to the Oilers.
Two days later, that hasn’t happened.
Katz told the radio show more information has been delivered, but behind closed doors.
“We shared some information with the city and our discussions have been more productive as a result,” he said.
Mandel has set a deadline of Oct. 17 for a deal to be worked out on a rink that on paper will cost $475 million, but, when land costs, loan payments and surrounding amenities are paid for, will come in over $700 million.
Under the deal, taxpayers and ticket buyers would fund the rink and the Oilers would pay $5.5 million a year in lease payments for three decades.
In return, the Oilers would run the arena, pay for its upkeep (estimated at $10 million a year), and keep all revenues from Oiler games, trade shows, concerts, and other events for 11 months out of the year. Concession sales alone are estimated at $20 million a year.
The team would also get naming rights for the rink (valued between $1 million and $3 million a year) and $20 million from the city over 10 years for unspecified advertising.
Construction was to start early in 2013 and be completed by the fall of 2015.
However the project went into limbo last month when councillors were told in a closed-door session that Katz had a second look at the numbers and now needed millions of dollars more, including a $6-million annual subsidy for arena operating costs for the team to stay viable in a “small market.”
Councillors rejected the ask and, as word of the multimillion-dollar demands leaked out to the public, both sides accused the other of bad-faith bargaining.
Angry fans called City Hall to complain about millions of tax dollars potentially being given away to a billionaire in secret.
Katz said he was angry word had leaked out, which is why he went to Seattle last Monday to meet with officials looking to woo an NHL and an NBA team to the Pacific Northwest.
“I was angry at information that was leaked from our negotiations, and things were said about me and I feel I reacted emotionally, which I shouldn’t have done,” he said.
Despite the apology, the letter doesn’t make clear if the team will continue to look at relocating to hedge its bets on Edmonton. Prior to Seattle, Oiler officials travelled to Hamilton and Quebec City and there have even been talks to build a rink on First Nations land west of Edmonton.
The letter also doesn’t spell out how or when the Oilers plan to communicate better and whether Katz will apologize to Seattle for using it as a negotiating pawn.
Katz wasn’t asked those questions Monday.
The arena is now in its fourth year of back and forth talks.
Katz has said he’s losing money on the Oilers in Edmonton and wants a public subsidy deal similar to the one given to NHL teams in Winnipeg and Pittsburgh.
Forbes ranks the Oilers in the middle of NHL teams with a worth of $212 million.
The proposed new arena would seat 18,400 with restaurants, shops and party space.
Drawings depict a wavy, futuristic building of zinc and glass in the rough shape of an oil drop.
The Oilers have played in Rexall Place since it was built in 1974. It is one of the oldest rinks in the league.