MYTHBUSTER: New arena won’t bring more shows to Calgary

The myth of “economic opportunity” of new arenas

Mayor Jyoti Gondek took questions from members of the Calgary Rotary Club on March 15, 2023 (Photo: Calgary Herald)


Last week, Mayor Gondek repeated a common myth about the “need” for a new arena in Calgary to replace the Saddledome: 

“We’re missing a lot of economic opportunity by having performances come here that are limited by the time in and out of that facility. So all of us on council understand well, why it is that we need to replace that aging infrastructure”. 

-Mayor Gondek

The promise of new economic opportunity is just one of the many well-documented myths pushed by wealthy sports franchise owners and pro-subsidy-for-new-arena boosters. So we decided to investigate if there is any truth to this claim for a new arena in Calgary.


Reality: Hardly any difference between Calgary and Edmonton 2023-2024 arena tour calendar

We compared the 2023 and 2024 tour calendars for Calgary’s Saddledome with Edmonton’s Rogers Place and Vancouver’s Rogers Arena by listing all the events and their tour dates in each city. Events that were scheduled in at least one of the cities but not one or more of the others are marked in red.

Last updated: Nov 3, 2023

The above comparison shows that Edmonton’s much-hyped, shiny new Rogers Place still only attracts the exact same number of non-sporting events as Calgary’s “aging” Saddledome. Meanwhile, Vancouver’s Rogers Arena has upwards of 30% more events than Edmonton or Calgary - and many much larger acts at that!


Mythbusted: Market size matters most

Last updated: Nov 3, 2023

This comparison demonstrates that in today’s world of touring shows, there would be no measurable economic benefit to Calgary spending over half a billion dollars in public funds to subsidize a new arena two blocks away from the existing Saddledome. What does have an impact on attracting more shows is the size of the market in each city (Vancouver: 2.6M, Calgary: 1.4M, Edmonton 1.1M) and proximity to other large markets (like Seattle: 4.1M). 


The music industry has changed, costs of touring are through the roof

It’s also important to recognize that since the COVID-19 pandemic, the touring industry has changed profoundly. It’s been reported that many major acts are avoiding the ballooning financial cost of multi-leg international tours and are instead settling into residencies in cities like Las Vegas where their audiences come to them. Other big ticket acts are ditching arenas for stadiums to make their tours more financially viable. Still others are piggybacking on the music festival circuit, or shorter tours altogether.  

The Saddledome is an iconic feature of Calgary's skyline. (Image source: Globe and Mail)


Maintaining the Saddledome is still a viable option

Engineering reports kept secret by the City of Calgary until recently obtained by CBC under FOIP indicate that concerns about the age of the Saddledome are of a "superficial nature". Most or all of the mechanical and electrical systems at the Saddledome were replaced/updated after flood.


Fair Deal for Calgary: City Council must do its due diligence and engage Calgarians on best use of public funding 

Mayor Gondek was elected as Mayor of Calgary on the promise of a “Fair Deal for Calgary”. City Council must do its due diligence on the best use of public dollars for the revitalization of Victoria Park and the new Culture and Entertainment District. This must involve:  

  • Engaging with Calgarians on the options and best use of over half a billion dollars in public funds and business opportunities to revitalize Victoria Park as part of Calgary’s economic recovery 
  • Properly assessing the option of maintaining the Saddledome over the next 30 years as a baseline cost comparison against the option of subsidizing a new arena for the Flames 
  • If the goal of a new arena is really attracting more big-name acts to Calgary, consider more substantial funding for music festivals in Calgary


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