The mayor’s pocketbook is closed.
It is safe to say that Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson’s statement that “We should not be using property tax dollars to subsidize an NHL team. That’s not the role of a municipal government, in my opinion,” did not go down well with National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman, Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk and probably every other sports commissioner and sports owner in North America. After all team owners and their lobbyist commissioners expect political leaders to roll over and give them what they feel is necessary public funding to make their sports business successful whether comes from not paying taxes to an outright handout. Watson also added, at least in Ottawa, “It’s very clear that there is precious little support for direct subsidies to professional sports teams,” It appears Melnyk does not even know whether he wants to do business in Ottawa which would require him to move the franchise from nearby Kanata to the city. In fact Melnyk isn’t sure he even wants to be in the market if his recent remarks are to be believed. Bettman had been talking to Watson about the possibility of getting a downtown arena built in Ottawa.
Watson’s statement of not using property tax dollars to subsidize an NHL team is not what sports people want to hear. The leagues and owners make demands and threaten to take their scarce product, leagues and natural monopolies and leagues artificially control the number of teams creating a scarcity which makes teams move attractive no matter the cost to some government officials. In the 1990s, handing out public money for sports facilities was justified by the belief sports venues were an economic engine for a community. There is a great deal of evidence that was a failed public policy and it is getting more difficult to get public money for sports facilities. Watson though is open to do a deal with Melnyk.
Gary Bettman cannot be happy with Watson.