It's time for Oilers owner Daryl Katz to take a page from David Asper and the University of Manitoba's playbook.
As detailed in Sager's post Football: Give them a place where the Bisons can roam... , David Asper has taken the initiative to push forward with not only his plans to become the owner of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, but also to get a new stadium in the 'Peg built for his CFL team and also to share it with his alma mater the University of Manitoba. Daryl Katz should take note.
Katz, who bought the Oilers from the community minded Edmonton Investors Group last June, finds himself in a similar situation to Asper only with hockey on his mind. Katz who owns the Oilers, and the WHL Oil Kings has a glorious chance to expand his sports empire while helping his own alma mater - the University of Alberta.
Here's a list of some similarities between Katz and Asper: both recently bought pro sports teams from community based groups, both have close ties with their respective universities, both are big supporters of sport in their cities and last but certainly not least - they have a whole lot of cash.
The U of A has been talking about building a new arena for years now, and even though Clare Drake Arena is a great ol' barn - a new arena is overdue. The Drake continues to rack up higher and higher maintenance costs. With the 2015 Universiade all but guaranteed for Edmonton, the U of A will be getting a brand new gymnasium at its South Campus - so what about hockey?
Here's where Katz comes in. I've talked with people in the athletics department at the university, including AD Dale Schula and as of now nothing is in the works for a new arena, but of course Schula would be more than happy to talk with Katz.
Katz's Oil Kings need a different facility, you can't play in a 16 000 seat arena, averaging less than 5 000 fans a game and expect atmosphere. Rexall Place where the O-Kings play is one of the busiest venues in North America -the ice is horrible and the atmosphere most nights is just as bad for the mini Oil (case in point, they got less than 4 000 people out to their first modern franchise playoff game against the best team in the WHL the Calgary Hitmen in the opening round).
The South Campus at the U of A is home to Foote Field, and is the perfect location for a new arena to be shared by the Oil Kings, Bears, Pandas and even the Oilers as a practice facility.
It's been made clear by the federal government that new sports facilities will need to be tied to universities if the project wants public funding. Katz could put up the majority of funds for the project just like Asper, strike a deal with the university (who better jump up and down at the prospect of a new arena), get the federal and provincial governments to chip in, and build the place.
Build something that is suited for junior hockey, say a 7 000 seat arena something along the lines of Red Deer's ENMAX Centrium - a great sized barn for junior hockey. The Bears wouldn't sell the place out every night, but when it comes time for the U of A vs U of S, people will come out in far greater numbers at a modern arena.
All parties involved would benefit. Rexall just is not the right venue for junior hockey, and Clare Drake is a great barn, but if the U of A wants to grow its already strong fan base it needs to step up and modernize the off-ice product, and that begins with a new arena. People simply don't want to watch a game on Clare Drake Arena's wooden benches anymore.
Katz has a glorious opportunity to grow his sports empire by putting his junior team in a proper building, while helping out his old school at the same time. The opportunity is there for a great partnership. Everybody get together and make it happen, it's never easy but it needs to be done - that's what Asper did and Winnipeg is sure to benefit for years to come.