The Calgary Flames may not make the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, but they still have a shot at the Grey Cup.
On the heels of Wednesday night's crippling loss to the Los Angeles Kings, the Flames made a significant gain Thursday, purchasing a majority stake in the CFL's Calgary Stampeders.
The deal was announced at McMahon Stadium and, according to sources, will see the Flames ownership in the Stampeders rise to 70 per cent from the previous five per cent. The majority of the original owners, including former CFL player John Forzani and former CFL commissioner Doug Mitchell, will remain on board in a lesser capacity.
Forzani, who helped negotiate the $6.5-million acquisition of the Stampeders from U.S. businessman Michael Feterik in 2005, said selling to the Flames was done to secure the football team's stability.
"All the owners of the Stamps and Flames are well-heeled. It wasn't like anyone said, 'Gee, we need an 18.2 per cent profit,'" Forzani explained. "This was not a money deal. Ask yourself this question: what's in the best long-term interests of the Stampeders? The answer is: we wanted to be run by a very professional organization that is in the business of operating sports franchises.
"That's what the Flames do for a living."
With controlling interest in the Stampeders, the Flames sporting lineup now includes minor pro hockey (the AHL Abbotsford Heat), major-junior hockey (the WHL Calgary Hitmen), professional lacrosse (the NLL Calgary Roughnecks) as well as the operating rights to the Scotiabank Saddledome. Flames' president Ken King said the Flames' six-man ownership group "is moving to become a sports corporation" so it can best operate its growing list of properties.
Three representatives from the Flames – owner Al Libin, chief financial officer John Bean, King – and three original owners will form the Stampeders' new six-man executive board and oversee the football team's operation.
"This group of football people has done a remarkable job," said King, who included the Stampeders' limited front-office staff. "Bringing in 30,000 people and servicing them has been nothing short of miraculous. They do it with a small staff. We can bolster that. That's what aggregation of sports assets is about."
The Flames will lend their manpower and expertise to "ticket sales, marketing, human resources, promotions," said King, who was asked if he was going to be involved in any football decisions. He answered no, saying that would be handled by general manager/head coach John Hufnagel, who received a five-year contract extension Thursday.
Hufnagel insisted "everything is the way it has been," meaning he has final say in all football-related decisions. That should calm some of the immediate concerns in Calgary; that the Flames have more than enough on their hands trying to fix a hockey team about to miss the playoffs for the third year in a row.
Radio call-in shows and reader comments were laced with gloomy takes on a Flames-owned Stampeders team. "So they can mismanage the Stamps, too?" wrote one cryptic e-mailer.
Mitchell admitted someone had already suggested to him that with the Flames owning the Stampeders the football team was about to start missing the playoffs, too.
"The thing is the Flames have been with us since Day 1," Mitchell said. "We have 10 great guys who are all in this [the Stampeders]for the right reason. But what about down the road? What if someone wants to sell? You want someone with the same objectives who is going to offer stability, and that's what the Flames have. It's part of a complete package."
Mitchell had another hope for the Flames-Stampeders' transaction.
"With the Flames in, it shows the possibilities to someone in Toronto who might be interested [in buying the David Braley-owned Argonauts] If it's good for the Calgary Flames, maybe someone in Toronto will want to look at it."
The Flames and Stampeders said they'd been discussing the idea of changing their ownership relationship over the past five years. Last season, Calgary finished third in the West Division before losing to the Edmonton Eskimos in the Western semi-final.