March 01, 2011
The immediate prospects for the Saskatchewan Roughriders to get a new domed stadium in downtown Regina appear dead after the federal government didn't respond by the Saskatchewan government's self-imposed funding deadline of Monday. At the moment, there aren't any thoroughly developed alternative options on the table, and any plans that do get proposed are certain to be controversial; see Rob Vanstone's column from last week and the massive amount of reader feedback it generated (Vanstone posted eight responses from readers with positions all over the map on the Regina Leader-Post's Rider Rumblings blog) for proof of that. With opinion so widely divided and no clearly-defined solutions even up for discussion at the moment, any sort of stadium solution isn't going to be easy to achieve. However, despite all that, there are many more reasons to be optimistic about the stadium issues in Regina than there were about stadium problems in Hamilton and Winnipeg (both of which were eventually worked out).
For one thing, there's already a substantial amount of money on the table; according to this Leader-Post piece by Angela Hall mentions that the federal government was asked for close to 25 per cent of the total cost ($100 million of $431 million). That suggests that the project was counting on $331 million in provincial, municipal, team and private-sector funding. Whether that number was fully lined up or merely anticipated isn't clear, but that isn't a small chunk of change; by comparison, Winnipeg's completely new stadium is pegged at $190 million and Hamilton's Ivor Wynne renovations are expected to cost between $127 and $157 million (depending on which cost estimates you go by). Each city's situation is different, of course, and costs vary depending on location, stadium capacity and stadium design, but the numbers that have come out so far certainly look positive for the chances of something getting done.
Another factor that bodes well for the Roughriders is that they appear to be in arguably the most impressive financial shape of any CFL club. The team made a record profit of $3.1 million last year. According to this 2009 Globe and Mail piece, the Riders accounted for 38 per cent of the league's merchandising revenue at that time (and Dave Naylor wrote last summer that the team made $7.1 million in merchandise revenue from three stores in 2009). This is still the CFL, so they're hardly raking in the cash the way the top NFL, NHL and MLB teams do, but their status quo isn't all that bad, and they likely could afford to contribute more to a new stadium than any of the league's other teams.
That popularity and support may aid the team in ways beyond the purely financial, too. Going head-to-head with a CFL team isn't a popular thing for any politician (look what it may have done to Fred Eisenberger's re-election campaign), but taking on the Riders would seem like an awfully bad move for any Saskatchewan public office-holder. Provincial and municipal government officials have obviously already been supportive of the idea of a new stadium, and even Conservative MP Andrew Scheer made sure to state that the federal government's decision not to provide funding for this specific proposal doesn't close the door to potential future funding for a different plan. Saskatchewan politicians at all levels have long aligned themselves with the Riders, including Premier Brad Wall (pictured at left above with president Jim Hopson at the unveiling of commemorative Roughriders' license plates last season). Last year, while wearing a Gene Makowsky Riders jersey, Wall declared the Friday before the Grey Cup "Green Day (Not The Band)", for goodness' sakes), and that doesn't seem particularly likely to change any time soon. Supporting the team doesn't mean Saskatchewan's elected officials are going to roll over and give the Roughriders everything they want, of course, but the amount of support for the team would seem to make their stadium proposals awfully feasible politically (particularly compared to those elsewhere in the country).
Finally, it's important to note (as Terry Jones did) that the chances of the Riders moving to another market (the way Hamilton threatened to) are practically next to nil. The franchise is community-owned, and it's hard to see its Saskatchewan-based stakeholders consenting to that. Moreover, as pointed out above, they've got the best situation in the CFL even without a new stadium. Some would see that as detracting from their leverage for a new stadium, but I don't think that's the case either; the love between the team and its province of fans seems more likely to lead to a productive discussion and a solution that works for all parties than the toxic environment that developed in Hamilton, and even that didn't prevent a deal from getting done in the end. This isn't to trivialize the difficulties involved with this project; there aren't any fully-developed proposals on the floor at the moment, and everything from a renovation of Mosaic Stadium to a completely new facility carries its own set of issues. However, there are many more positive signs in Saskatchewan than there have been around any other recent CFL stadium issue. As those other facility issues all eventually got worked out, it would seem likely that this one would too.