He Said What?

Comcast-Spectacor chief Peter Luukko raised some Canadian eyebrows when he told the Glendale, Ariz., city council July 2 that a major market arena needs a major league sports tenant in order to be successful – while supporting a proposed arena near Toronto without one.

Markham, Ontario, has $325 million, 20,000-seat GTA Centre arena on the drawing board, a proposed public-private partnership in which Global Spectrum is a key partner, according to the Toronto Star.

Comcast-Spectacor is parent company to Global Spectrum. and the pending owners of the Phoenix Coyotes, in which Global Spectrum would operate the facility.

The council ultimately approved the lease. But across the continent and over the border, Luukko’s remarks quickly became fodder for opponents of public funding of the proposed Markham arena. Global Spectrum VP Frank Russo told the Star Luukko’s comments were “unfortunate” and taken “out of context.”

Markham Deputy Mayor Jack Heath, who opposes the project, pounced on them.

“You can’t be selling one message in Phoenix and another one in Markham,” Heath told the paper. Russo reportedly sent a message to the Markham City Council emphasizing Global Spectrum’s confidence in its future in a city without a major league anchor.

“The GTA (Greater Toronto Area) itself is a significantly bigger market than Phoenix/Glendale and offers a greater opportunity for commercial viablity,” Russo wrote in the note obtained by the Star. “The GTA is clearly underserviced with arena seating compared to the population.”

Under the private-public partnership, Markham would borrow $325 million for construction and private sector developers would repay half of that over 20 years, with the city ending up with the venue. As to the central question of whether major arenas require major tenants to survive, it’s worth noting that Kansas City’s Sprint Center has managed to function without a major sports team anchor. And Jobing.com itself struggled with the NHL’s Coyotes.