The controversy over tickets for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary may eventually affect the Calgary Flames, if plans to add seats to the Olympic Saddledome are approved.
A recent ticket scandal brought the ouster of Jim McGregor, former Calgary Olympic Organizing Committee ticket manager, and he was arrested last week on charges of theft and fraud. The scandal involved a scheme in which unauthorized ticket order forms were made available to U.S. customers before Canadians and in which the U.S. customers were asked to pay in U.S. dollars instead of Canadian currency.
The offer was made through a company in which McGregor was part owner.
The episode made national headlines and brought attention to the shortage of Olympic tickets available to the public. Last week, it was revealed that as many as 50% of tickets to some prime events might be set aside for what was called "the Olympic family."
That prompted the mayor of Calgary to call for a study to look into the addition of seats to the Olympic Saddledome, the venue for many of the more popular events, including figure skating and hockey.
All of which brings us to the Calgary Flames, happily ensconced in the Saddledome and happy with the way things are.
Cliff Fletcher, the Flames' general manager, has said that it "doesn't make sense" to have more seats than arenas in Toronto and Montreal. "We do not need them for an NHL franchise in a market of 625,000," Fletcher said.
The Saddledome seats 17,170 for NHL games. The Canadian Olympic Organizing Committee and the Saddledome Foundation, which controls the arena, have suggested adding 2,600 seats.
Why should the Flames care? Because the cost of adding the seats, an estimated $1.5 million, Canadian, will almost surely be borne in part by the team.
"Realistically, we are going to have to pay for it," one Flame official said.
The Flames, basking in the afterglow of having made the Stanley Cup final last season, are having no trouble filling the Saddledome. They have not raised ticket prices and hope not to.
"We've managed to hold the line on ticket prices, even after the successful season," said Steve Edwards, general manager of the Saddledome. "There's such a thing as having too many seats. It looks bad if you can't fill an arena. For Olympic events, if you had 50,000 seats you could sell tickets for them. But for the NHL, in a city this size. . . . "
The rich got richer this week.
The talent-laden Edmonton Oilers coaxed defenseman Randy Gregg out of his brief retirement, adding needed experience to a young Oiler defense.
Gregg, 30, who had played four seasons with the Oilers, signed a one-year contract Monday. He had announced his retirement on the first day of training camp this year and had applied for a residency at the University of Alberta Hospital. Gregg is a graduate of the university's medical school.
Gregg cited two factors influential in his decision to return. The first was the recent decision by the International Olympic Committee to allow professionals to play in the Olympic Games. The second was the flattering interest in him as expressed by the Oilers and other NHL teams.
"I was contacted by a couple of pro teams, not Edmonton," Gregg said. "I talked to Glen (Sather, Edmonton's coach) and told him I wasn't interested in playing for another team."
Sather and Gregg began negotiations Oct. 23, during the same period that Gregg was talking to Dave King, coach and general manager of the Canadian Olympic hockey program. Gregg was a member of the 1980 Olympic team.
Gregg practiced with the Oilers Tuesday, but it may be two weeks before he is ready to play.
In February, Edmonton will also get Reijo Ruotsalainen of Finland. Ruotsalainen is a talented defensemen acquired in trade from the New York Rangers. He reportedly did not get along with Ranger Coach Ted Sator and elected to play in Switzerland.
Ruotsalainen played in all 80 regular-season games for the Rangers last season and totaled 59 points.
Ruotsalainen and Gregg will join All-Star Oiler defenseman Paul Coffey, already an established presence and capable of scoring. He had 138 points last season.
The addition of two strong defensemen to the Oiler team should take care of Edmonton's defensive problems.