Go, Edmonton, Go: Sports Impact on Cities

Over the past month, we saw our downtown flooded with thousands of people as the Edmonton Oilers made their way through the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“While the result was not what we collectively wanted, our love for sports continues,” said Susan Keating, Chair of UDI – Edmonton’s Board of Directors and VP of Melcor Developments. “During the playoffs, what was clear is that sports are an incredible city catalyst – they bring people together and create a buzz.”

Susan convened a conversation with a trio of city builders – Victor Cui, Terran Sandwith, and Mike Saunders – at UDI’s luncheon on May 18. The panel explored the impact of professional sports teams and stadiums on city landscapes and culture.

“Cities around the world are leveraging sports as a driver of community change,” she said to an audience of 150+ developers, municipal officials, and city builders. “Sports can incentivize development and attract people and jobs.”

She cited a few examples in New York and Los Angeles.

A $780M soccer stadium proposed in Queens, New York has leveraged 2,500 units of affordable housing. A $1.8B football facility in Inglewood, Los Angeles came with 900,000 sq. ft. of retail space, 800,000 sq. ft. of office space, and 2,500 housing units.

“In Canada, stadium deals have a large impact on investment,” Keating added. “In Ottawa, with the current open sale of the Ottawa Senators, many prospective buyers are asking that the sale of the team be tied to the land purchase within LeBreton Flats and downtown – as buyers see the value drastically increasing when development of the surrounding area is factored in.”

Born and raised in Edmonton, Cui returned to his hometown in 2022 to serve as the President and CEO of the Edmonton Elks. Prior to this role, he helped to build a mixed martial arts promotion, ONE Championship, into Asia’s largest sports media property with a valuation of more than $1 billion. Having lived abroad and contributed to larger sports markets, Cui said that Edmonton is seen as an equal contender.

“Many Asian markets look at the Rogers Place in Edmonton as a best practice,” he said. “It’s a great model for how sports can catalyze redevelopment.”

Cui argued that the business of sports should involve and connect with city planners’ visions for the city and their communities.

Saunders, who serves as Qualico Properties’ Senior Vice President, agreed.

“Municipal foresight and proactive planning and investment supported Rogers Place in being built,” he said. “And now, it brings nearly $641 million in tax revenue for the city.”

Saunders is developing Stadion Lands, a $1.2B mixed-use residential/commercial development adjacent to Rogers Place and Ice District.

“Sports, Rogers Place, and the Ice District – they are a sort of gravitational pull for our project. They will no doubt provide our future tenants and businesses with much-needed activity and animation – and things to do!”

Sandwith, who serves as President of GS Construction, played professional hockey for 10 years – including for the Edmonton Oilers. Having played in arenas around the globe, Sandwith said that the impact of sports goes beyond the economic numbers.

“I’ve seen firsthand how sports can create a sense of pride and a positive buzz in cities,” he said. “When we saw the Oilers and our downtown on TSN during the playoffs – the world was also taking note of our city.”

Sandwith noted that Edmonton’s arena is well-designed and well-positioned next to many amenities and services – and because of those reasons, has helped to attract the top players in the league, and thousands of people to downtown.

When asked about Edmonton’s next play – the panel pointed to the need to leverage our assets, continue to be entrepreneurial and support business attraction, be bold in our ambitions, and drive forward public-private sector collaboration.

“Sports can play an active role in community building, placemaking and branding, and help to leverage private-sector investment and attract people,” Saunders concluded.

“Are we ready to take our best shot?”

5 Key Takeaways

  • Edmonton punches above its weight. Rogers Place and the Ice District are seen as best practices in how sports can uplift a downtown – and both have led to massive economic and social impacts to the city.
  • Sports thrive on the quality of the communities they’re situated in. The design of communities, its spaces and places, and its offerings are important to sports teams and athletes. With restaurants and pubs situated next to sports, residents and tourists are invited to linger longer before and after games.
  • It’s all connected. Multi-million-dollar investments in sports facilities can only succeed and thrive if other interconnected issues like social disorder and safety are thoughtfully addressed.
  • Sports contribute to our city’s identity. Why do sports matter? Imagine our city without them. Sports can create vibrancy and a positive buzz.
  • We’re all on one team. Sports and real estate development have a connection – we need to identify the opportunities together.