Exclusive: Alberta government quietly gave the NHL $4 million during pandemic

Recently disclosed public documents show the Government of Alberta gave the NHL $4 million dollars in a sole-source contract between July 31, 2020 and October 1, 2020 in order to “promote investment in Alberta to provincial, national and international audiences through a unique partnership opportunity with the NHL.” But no public statement from Premier Jason Kenney or the Alberta government has made mention of the $4 million dollar payment.

The money came from the Communications and Public Engagement wing of the Treasury Board and Finance ministry. In 2017 the notorious Public Affairs Bureau was re-organized into Communications and Public Engagement. According to David Sands, a spokesperson with Communications and Public Engagement, the money went to advertising and marketing in partnership with the NHL during the playoffs. He was unable to provide details on the type of advertising or its frequency by deadline. 

Kenney touted the NHL choosing Edmonton as a hub city as an economic victory for the province. “This is a huge win for Alberta. The advantages to our local economy for hotels, restaurants and many other industries, including attracting future visitors to our province, will be substantial. In fact, it means upwards of 2,000 jobs here in Edmonton that will be created as a result, and $60 million of economic activity when we need it most,” said Kenney in a July 24 press release.

However even before the contract with the NHL ran out there were media reports of the NHL bubble “deflating” and Ice District area business “falling flat.” 

The government’s initial estimates of $60 million in economic activity was revised downwards to $39 million in September, a drop of 42 per cent. These economic estimates come from the Oilers Entertainment Group and don’t appear to be verified in any way. 

The $4 million payment also came on the heels of a provincial corporate tax cut unveiled on June 29th and in the midst of a pandemic.

What was purchased with that money is an important question and an inkling of what that money was spent on lies in a 30-second video message Kenney shared on Sept. 1, Alberta’s 115th birthday, ahead of the puck drop for the NHL playoff game between the Vancouver Canucks and the Vegas Golden Knights. The message was broadcast on the scoreboard at Rogers Place. Kenney touts Alberta's low taxes, young population and "freest economy in Canada." He closes by saying, “to hockey fans around the world, we hope you’ll follow the NHL’s lead and come to visit Alberta when you can.” 

A short clip from an August 7 game between the Edmonton Oilers and the Chicago Blackhawks also gives a hint as to where that money was spent. In a break in the action prior to a puck drop, the camera shows several large screens in Rogers Place, on those screens are Indigenous people dancing, then it fades to a tight shot of several golden brown wheat heads against a blue sky. On another screen there is a static image of the Alberta watermark.

Jason Kenney began the campaign to attract the NHL bubble to Edmonton with a video showcasing Alberta and a statement that Edmonton was “the obvious choice.” In his September 1 statement, he said that he was “thrilled the NHL chose Alberta to host these playoffs.” 

Prior to, during, and after the NHL bubble, there was no public indication made by the Alberta government that a financial incentive or payment was made to the NHL to attract, bolster or support their commitment to playing in Edmonton, or that the government was paying for promotional spots in empty arenas. 

“This is the first opportunity to disclose this information,” said Sands when asked why this substantial payment was never proactively disclosed. The sole-source contract database and Blue Book are updated quarterly. 

Global News reported on the Sept. 1 video message from Kenney and got a statement from the premier’s press secretary, Christine Myatt.

“As a high-ratings event, the NHL playoffs hosted in Alberta present an excellent opportunity to showcase all Alberta has to offer,” said Myatt in a statement.

“In particular, it is an opportunity to reach a broad and international audience that would target Alberta as a place to invest and visit, when it’s safe to do so.”

We did not receive any comment from the Premier’s office or Treasury Board and Finance by deadline. 

According to the Procurement and Sole Sourcing Policy of the government of Alberta the circumstances of the procurement of the sole-source contract including the applicable trade exception must be disclosed. In this case the government used an exemption that has only been used once since the policy came into place. The trade exception in this case says that a sole-source contract procured from “entities which operate sporting or convention facilities, in order to respect a commercial agreement containing provisions incompatible with NWPTA government procurement obligations,” is permitted.

NHL Enterprises Canada, LP is the organization that received the $4 million payment. It’s based in New York City, New York and is a subsidiary of NHL Enterprises LP. A Bloomberg business profile described it as a business that “offers sports merchandising and licensing programs” and that it “protects trademarks and other intellectual property of member teams.”

We are seeking more information about this developing story. If you have further information or clips and pictures of the advertising in question please contact us at [email protected]