In the last 36 years working with the McMahon Stadium Society, John Haverstock has seen it all: from Stampeders games to Grey Cups and even the Heritage Classic game a few years back. There is, however, one event that sticks out in particular for the stadium manager.
“I'd say probably the most interesting and enjoyable day I ever spent here was in 2008. We had something called ‘Monsters of Rock’ with Ozzy Osbourne,” explains Haverstock, chuckling to himself.
“That was, uhhh… different. We had Ozzy, Judas Priest — it was this heavy metal show from like noon to 11 and it was just endless wall-to-wall metal,” he says. “The fans were just awesome.”
Instead of focusing on enhancing the fan experience for events like Monsters of Rock or even regular Calgary Stampeders games, the little money that is allocated to the stadium is spent on other needs.
“Our job here is to operate and manage the building and to keep it functionally safe for everyone,” explains Haverstock.
“We have 57-year-old concrete here, that's an ongoing challenge.”
A challenge he’s stuck with trying to figure out.
McMahon Stadium has been the home of the Calgary Stampeders for the past 57 years and supports the University of Calgary Dinos along with many other amateur sports. Despite the facility being in desperate need of repairs, the City of Calgary has no immediate plans to upgrade the venue.
Built in 1960 the Stadium only cost a mere million dollars back in the day.
Back in 1960, two local oil and gas tycoons, Frank and George McMahon, set out to build a stadium for the Stampeders. They were granted a piece of land that had been set aside for a new university in the city. The brothers donated $300,000 of their own money and came up with the additional $750,000 through a series of loans..
Calgary finally had an elite football Stadium to replace the outdated Mewata Stadium for their Stampeders, but this setup created an interesting ownership situation for the facility.
In order for the best possible tax situation (and to help pay the loans back as easily as possible), the stadium was gifted to the University of Calgary. The best way to avoid an awkward transition, and to keep the stadium in the best possible condition, was to create the McMahon Stadium Society to manage and operate the building.
This unique situation can present challenges, but it also allows for the facility to be much more than a professional sports venue. It allows the facility to be a community centre.
“Major improvements that would really change the nature of the building, you know, aside from just keeping it going...we don't have the capability of raising those kind of funds.” - John Haverstock
Not only is McMahon the home to the Calgary Dinos football team, it very often hosts Dinos Soccer as well. Additionally, it plays home to the Calgary Colts Junior Football team and a lot of youth soccer in the spring and fall, leaving Haverstock very busy.
With spring set to arrive in Calgary, McMahon begins one of its busiest times and as Haverstock puts it, “I mean, I'm just booked solid right away.”
Unfortunately for the athletes and fans who frequent McMahon often, this upcoming season marks another one in which the stadium is visibly outdated and it appears nothing is in the works to change this.
“Major improvements that would really change the nature of the building, you know, aside from just keeping it going,” Haverstock explains,“We don't have the capability of raising those kind of funds.”
McMahon has only seen three renovations of significance in the 2000s, the last of which included the new scoreboard installed back in 2014.
Rita Mingo was the Calgary Herald’s Stampeders beat reporter during the 2014 and 2015 CFL seasons. Mingo is now a freelance journalist and attends Stamps games every year as a fan with her daughter.
To her, especially based on facilities around the league, McMahon is nowhere near its peers.
“When you see the new places around the league, it just really pales in comparison. Whether it’s the seating area, the concourse or even from a media perspective, the press box, it’s just lacking,” says Mingo.
“It really is night and day when you go around the league.”
In a 2015 Vancouver Sun article ranking the CFL stadiums, McMahon finished only ahead of Toronto’s Roger Centre, which has since been replaced by BMO Field.
Mingo summed up perfectly the feeling of many Stamps fans:
“Not only does it look like a dinosaur, it has that feel as well. The concourse is a cold, grey shell.”
The one common thread between the new stadiums that have popped up or received significant renovations around the league is simple: public funding. Hamilton’s Tim Horton’s Field, for example, opened in 2014 for the 2015 Pan-Am Games and was paid for entirely with public money.
In a league like the CFL, it is very difficult for organizations to pay for their own facility, even in Saskatchewan, where the Roughriders are such a big part of their community.
The construction of Saskatchewan’s new Mosaic stadium cost the City of Regina $73 million, the province $80 million and the Roughriders $25 million through stadium advertising and naming rights. Facility users will pay off the last $100 million, a provincial loan, through a $12 facility tax on Roughrider tickets.
In an email from Regina Mayor Michael Fougere, he details the importance of the stadium to the people of Saskatchewan.
“Sports and culture play a key role in the fabric of any city, and Regina is no different. Certainly we have an affinity and connection with our team.Mosaic Stadium is truly a community gathering place that we are all proud of.”
The stadium will play host to many amateur sporting events, much like McMahon does, and Fougere says having a facility like Mosaic is something to be proud of.
“The passion that we have for our community and our teams has always been there, but now we have the venue we have long deserved for generations to come.”
Unfortunately for Calgarians looking for the kind of political support Regina received is at this point, very unlikely.
According to the City of Calgary, the idea of potential renovation funds for McMahon or a new stadium has not been brought to the council yet and no councillor has shown serious interest at capitalization at this time.
Daorcey Le Bray, the communications advisor for the mayor , said “there is no funding relationship” between the municipal government and McMahon stadium.
“Unfortunately, I’ll have to decline. McMahon Stadium is owned by The University of Calgary and there is no funding relationship with the City of Calgary.”
Last year, the proposed CalgaryNEXT, which featured a new arena, football stadium and fieldhouse, fell through with city council voting unanimously in favor of ‘Plan B’ with the new arena being near the Saddledome.
This also ended the short-lived possibility of a new football stadium downtown as the alternate plan doesn’t involve a McMahon replacement of any kind.
Haverstock finds this all very difficult to understand.
“I think where the disconnect is, is that the theory is because it's a private enterprise, you know, and in a market-driven town like Calgary that the theory is private money should pay for all that stuff,” says Haverstock.
“People need to think along the lines of this is important to the overall social fabric of the community.”
The future of significantly renovating McMahon or building an entirely new stadium remains unclear.
“It’s sad, I don't know where we're going,” Haverstock says.
“It's a conundrum.”
- By Will Baldwin