Calgary latest Canadian team to send out warning to fans

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The Calgary Flames, plagued by financial losses and a dwindling season-ticket base, have given the team's fans an ultimatum.

Step up to the ticket window by June 30 or watch the team go elsewhere.

"We were at 17,000 (season tickets) for years and years," Flames owner Harley Hotchkiss said at a news conference on Friday. "We need to get back from 9,000 approximately up to 14,000.

"If we can't ... we have no alternative but to sell the Flames."

Hotchkiss said the team will lose between $58 million and $72 million over the next four years if the status quo persists.

"We're simply not prepared to accept losses of this magnitude in the future," he said.

The team also wants a break from the City of Calgary to help lower operating expenses at the Saddledome.

An emotional Hotchkiss said the idea of losing the team is hard to accept.

"I can't begin to imagine the emptiness that we're going to feel if we can't keep the Flames in Calgary," he said.

The Flames' plan to stay in business focuses on four main points: boost season-ticket sales; work with corporate sponsors to increase private suite revenue; review its building lease and other arrangements; and develop new marketing arrangements to increase revenues.

Friday's announcement by the Flames mirrors that of a successful gambit by Ottawa Senators owner Rod Bryden in January.

Despite a state-of-the-art arena, near capacity crowds and a winning hockey club, Bryden threatened to sell the franchise to American interests because of a projected $10 million loss this season.

Bryden gave corporate and individual season ticket-holders until mid-February to show their commitment by renewing for next season.

Since then Ottawa fans have responded to Bryden's call for more support.

Flames President Ron Bremner says Calgary is in a worse position than Ottawa.

"We sit 27th out of 28 teams in the NHL in terms of gate receipts," Bremner said. "We have the lowest average ticket price in the NHL at $27.73 US. Moving to 14,000 season tickets is a daunting challenge but I think it's a challenge that the city of Calgary is up to."

If the ticket goal isn't reached, hockey fans in Calgary will only see the team for one more season, Hotchkiss said.