What do the leadership changes at CSEC mean for Calgary sports? Here are five takeaways

Robert Hayes will take over as top boss from John Bean, while Lorenzo DeCicco steps in as chief operating officer

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On Monday, the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation announced big changes to the top of its senior executive leadership. The billion-dollar question, of course, is what will they mean for the franchise at the top of Calgary’s sports pyramid.

The nuts and blots of the changes are that

John Bean is stepping down as president and CEO

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but will stay on in a senior advisory role related to the new arena/event centre. In his place, Robert Hayes will take over as top boss, while Lorenzo DeCicco steps in as chief operating officer.

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That all sounds like big news, as those are high-ranking positions for a company that owns the Calgary Flames, who were valued at $1.14 billion by sports business website Sportico last year. But outside the CSEC offices, all fans want to know is if, and how, this will help improve a National Hockey League team that’s golfing in May for the third time in the past four years.

Hayes and DeCicco begin their new roles on June 3 and will surely have plenty to say to articulate their visions and plans. But for now, here are five takeaways from CSEC’s announcement.

Has the Cavalry arrived for the Flames?

DeCicco was a founding member and former president of Cavalry FC. That is clearly consequential. By any measure, Calgary’s professional soccer team has been an astonishing success during its six-year stint, both on and off the field.

The stands at ATCO Field are regularly packed with a young, fervent fanbase that lives and dies by its Canadian Premier League team. How much of that is a credit to the growth of soccer in Canada compared to any magic the team has spun is a fair question. But Cavalry has quickly become an integral part of Calgary’s sports landscape.

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That experience with the wider sports community and engaging with the audience should only help DeCicco in his new role. The Flames are deeply entrenched in the city’s culture, but every company is looking to grow. Having a COO with experience building a club from scratch should be an asset.

Cavalry FC
Cavalry Charlie Trafford celebrates his first-half goal during CPL soccer action on ATCO Field at Spruce Meadows in Calgary on Friday, May 3, 2024. Jim Wells/Postmedia

Solid roots in the city

Both Hayes and DeCicco are Calgarian. And I believe it matters that the leadership of a sporting organization intricately understands the city and the history their teams represent.

Hayes has lived in Calgary for the past 21 years. DeCicco was in Calgary for years before taking his most recent role with

Metropolitan

Fine Printers in Vancouver.

There are no one-size-fits-all solutions for the challenges that running sports teams present. What works in New York doesn’t necessarily work in Los Angeles, and what works in Toronto won’t always work in Calgary.

But having a leadership that truly understands what the team means in the community seems important.

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Connections are key

Both Hayes and DeCicco have extensive experience as board members for important organizations in Calgary.

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Among other roles, Hayes is the current audit committee chair for Calgary Economic Development. DeCicco was a board member with the Calgary Chamber of Commerce. The presidents and CEOs of both organizations sit on the Event Centre Committee.

What that means to the average fan is likely absolutely nothing, but it might go a long way in getting Calgary the type of 21st-century sports/entertainment complex it so rightly deserves.

As CSEC and the City of Calgary work towards getting the new arena/event centre built, collaboration seems to be vital. Relationships matter on big projects, and the resumes of both new members of the senior executive leadership team suggest there are relationships that should be fortuitous going forward.

Lorenzo DeCicco
Lorenzo DeCicco is stepping in as Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation’s new COO. Wil Andruschak/Postmedia

Bean stays on board

That Bean is staying on in an advisory role related to the arena/event centre project seems a good idea.

Getting the new facility built has been a long and arduous process. Nobody in Calgary needs to be reminded of that.

And while there’s no doubt that both Hayes and DeCicco will have important roles moving forward with the project, Bean has been with CSEC for nearly a decade and a half and undoubtedly knows the ins and outs of the process. Nobody needs a change in leadership slowing down what has already been a long time coming.

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The City of Calgary’s website says there should be a design reveal for the project coming shortly and construction could begin as early as this summer. Let’s hope that’s the case. And having Bean around to help ensure the project gets over the line is good news.

Arena event centre map

Other questions

We’ve largely focused on the arena/event centre here, and that’s because it’s a massive project that, when combined with the surrounding “culture and entertainment” district, could be transformative.

But there are other questions that will inevitably be asked when Hayes and DeCicco are introduced to the media in the coming weeks.

For example, while the Flames are aiming to retool their roster on the fly, it’s likely that it will be at least a couple of years before anyone views them as Stanley Cup contenders. Calgarians won’t turn on their team, but what efforts will be made to keep fans engaged during that stretch?

And the Flames aren’t the only team that CSEC owns.

The Hitmen are expected to be contenders in both the Western Hockey League and potentially for the Memorial Cup next season. The American Hockey League’s Wranglers will be putting some of the Flames’ most exciting young talent on the ice. And the National Lacrosse League’s Roughnecks have a wildly devoted fanbase.

At some point, building a new football stadium has got to be a priority for the Stampeders. Attendance has been declining for the Canadian Football League club, as well. Stampeders president Jay MacNeil has been an energetic, forward-thinking presence since moving forward. What else, if anything, can be done at McMahon Stadium?

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