Edmonton Investors Group Ltd.—A
Adjacent to Cal Nichols’ main office
at Gasland Properties is a room that holds all the
documentation surrounding the Edmonton Investors Group
purchase of the Edmonton Oilers. The paper trail is a
long one with volumes of binders filling a bookcase that
covers an entire wall. Saving the franchise back in 1998
was no easy task but if it were not for the efforts of
Nichols, and 37 other unselfish investors, the Oilers
may be toiling in Texas right now.
"The justification for most of us was
that this was really important to the city and this was
an asset we couldn’t afford to lose for emotional and
economic purposes," said Nichols, the EIG’s Chairman of
the Board and team governor. "We really believed we were
not buying a hockey team–we were buying into our
The mid-1990s were difficult on
Canadian hockey teams. The beloved Winnipeg Jets vacated
Manitoba for the desert in Phoenix and the Quebec
Nordiques had already begun to reach their enormous
potential after a move to Colorado. Was Edmonton
destined to be next on the list?
Beginning in 1997, Nichols led an
effort to purchase the Oilers after previous owner Peter
Pocklington, mired in debts to the Alberta Treasury
Branch, put the team up for sale. A sum of over
$100-million (CDN) was needed to secure the franchise–$60-million from buyers with the remainder to be
borrowed. And with no single deep-pocketed magnate to be
found, Nichols was forced to come up with a creative
solution to raise the necessary funds— mainly by securing
smaller investments from a number of sources. Nichols
was, after all, the perfect man for this huge
undertaking. He was behind the 1996 "Friends of the Oilers" ticket drive that saw the season-ticket base
expand from a dismal 6,200 to over 13,000, which added
some much-needed financial stability. Howerver, asking hockey
fans to invest hundreds of dollars to go see a game was
one thing. Requesting millions to keep the franchise in
town was entirely another.
"As that winter went on, we were
stuck at about $35-million," said Nichols. "We just
weren’t getting movement. Low and behold, an offer comes
along from Les Alexander out of Houston. We needed a
push from behind to get the motivation necessary."
"You can either get it done or not
get it done."
The outside offer meant that any
potential local buyer had six weeks to match. A deposit
would then be required, with the remainder of the
$60-million to come 40 days later. Nichols knew in his
heart that when the $5-million deposit was put down on
Friday, March 13, 1998, the rest should fall into place,
though nothing was certain.
"As we were going down the
homestretch, we were scrambling right to the last
minute," he said. "But we got it done."
The Edmonton Investors Group Ltd.
brought together business people from all over the map.
Men like Jim Hole and Bruce Saville were well known in
the community and the Oilers sale even drew interest
from Calgary-born comic book creator Todd McFarlane, the
brains behind the famous Spawn character. McFarlane
chipped in even more by designing the Oilers’ impressive
third jersey, an item that boosted Edmonton’s overall
revenues with incredible sales figures.
"When I came to this project, I
didn’t want to approach it as Todd McFarlane, creator of
Spawn and the maker of videos," he explained. "I
wanted to come at it as Todd McFarlane, huge sports fan.
I wanted to take a futuristic logo and incorporate it
with a very traditional jersey design."
The lace-up jersey was a sort of
shrine to the franchise. The logo contains five rivets
surrounding an oildrop that representing the five
Stanley Cups won in the team’s heyday. The gears
represent the former captains and the streamlined
blades signify the up-tempo style the Oilers have
Suffice to say the EIG is a diverse
group. Assembling all the necessary components to save
the Oilers proved to be a monumental task and at times,
Nichols wondered if it would ever happen. But the
spirit of Edmonton ensured the Oilers would stay
in one of the greatest hockey cities on the planet.
"Edmonton is very community based in
terms of its makeup and philosophy," said Nichols. "Look
at the world events that have been staged here. It just
shows you over and over that this community can come
together and get a job done."