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(Shaun Best)
(Shaun Best)

Is Winnipeg a viable NHL market? Add to ...

Chances are, lots of companies will jump on the bandwagon early, fuelled by the excitement of the NHL's possible return to Manitoba. Is there enough support in the business community over time to fill the luxury suites and pay the high-end ticket prices needed to sustain a system that has changed a lot since the Jets bolted for Phoenix 15 years ago. Remember, sticker shock - for tickets - will be an issue for some, who are used to paying AHL prices to watch the Manitoba Moose play.

In short, there will be obstacles and if, in a decade's time, the Canadian dollar starts to slide down to its more traditional values against the U.S. currency, some of the issues that saw the Jets leave in the first place could rise again. Of course, if that happens, they'll have company too - in Ottawa, Edmonton and maybe even Calgary, all of whom were on the edge of the precipice soon after Winnipeg left and managed to survive long enough to see the changes in the industry model that have then thriving - for now.


I applaud Roy's optimism, and would love to agree, but there are a few factors that could make it tough for Winnipeg to make a go of it over a 20-year horizon. Yes, the rink is newish, but no, it's not as capacious as other NHL barns, nor are the luxury box revenues going to match those in other cities. Having the richest family in Canada - and the country's finest newspaper owners! - as part of the ownership group will certainly help, having someone not averse to losing a few million here or there is of capital importance in today's NHL.

Regional TV rights are a different ballgame now, but the big problem, according to several Winnipeggers of my acquaintance, is that an average ticket price of $100 - likely the minimum required to sustain half-way decent revenues - could be a pinch in a town with few corporate heavyweights to hoover up ducats and where people remember what it used to cost to see the Jets 1.0.

It'll happen, a team will move there and there will be a long and ardent honeymoon, but I think it's rash to assume that the Loonie won't tank at some point over the next quarter-century. And if the team sucks? Lots of folks can tell you about nights where the old Winnipeg Arena only had 6,000-8,000 souls to watch the beloved Jets.


At this point, the best you can say is Winnipeg will be a better NHL market than Phoenix or Atlanta. The long-term prospects are rather blurry for several reasons, most of which were cited by my colleagues.

Eric is right in that the Canadian dollar and the new collective agreement will have an as-yet-unknown impact on a Winnipeg franchise, particularly the dollar, should it return to pre-lockout levels. However, I think the major factors will be what they always are: the willingness of the local fans and businesses to buy high-end tickets and luxury boxes, the size of local broadcasting revenue and the willingness of the owners to write cheques every year to cover the losses.

At this point, the Winnipeggers have one out of three.

As an aside, I am sure Winnipeg is going to get an NHL team in the next three to five years, and probably Quebec as well, but I am not 100-per-cent sure the Phoenix Coyotes will be the first franchise to move.

Gary Bettman has moved heaven and earth to keep Phoenix, which is a large television market, in the league. I don't think he is finished pulling rabbits out of hats yet, although time is running short. But even if this bond sale gets back on track for the Coyotes, the Atlanta Thrashers are not long for the south and there are other candidates as well.

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