September 23, 2008 :: 11:45am ET
Winnipeg remains a viable option
By David Pagnotta
[Toronto, ON] --
As the NHL talks about its recent success, increased ticket sales,
solid merchandise numbers and new intrigue, there are still a number
of questions surrounding the league - and a number of figureheads
aren't afraid to bring them up.
the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay
Lightning have built foundations in their respective markets -- and
I've seen it first hand -- there are a couple of other teams that
are struggling to attract enough interest in their own cities -- and
I've seen that first hand, too.
Whenever the topic of expansion or
relocation comes up, or whenever I bring it up, I can't help but
wonder why the NHL hasn't given the city of Winnipeg the respect it
I completely understand why the NHL
is infatuated with the prospect of being the first of the major sports
leagues to call Las Vegas home. In fact, I'm a supporter of that idea.
If they do it right (and having the right ownership in place is a good
start, Mr. Bruckheimer), it can succeed. But the NHL appears locked on
cities like Kansas City and Houston before it takes a second look at
another Canadian market.
Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of Research In
Motion (creators of the Blackberry), came close to bringing another
NHL club to Canada. Unfortunately, his ballsy attempt to sell season
tickets for the Hamilton Predators ticked off a few people at head
office and that ultimately screwed his plans.
Balsillie is loaded and appears very
willing in bringing a team to Southern Ontario (if Hamilton doesn't
work, his backyard in Kitchener might do the trick). Providing he
still wants in the NHL fraternity, he'll get his way, after having to
suck up a tad to the NHL, be it through relocation or expansion
But that doesn't really help
There's a cluster of talk circulating
through the NHL (it's actually been going on for over a year) that the
league has plans to expand to 32 clubs within the next five years.
With that in mind, and providing it holds true (the NHL will never
admit it), we could see four new franchises by the start of the
2013-14 season. I have it on pretty solid authority that two current
teams have backup plans in place if the poop really hits the fan.
While I can't directly acknowledge which teams those are, if you've
followed this story long enough, you can probably figure it out. But I
For arguments sake, let's say that
within five years, the NHL moves two teams and adds two more. It seems
more than likely that Las Vegas and Kansas City will get a team. If
Mr. Balsillie (who has been way too quiet, by the way) jumps back on
the train, you can bet we'll see a team in Southern Ontario. That
leaves one other market up for grabs, with Houston, Portland and
Winnipeg likely battling it out (sorry, Seattle).
Winnipeg has the support of a
plethora of NHL personalities, and its local fan base. Websites are
even dedicated to the cause.
If you've followed the Return of
the Jets Campaign on the web, you're familiar with
JetsOwner.com. More recently, Chris
Mackie started a site called
ManitobaMythbusters.com, which has a
great saying right at the top of its site that reads, "My NHL includes
the Winnipeg Jets." They attempt to provide evidence as to how
Winnipeg can support another NHL club; the Jets part deux (they also
have a cool video montage of interviews with hockey people supporting
"While assembling the website
content, we were initially taken by the nostalgic walk down memory
lane," Mackie said in a release. "But as our research about the
current state of the league continued, the sense of nostalgia was
overwhelmed by a sense of hope. The case for placing an NHL team in
Winnipeg is extremely compelling."
And for the most part, he's right on
the support and passion of the locals, and the fact that hockey
figureheads from Don Cherry to Wayne Gretzky believe Winnipeg can
sustain another team, it's very possible that the Jets can become one
of the top selling teams in the league.
According to the website, if 14,500
Jets fans spend $60 for a ticket, per game, the team will rank 15th in
the NHL in gate revenues, averaging $870,000 per game. If they sell
13,500 tickets per game at $80 a pop, that brings them up to ninth.
While you can argue that this can be said for any franchise, based on
fan turnout over the years for exhibition games and major hockey
events, it's a relatively realistic goal.
Last season, the six current Canadian
teams took up six of the top seven spots in average gate revenues.
Only the New York Rangers managed to get in between then, sitting
fourth. (Incase you're curious, Toronto was No.1, Montreal ranked 2nd,
Vancouver 3rd, Calgary 5th, Edmonton 6th and Ottawa 7th).
Winnipeg will see more NHL action
tomorrow, as the Phoenix
Jets Coyotes play the Calgary Flames
in yet another teaser exhibition game. The most expensive
tickets are $119 each, with the lowest being $39. After spending 12
unnecessary minutes on the line with ticketmaster, I gave up trying to
see how many tickets have been sold. Judging by the last two years,
there should be over 13,000 fans at the MTS Centre, which has a
capacity of 15,003 for hockey games.
As the city and its fans try to
demonstrate their passion for the game, the league will take a quick
glance. For the NHL to take a very serious look at the market, they'll
need to be presented with a formal plan that firstly includes an
NHL-acceptable arena (MTS Centre needs at least 2,000 more seats) and
strong corporate support by an ownership group with deep
That might be asking for a lot,
considering the financial troubles surrounding North America lately,
but if Balsillie and Bruckheimer are game, that's surely a positive
Why would the NHL consider expansion?
Easy... MONEY. An cool $300 million per franchise split amongst its 30
current organizations. Whether we like it or not, expansion (to the
right markets) will help the league. Many argue that the talent pool
isn't that deep. I beg to differ. If the right group steps forward,
with the proper argument for Gary Bettman and Co., it's not difficult
to imagine the Jets skating in downtown Winnipeg in a few years.
My 2013 NHL includes the
Jets... does yours?
is the Editor-in-Chief of The Fourth Period Magazine and covers the
Toronto Maple Leafs and the NHL for TheFourthPeriod.com. He is also a
contributing writer for NBCSports.com and MSNBC.