What the NHL’s return means to Winnipeg


Note: I originally wrote (a version of) this post for The Victory Formation

Last night (ed. note: obviously not last night) I got the news I had waited 15 years for. After being lost, and yes I say lost and not taken, the Jets were coming home to Winnipeg. Of course, it might not be the Jets, but it has to be the Jets. The franchise may never have won a Stanley Cup, but this movement was never about bringing the Cup to Winnipeg. Jonathan Toews did that last year. It was about playing hockey again; seeing the red, white and blue Jets sweaters out there, with the Queen and the whiteout watching over the heroes of Manitoba.

Will things be different this go-round? Well, yes and no. Economically, Winnipeg is in a much better place. The Canadian dollar has gone from 75 cents of an American dollar do being worth more than an American dollar. A salary cap and revenue sharing also means that the Jets (or whatever they’re called) won’t be out on an island. And the city itself has gotten much better. It has grown to roughly 700,000 people, still the smallest market in the NHL, but big enough to be viable. Its economy is the third fastest growing in Canada, and the MTS Centre, while small, is viable. Five of the six other Canadian NHL teams drew at 100% capacity or higher, and Ottawa was over 99%.

But, the biggest reason why Winnipeg will be different economically is the owners. True North Sports and Entertainment built the MTS Centre largely with private funds, and they own both the building and now the hockey team, augmenting their earning potential. The principal owner, David Thomson, is the 17th richest person in the world, worth 23.7 billion dollars, and his stock made over 260 million dollars last year which not only could buy an NHL team all over again, it could cover any losses that a Winnipeg team might have if the franchise continues to be run into the ground by incompetent GMs.

One way it won’t be different however is the support. Jets fans are a fiercly loyal bunch, as I would imagine you would have to be spending winters on the Canadian prairie. The Drive to 13,000 Season tickets was a complete success: most were gone when TNSE opened the drive to people who had been Moose season ticket holders, and when the drive was opened to the general public, every season ticket was gone in less than 20 minutes. Manitobans love hockey, probably more than anything else. And while it is sad Jets fans had to get a team via another city, this NHL season will be like 80 days of Christmas morning, except experiencing it after going 15 years without Christmas.

This has never been about Winnipeg vs. Phoenix or Atlanta, as much as some people might lead you to believe. It is about a city and a province that loves hockey getting another crack at a team, this time when they have a fair shake. I am not really one of those people who thinks hockey should only be in Canada, and I do want the sport to grow, but at the same time Andrew Ladd and Zach Bogosian will be the main attraction in Winnipeg.

Winnipeg has done great without the Jets. The population grew, the unemployment dropped, the economy got stronger. It is yet uncertain what an NHL hockey team will do to the city economically. But, as I sat at my desk watching the press conference yesterday (again, obviously not yesterday), yes in tears, I witnessed an event part of me never thought possible. And next fall, when the Jets host the Leafs or Capitals or Oilers or whomever, I will see another event part of me never thought possible. And you just can’t put a price on that.

 another note: Special thanks to Bruce Arthur for the population numbers. And for being awesome.