Thursday, May 07, 2009

It needs to be said: Bring back the Jets

The blood feuding between Jim Balsille, Gary Bettman and now Jerry Moyes has an honourable end. If the NHL won't go to Southern Ontario because of the potential financial damage to the Leafs and Sabres, The Coyotes should just go back where they came from.

They need to go back to Winnipeg.

For all those who believe this idea is full of crap, hear me out.

The arguments against such a move are usually the following:

Winnipeg is too small.

Winnipeg never supported the team with butts in the seats.

There isn't enough corporate support.

The MTS Centre is too small.

The NHL's Salary Cap keeps rising to points where the Jets could not be profitable.

I don't agree. Not anymore, with 13 years of sober second thought.

The Jets left in 1996 because there was no arena suitable for an NHL team. Yet fans still came and made the old barn one of the loudest around.

While no Stanley Cup games were ever won there, there were historic games involving the Winnipeg Jets during a time when they had one of the best teams in the game.

While the MTS Centre would be one of the smallest in the league, it would be one that's filled to capacity now that the NHL's been gone for 13 years, just like in Minnesota. If concert attendance is any indication, I would expect 15,000 paying customers a night and that's better than a lot of existing franchises get. Prior to the recent surge in interest in Boston, were competitive with an Original Six franchise and a couple of others . And it's better than Phoenix actually gets now.

To be fair, there were nights where attendance dipped to around 9,000, when it was -40 C without the wind chill when the franchise's future was in doubt, but I'd bet no less than 90 per cent of those people PAID FULL PRICE for their tickets. Try that in Phoenix 90 per cent of the time.

Any argument that Winnipeg is simply too small to support an NHL team probably needs to look at the example of a pretty successful corporation.

Maybe you've heard of it. Ikea.

Stats Canada says the metro area is 712,000 people as of 2007 and shows slow growth every year since 1991, save for 1997, the year of the Flood of the Century. After years of saying Winnipeg needed 1 million people for a store to be profitable, Ikea has decided to set up shop in the city. That's a pretty significant change of heart for a multinational that makes billions in profits.

They aren't the only ones making such a move.

In Ikea's case, they probably figured out that people in the Canadian prairies will drive longer distances if they want something because they are more accustomed to doing it. People living 90 minutes from city limits will buy season tickets for the Jets. This may not apply in Winnipeg itself, as some people won't drive across the city for a date. But people REALLY love hockey in this neck of the woods.

As for corporate support, I can't argue with economics. Southern Ontario has more corporate dollars. With roughly 12 million people to serve, there will be. But here's another kicker. Car companies are hurting. Steel mills are hurting. Manitoba's economy has not suffered like others. And there's simply enough proof out there that the city can support the team and make money at it. That's better than several other places already on the map.

But logic may not win this argument with Mr Bettman. Arrogance will.


Mike Radoslav said...

I agree that Winnipeg would support any team that returned amazing well however I still feel that Southern Ontario is the best destination. Whatever team comes back to Canada first has to succeed and in a huge way so that it can pave the way for more teams to return north. The team would succeed in Southern Ontario better than anywhere else in the country, both in terms of attendance and (the big one) corporate sponsorship.

Yeah there's hurting industries in the province, auto and steel and even print are all taking huge hits! But there's also hi tech firms, insurance companies and banks nearby - too many options really, sponsorship would not be a problem in the slightest even in this hurting economy. This area beats the rest of the country without a team hands down in that regard, as within an hours drive of wherever the team is planted there's countless firms ready to jump in (but the majority of the sponsorship would be handled by RIM anyways, which is what Balsillie truly wants).

I want Winnipeg to land a struggling sunbelt team I really do, maybe Nashville or Florida whenever they finally relocate. I agree with your argument that a team should land back in the city but feel right now just isn't their time.

Greg said...


I agree with you that Winnipeg can support the Jets returning. But there's a minor problem: the MLS Centre.

I suspect the Jets would probably be dependent, more so than other Canadian teams, for revenues based on ticket sales than corporate boxes, which is one of the big reasons MLSE is so profitable in Toronto.

Local geography matters when it comes to some corporate sponsors. Winnipeg has a few big companies like, *gulp*, CanWest, Biovail, Nygård International, The Great-West Life Assurance Company and a few others, but not enough with the financial capacity (especially right now) to support the luxury boxes en masse.

I think the only way you could get a Winnipeg team is to get assurances of a new, modern and much larger arena to built within five years of relocation. Arenas matter, and MLS isn't good enough for a modern franchise.

Keith Borkowsky said...

I agree that Southern Ontario, perhaps even Toronto, deserves another NHL team. The Islanders could move to Wards Island and still get 20,000 a night.

With Phoenix, it's about righting a wrong. I was never a Jets fan, but I went to see NHL hockey. As for the Arena, not saying it's perfect,but what's better? A state of the art empty arena or a full arena that has most, but not all of the luxury box capacity the other arenas have?

If this bankruptcy were happening elsewhere, say with the Atlanta Thrashers, I would feel differently and that it should go to Southern Ontario. There will be other teams looking to move. There will be other opportunities, especially when the NHLPA starts complaining about salaries being tied to falling revenues, caused in part by a commissioner that refuses to accept more profits can be made in Canada. Other owners will also start complaining (if they aren't already) about falling franchise values related to deficits run by Sun Belt teams. There are anti-trust lawsuits waiting to happen if Bettman doesn't allow the team to move.

This is an opportunity to put the team back where it belongs. It's an opportunity Minnesota never got, but I'd bet they would have jumped at if it were available.

Brettinhalifax said...

I bet if MTS was 17,000 seats, a lot of the naysayers (me included) would be silent on the possibility of the Jets returning to Winnipeg.

But the difference between MTS as it is and a hypothetical 17,000 seat MTS is 2,000 nosebleed seats. The good/expensive seats are all there. 2,000x$25x40 games = $2 million per season.

Is it a real deal breaker?