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WAS IT FAREWELL OR AU REVOIR FOR WINNIPEG FANS LAST NIGHT?
Published May 3, 1995
The Jets may have played their last game in Winnipeg last night, a 2-1 loss to the L.A. Kings. According to sources cited in this morning's WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, the team could be headed to Minnesota "as early as today under a deal brokered by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman." The reported deal would be for $75M and is said to have been negotiated over the weekend by Bettman and Dana Warg, who manages Minneapolis' Target Center. The MN group "has apparently been told to get its financing ready by today and that they could be selling season tickets in Minneapolis by early tomorrow." Bettman would neither confirm nor deny that he has had contact with possible investors. Bettman: "People call me on a regular basis wanting to buy an NHL team" (Douglas & Taylor, WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, 5/3). DON'T START THOSE MOVING VANS YET: The Manitoba Entertainment Complex (MEC), "refused to say die last night as they worked to cobble together a last-minute deal to keep the franchise in Winnipeg and build a new arena." Jets Owner Barry Shenkarow had extended his May 1 midnight deadline for MEC, which had turned to the federal government for financial support. MEC is said to have attracted a new C$10M investor, but they "did not get what they wanted" from federal Human Resources Minister Lloyd Axworthy. In addition, last night, Shenkarow said that MEC's option to buy 64% of the team for C$32M had expired and that the price is now doubled -- a development which MEC members disputed (Douglas & Taylor, WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, 5/3). Axworthy said that MEC has applied for federal funds under a federal-provincial infrastructure plan, but that any deal depends on the existence of an "acceptable business plan." The Toronto GLOBE & MAIL reports that an emergency meeting of the Winnipeg City Council will take place today to examine a new MEC plan. An MEC source said the group may be able to produce an extra C$18M to rescue their bid for the team (Christie/Delacourt/Roberts, Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 5/3). FROM LAST NIGHT'S GAME: Shenkarow held a press conference between the 2nd and 3rd periods of last night's game, which was carried by ESPN. ESPN's Bill Clement: "I think we can describe it best as a non-press conference." Clement, on Shenkarow's assertion that for the team to survive, it would need to have a new rink built, play rent free and receive all concession revenue: "Is that going to happen? Unh-unh." In a subsequent interview, Jets GM John Paddock said of the situation: "There could be a chance, but it doesn't look good" ("National Hockey Night," 5/2). BETTMAN READY TO PULL THE TRIGGER: Bettman, on the Jets: "If this team is pre-ordained to move, then I think we should get it over with and not, at taxpayer expense, build a white elephant" (Mary Ormsby, TORONTO STAR, 5/3). Bettman, from ESPN: "The problem we're having in Winnipeg is that nobody wants to stand behind the franchise. It's almost as if they want to make a charitable contribution to the opera, and if it doesn't work, have it go out of business. Well, you can't do that with a professional sports franchise" ("National Hockey Night," ESPN, 5/2). PLAIN SPEAKING: Columnist John Dafoe notes that no MEC member was willing to assume enough risk to convince the NHL that the team would be secure. Dafoe writes, "The message from that is very simple. If the private investors were not sufficiently convinced of the soundness of the arena and Jets deal to invest their own money in it, there was no way on earth that governments should make their taxpayers take that risk" (WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, 5/3). OFF TO MINNESOTA? While Shenkarow denied having received any formal offers for the team, one NHL source said "Barry's ready to open his mail now" -- suggesting that there have been inquiries. According to this morning's Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, the Nederlander family from New York -- brothers Harry, James and Robert, all partners in the Yankees and Broadway investors -- have joined the leading MN-based group, led by health care entrepeneur Richard Burke. A representative of the Nederalanders is expected in Winnipeg today. The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission met yesterday to discuss possible public funding, but MSFC Chair Harvey Savelkoul said any such talk is "premature." However, the Target Center's Warg called for some "creative" public financing. Warg: "We could be playing 41 games and playoffs next season" (Jay Weiner, Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 5/3). IT WON'T BE ATLANTA: Both Turner Sports President Harvey Schiller and Braves/Hawks President Stan Kasten said it is highly unlikely that Ted Turner would bring an NHL team to Atlanta before a new arena is built. Schiller said there have been no talks between Turner and the Jets -- or any other NHL team. Recent reports have had Turner offering $65M for the Jets. Kasten: "Our first priority is the arena. Anything else would be putting the cart before the horse" (Tim Tucker, ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 5/3).