SBD/June 6, 2011/Franchises

Winnipeg's NHL Franchise Creates Season-Ticket Wait List After 17-Minute Sellout

True North Sports & Entertainment's "Drive to 13,000" season-ticket campaign for Winnipeg's NHL franchise "lasted less than 72 hours as the last tickets were claimed within 17 minutes of Saturday's noon opening to the general public," according to Ed Tait of the WINNIPEG FREE PRESS. By shortly after 2:00pm CT, a "ticket waiting list had been capped at 8,000 people." The pre-sale set aside exclusively for AHL Manitoba Moose season-ticket and mini-pack holders and corporate sponsors "reached 7,158 by Friday afternoon with the remaining 5,842 commitments gobbled up quickly not long after the on-line window opened." Fewer than 1,000 tickets at the 15,015-seat MTS Centre will be "available on a per game basis to the general public as the luxury boxes take an additional 1,000 seats while the NHL requires a few hundred seats be set aside for players and their families as well as league executives" (WINNIPEGFREEPRESS.com, 6/4). NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said, "It was an extraordinarily impressive statement by the fans in Winnipeg that they are ready to embrace NHL hockey. I'm sure our Board of Governors will certainly take note" (WINNIPEGSUN.com, 6/4). In Winnipeg, Gary Lawless noted at an average price of C$82, the Winnipeg team "will generate just north" of C$54M in ticket revenue this coming season. That is "in the top half of ticket revenue among NHL teams." Lawless: "The smallest building in the smallest market in the league will make more money off ticket sales than half the teams in the NHL" (WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, 6/5). The GLOBE & MAIL's Eric Duhatschek noted the "success of the campaign mirrors one that followed Calgary's entry to the NHL in the 1980-81 season" (GLOBEANDMAIL.com, 6/4).

SUPPLY & DEMAND: The WINNIPEG FREE PRESS' Tait noted thousands of fans were "shut out Saturday afternoon in their bid to land" season tickets. Complaints were "instantaneous as fans moaned about not being able to complete transactions in time before the 13,000 number was achieved." Because of the "tremendous demand," True North established the 8,000 person waiting list, with fans putting down a C$50 "non-refundable deposit" per seat. At the start of the team's second season, a C$100 "annual membership fee will be due in order to retain membership on the waiting list." All membership fees collected and accumulated annually will be "applied to the eventual ticket package as long as the membership is retained" (WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, 6/5). Also in Winnipeg, Jillian Austin noted "hundreds of want ads quickly appeared on websites" after all the season tickets were claimed. There were "several ads starting to appear selling tickets, at astronomical prices." One ad was selling four season tickets over five years for "[C]$150,000 no less" (WINNIPEG SUN, 6/5).  

PROOF POSITIVE: In Winnipeg, Tom Brodbeck wrote, "Does anyone still think Winnipeg can't afford an NHL franchise?" The demand for season tickets "pretty much confirms that pound-for-pound, Winnipeg is one of the strongest hockey markets in the world" (WINNIPEG SUN, 6/5). Also in Winnipeg, Ted Wyman wrote, "This is a clear message to True North CEO Mark Chipman and business partner David Thomson that they are doing the right thing by bringing an NHL franchise back to a community that has hockey in its soul. ... This is a statement to hockey fans across Canada that we are ready to take back our game and that this should just be the tip of the iceberg" (WINNIPEGSUN.com, 6/4). In Calgary, George Johnson wrote under the header, "Winnipeggers Prove They Belong In The Big Leagues." Johnson: "It may not have size, stature or trappings of many of the American metropolises hockey has migrated to over the past 15 years in its insatiable quest to find U.S. TV money and exposure, but it does provide something else very basic: Passion for the game" (CALGARY HERALD, 6/5). Maple Leafs President & GM Brian Burke said, "There are challenges in the marketplace. I think there right now is a wave of Canadian patriotism and euphoria that's not realistic. That being said, I think the challenges in the market, in being the smallest market and having the smallest building, having the smallest corporate base, I think those are challenges that can be met in Winnipeg with this CBA." He added, "I'm not worried about the first five years. ... The key is you need stamina" (WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, 6/5). 

NOT MAKING THE TRIP NORTH: ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun cited sources as saying that Rick Dudley was informed by True North on Saturday that he "will not be retained as the Winnipeg team's GM." Dudley "signed a four-year extension in January with the Thrashers." Manitoba Moose GM Craig Heisinger is "expected to be part of the Winnipeg front office" (ESPN.com, 6/4). The GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts reports coach Craig Ramsay, who has one year remaining on his contract, is "also expected to be fired." What "isn't clear is who will be on the hook for Dudley's and Ramsay's contracts." Reports have indicated that True North "worked out a deal with Atlanta Spirit" that would make the former Thrashers owner "responsible for paying Dudley and Ramsay if they were not retained." However, this was "not confirmed by True North" (GLOBE & MAIL, 6/6). 

ON THE AIR: CJOB-AM Sports Dir Bob Irving, whose station has aired Moose games for the past 15 years, said the station is "going to pursue" the Winnipeg NHL franchise's radio broadcast rights. Sports Radio 1290 Program Dir Chris Brooke said that his station also will "likely bid for the rights." He "declined to say whom the station might choose to do play-by-play, should they score the rights." In Winnipeg, Paul Turenne noted the team's "local territory TV rights will also be up for grabs, although most of the TV networks have been tight-lipped about whether they intend to bid for them" (WINNIPEG SUN, 6/5).  

WHITEOUT EFFECT: True North "registered the word 'whiteout' as a trademark with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office last month." The whiteout was "popularized by Winnipeg Jets fans in the 1980s who dressed in white to playoff games" (WINNIPEG SUN, 6/5). True North Dir of Communications & Hockey Operations Scott Brown said that Whiteout "will not be the new name of the Winnipeg NHL team." He added that the term was trademarked "only to protect future use of the phrase or term if and when it's needed" (WINNIPEGFREEPRESS.com, 6/6).  

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