Hi Everybody, once again one of my articles has drawn the ire of the Manitoba Mythbusters, a lobby group dedicated to bringing back the Winnipeg Jets.
They have set up a website, some of which is very impressive and some of it inaccurate which I have visited a few times.
Now I've publicly said I'm in favor of Winnipeg getting its team back and I fully agree with them that the city is not too small. I also agree with them when they say that Winnipeg is a better NHL market than the American money-losers
But I disagree with them that their arena is adequate, and I've taken lots of criticism at their hands in several articles.
So for this one I'm going to put my money where my mouth is and pretend I'm a Manitoba Mythbuster and show what I would do differently than the current group.
First, I'll list the arguments I make when replying to their comments and why I believe that Winnipeg needs a proper NHL arena.
1. The arena management has publicly stated that the new arena is for the AHL. The Mythbusters ignore this fact.
2. While I agree with the Mythbusters that Winnipeg has a population that can support an NHL team, it is a small market compared to almost every NHL team. The Jets will need to generate more revenue from ticket sales to make up for this and therefore need a bigger arena.
3. Other NHL franchises can't make it with arenas that are bigger than Winnipeg. Pittsburgh has an arena that is 2,000 seats more than Winnipeg and is building a new one to meet future expenses. The New York Islanders, which have the smallest NHL arena that seats 1,500 more than Winnipeg are on the brink of relocation if they don't get a new local home.
4. For this article, I'll limit Winnipeg's competition to Quebec, Hamilton, and Hartford, which are the smallest of their rivals. I won't even mention Winnipeg's other rivals which have the edge on Winnipeg because they are American and have much bigger populations.
Winnipeg likes to pretend that Hamilton's arena can't do the job. But Copps already has 2000 seats more than Winnipeg and unlike Winnipeg's arena which can't be expanded, can be upgraded to 18,500 seats and 200 luxury boxes as compared to Winnipeg's 62. $50 million was pledged to renovate it, even without Balsillie.
All that's keeping Hamilton out of the NHL is American prejudice and the greed and fears of Toronto and Buffalo.
Remove the territorial factor and given Hamilton's much larger regional market, any direct competition would slaughter Winnipeg.
Hartford's mayor has met with Bettman and has stated he wants the Whalers back within five years. He has also admitted that the current arena which is Winnipeg's size won't do the job and supports building a proper NHL-size arena. If investors are found that are willing to build the new arena, Winnipeg will compare poorly.
Winnipeg is even more behind Quebec which has finally found a wealthy investor, Quebecor (which the Mythbusters don't mention on their website), which recently tried to buy the Montreal Canadians to front a franchise bid.
And Quebecor recognizes that the old Quebec arena which is the same size as Winnipeg's won't do and is currently searching for more investors to build a new NHL size one before making a presentation to the NHL.
5. The bigger the arena, the better the team Winnipeg can afford. An NHL team has to be able to afford expensive free agents and offer better contracts to developing talent.
Is it fair to Winnipeg fans to support a team that is limited by the size of its arena to holding fire sales like Phoenix did every few years and can never compete with its wealthier competition for the Stanley Cup? Do Winnipeg fans want a scrape-by franchise at any price?
6. The Mythbusters have worked out ticket price that is supposed to make ends meet. It can be anywhere from $52 to $70 depending on which Mythbuster you talk to. But do Winnipegers really want these prices? What have they said?
a) We're building an AHL size arena instead of an NHL one because AHL ticket prices are cheaper and more people can go to see them.
b) We're building a new stadium for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers because CFL tickets are cheaper and more people can go to see them.
In other words, Winnipeg fans want an arena that can offer tickets to a broader fan base and not to a wealthy clique. One of the arguments the Mythbusters advance is about the number of luxury boxes in the new arena.
That obviously is not very attractive to the average fan. How many fans in this time of job loss can afford $52-$70 tickets regularly? How many Mythbusters can afford them? The team should be for fans and not corporations and rich people.
7. The Mythbusters are banking on good economic conditions to keep the team going, particularly the near-par value of the Canadian dollar. But when the dollar fell in the 1990's, Winnipeg and Quebec with their 15,000-seat arenas disappeared. Why didn't the other six Canadian teams fold? Because they had large arenas to help them get through tough times. If anything, Winnipeg needs a larger arena more than they do.
8. If the arena is good enough for an NHL team, why didn't an investor make a pitch for the Coyotes? There was never a better chance to get the Jets back than then. The NHL would much rather see the team back in Winnipeg than Balsillie and Hamilton. Obviously, no investor believes in the Winnipeg arena to make a bid.
9. A larger arena will protect Winnipeg against a blackmailing owner who threatens to move the team if revenues are too small.
So what would Steve the new Mythbuster do if he wants the Jets back that the current Mythbusters are not doing? Winnipeg has painted itself into a corner as far as the NHL is concerned by building a small arena.
There will be loss of face and no public money coming for a new arena. Money will have to come from private sources for both a new arena and a franchise.
Also, after seeing Hamilton build an NHL arena and then be denied a franchise for two decades, Winnipegers rightly don't want to trust Bettman and the NHL.
1. Admit the truth about the new arena
The arena's management has said this is an AHL arena and I agree with them. Winnipeg needs to make itself more attractive to both the NHL and investors and admitting that a proper NHL size arena is needed is the first step to doing so.
Winnipeg's fans have spoken that they want sports facilities that command a broad fan base and not be restricted to a clique.
Any pitch to investors that Winnipeg wants an NHL team must include the stipulation and commitment that a new NHL size arena must be built.
As far as the current arena is concerned, I would pitch it to the NHL and investors that the current arena is a great place (which it is) to host the Jets temporarily while the new arena is being built.
2. Expand my market
What do recruiters do in Toronto? Well, the Buffalo PBS station discovered that Canadians are willing to donate to them. They realized they needed to broaden their appeal and now conduct annual fund-raisers here and tailor some of their programming to Canadians. They also now bill themselves as Buffalo-Toronto.
The Buffalo Bills with one Toronto game now do heavy publicity in Toronto.
When the Jays were going good, there were always buses in the parking lot with destinations from all over Ontario and New York State.
Now let's look at Winnipeg's three competitors.
Hamilton has a huge market stretching from St. Catharines to the Bruce Peninsula and from Mississauga to London. Winnipeg compares poorly.
Hartford has the whole of Connecticut and most of Rhode Island including Providence. Winnipeg compares poorly.
Not only does Quebec have the whole of the eastern part of the province, but through its sports ties of junior hockey and CIS football, all the Maritimes too. Winnipeg compares poorly.
So what Steve the new Mythbuster will do is to annex all of Saskatchewan in the west and all Northern Ontario as far as Thunder Bay as my market area.
Are the Mythbusters doing this? Last time I checked, a group considering bidding for the Coyotes wanted the team to play some games in Saskatoon. Not much of a commitment to Winnipeg.
When I stand before the NHL and investors, I want to be able say that my market extends from the Alberta border to Thunder Bay which is a market of over 2 million people.
I want to show them that people from Regina, Prince Albert, Dryden, and Kenora have signed petitions that they want the Jets back and are willing to buy tickets. I want them to support the building of a large arena.
I want to be able to sell Winnipeg Jet merchandise to them as their home team. Like the Jays, when I walk in my new arena's parking lot, I want to see buses from Saskatchewan and Ontario as well as Manitoba.
Most of all I want to find out how I can get these people involved with the Jets. I don't see any initiatives taken by the Mythbusters at their website. I'll have to set aside a certain number of tickets for these people.
I'll have to arrange player trips and practices so that these fans can see them. Maybe I'll stage a day honoring the Kenora Thistles. Anything to broaden my small local market will help.
3. Broaden my search for investors
Now that I have my commitment to a new arena and extended my market, I can make a pitch to investors.
Since Manitoba has a limited number of wealthy people I'll have to take my pitch outside the province as well. It is not unprecedented. Ottawa is owned by a Torontonian. Montreal was recently owned by an American.
Balsillie would have been an ideal investor but he's made himself so odious that he would be a liability now.
But hopefully once I've shown that Winnipeg's market is not so small, that there is a good temporary arena while a new one is being built, and that there is large support for a new arena, I'll be able to recruit investors within and without Manitoba who are committed to both an NHL team and a new home.
I want to see Winnipeg back in the NHL for the long term and not a few years and always able to afford to ice a competitive team. That's how I would do it.