NHL News: Atlanta Thrashers Moving to Winnipeg, 5 Reasons Why It Will Work
Well, it's official.
True North Sports and Entertainment announced today that they have purchased the Atlanta Thrashers and will be moving them to Winnipeg for the 2011-2012 NHL season.
This ends an entire cavalcade of speculation about which team was going to be headed north of the border this year.
There is obviously a lot of excitement about the return of an NHL franchise to the city of Winnipeg, and with good reason, but after the excitement cools down a bit, there is a serious question that needs to be answered:
Why will things succeed in Winnipeg this time around?
Back in 1996, there were a lot of things that were different in the world.
The economy in the United States was expanding and booming while the economy in Canada, especially in Winnipeg, was struggling.
This led to several issues because the NHL teams are required to pay their player's salaries in U.S. dollars, which was an issue because the team's revenues in Canada were all in the much weaker Canadian Dollar.
Well, with the passage of 15 years, things have definitely changed.
Winnipeg's economy has grown, while the United States is still trying to recover from an economic collapse, and it is taking time.
With a stronger economy in Winnipeg, more people are working and earning a good living. With more people earning good money, that means more people have more money to spend.
Given the fact that this city has been clamoring for a hockey team ever since the Jets left, and with the success of the AHL franchise (the Manitoba Moose), it seems very likely that the residents of Winnipeg will have no trouble filling the stands.
And while the economy in Winnipeg has slowed a bit, the introduction of a major professional team coming back to the city bodes well.
The Fans Have Learned Their Lesson
The citizens of the city of Winnipeg were devastated when their team was relocated in 1996, and while economics definitely were a part of the equation, fan attendance didn't help.
This is something that definitely affects the team's economic health. It isn't the only thing, but if there are no fans in the seats, it's hard for a team to grab any other kind of economic hold.
From the 1989-1990 season to the time they left, the Winnipeg Jets never averaged higher than 13,550 fans a game, which was consistently towards the bottom of the NHL.
In more recent years, some of the NHL teams have shown that they can have little on-ice success but still produce a kind of team that is exciting enough to put fans in the seats.
A perfect example of this is the Edmonton Oilers, owners of the worst record in the NHL for two years running. The Oilers have still managed to put close to 17,000 fans a game in the stands, and the team also has some of the best young talent in the league.
I firmly believe that the people of Winnipeg have learned from this and will come out in force to support their new team.
In a previous article that I had written, there were several Thrasher fans who commented on the fact that the biggest issues circled around the ownership.
It is absolutely no doubt that bad or unstable ownership can lead to a team's failure. If the ownership doesn't make any real effort to improve their team, why should the fans buy the product?
Nobody knows more about unstable ownership than the Phoenix Coyotes. Dave Tippett made comments about teams needing good, stable ownership in order to succeed.
The Thrashers did not have that in Atlanta. The Atlanta Spirit Group has not been committed to the Thrashers, did nothing to help market the team and clearly favored the Atlanta Hawks.
True North has many advantages as an ownership group.
Most importantly, they are already operating a successful minor league hockey franchise in the same city.
They are already well known in the community and, by bringing an NHL team back to Winnipeg, are showing the city and the fans of the teams that they are committed to bringing them the best possible product.
Good ownership can help a team withstand even the worst of times.
Easy to Market
First of all, it's never hard to market a hockey team to Canadians.
That is very much like trying to market the NFL to the Bill Belichick fan club—you don't really have to try very hard.
At the same time, there is a huge window for possibilities.
True North is starting a season ticket drive to make their case crystal clear that Winnipeg is a viable long-term host city for an NHL franchise.
Then there is the prospect of a team name.
True North could conceivably purchase the name right back from the NHL.
Or, True North could open a completely new chapter in the city of Winnipeg and create an entirely new name.
Either way, this is immediate revenue for the franchise because the second those jerseys and team merchandise hit the market, you had better believe there will be a huge demand for them and not just in Winnipeg.
It's Part of Who They Are
When the Jets left Winnipeg in 1996, it was a black eye for Canada. It was a blow to the very culture of the nation.
Hockey is Canada's game, and for a team in Canada to have to be moved is something that they took personally.
If you watched the press conference this morning, you would have seen how emotional people were, most notably the Premier of Manitoba Greg Selinger, who emphatically welcomed the NHL back to Winnipeg, stating, "NHL, welcome home here in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It's great to have you back here where you belong. We've missed you, and we're gonna make it work forever now that you're back."
I have to say, I believe him. This franchise, whatever they're going to be called, will have a following that will want to keep them forever, and never allow that kind of black mark to happen ever again.
So allow me to echo the statements of the Premier: Welcome home, NHL.
Here's to many successful years back in Winnipeg.