Hockey fans in Winnipeg declared two things in needing just three days to snap up all 13,000 season tickets for the city’s new NHL team: Welcome back hockey — and take that, Gary Bettman.
Winnipeg, which was one of the victims of NHL commissioner Bettman’s ill-fated attempts to bring the game to warm weather cities at the expense of smaller markets in the northern United States and Canada, will have an NHL team this fall for the first time in 16 seasons following the sale of the Atlanta Thrashers to the Winnipeg-based True North Sports and Entertainment. The name of the team is still to be determined, though it will likely not pay homage to Winnipeg’s NHL past by being called the Jets, who played in Winnipeg from 1979 until moving to Phoenix and becoming the Coyotes following the 1995-96 season.
Returning to Winnipeg seemed to be the very last thing Bettman — who oversaw the demise of professional hockey in cold-weather, hockey-happy markets such as Minnesota, Winnipeg, Quebec and Hartford and embraced expansion and relocation to atypical warm weather markets such as Dallas, Phoenix, North Carolina, Atlanta, Nashville and Phoenix — wanted to do. True North expressed interest in buying the Coyotes and returning them to Winnipeg once the Coyotes declared bankruptcy in 2009, but the franchise has been operated by the NHL since then and the city of Glendale has paid the NHL $25 million following the conclusion of each of the last two seasons in order to keep the franchise in Phoenix.
There was no saving the NHL in Atlanta, where hockey had already failed with the Flames in 1980, though that didn’t stop Bettman from declaring the difficult road ahead of Winnipeg, where he declared during the welcome back press conference Tuesday, May 31 that the franchise would have to sell out every home game at the 15,105-seat MTS Centre in order to remain viable. While in Atlanta, the Thrashers bettered that average attendance figure in just six of 11 seasons.
Winnipeg fans wasted no time in quieting Bettman, and indeed, the swiftness of season ticket sales is even more impressive than it appears. From Wednesday, June 1 through Friday, June 3, season ticket sales were held only for those who had season tickets to the American Hockey League’s Manitoba Moose. After selling 7,000 season ticket packages in those three days, the remaining 6,000 season tickets went on sale to the general public the morning of Saturday, June 4 — and sold out in a jaw-dropping 17 minutes.
In addition, every season ticket holder agreed to at least a three-year commitment. More expensive seats come with a five-year commitment at MTS Centre. Ticket prices range from $39 to $129.
“We expected that,” Mario Livich of Vancouver-based ShowTime Tickets told TicketNews. “They want to stand behind this team. Winnipeg has a strong community there and it’s a very excited hockey market. It doesn’t surprise me.”
The Jets averaged 12,878 fans per game in their final seven seasons at 15,393-seat Winnipeg Arena, where the Jets played for their entire 24-year history.