Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sports, cultural groups welcome idea of NHL's return

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WHEN it comes to sports and entertainment options in Winnipeg, this town is big enough for, well, everything -- including the possible return of the National Hockey League.

Representatives from the city's football and baseball teams and two of its world famous cultural organizations aren't afraid of losing their share of Winnipeg's wallets should an NHL team relocate here as early as next season -- a possibility that seems to grow stronger every day.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers co-existed nicely with the Winnipeg Jets from 1972 to 1996, said Darren Cameron, director of media relations for the football club, and he added there's no reason to believe anything would change if the NHL returned.

"We're going to present our fans with a great product both on and off the field (this year). We're moving into a state-of-the-art facility in 2012, which is something to get very excited about," he said. "We have a great relationship with True North Sports & Entertainment and we feel the return of the NHL to Winnipeg would be great for the city and province."

The Winnipeg Goldeyes have experience operating in the same market as an NHL club, too, having been reborn three years before the Jets left for Phoenix in 1996. Andrew Collier, the team's general manager, said it did quite well back then and he's optimistic things wouldn't change if it found itself in the same situation again.

"Even with the NHL, people will still need things to do in the summer. We're a good, affordable option for them," he said.

Collier said there's a new excitement surrounding the boys of summer this year because the Goldeyes are going to play in the 14-team American Association for the first time after nearly two decades in the Northern League.

But Collier said it would be naive of him to say he's not concerned about potential new competition for both corporate and consumer dollars.

"I would assume that some corporate dollars may go over (to an NHL team) because there are only so many dollars to go around. The money has to come from somewhere. Because of our price point and the time of year that we operate, families, companies and individuals will continue to need an option in the summer," he said.

While spending decisions on sports are made overwhelmingly by men, the opposite is true of arts and cultural events, said Brent Phillips, director of marketing and communications at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.

"Doers are doers," he said. "People who go to the arts are also going to sporting events," he said.

In fact, Phillips said, he believes the typical entertainment budget in Winnipeg might even go up if the Jets flew home. There were similar concerns about stretching entertainment dollars too far before the MTS Centre opened up in November 2004. Ticket sales at MTC have remained strong ever since, even as Winnipeggers shelled out north of $200 each to see musical acts such as The Eagles and Elton John.

"The city is big enough for everything. If the Rolling Stones, U2 and Céline Dion are coming to Winnipeg and people want to see them, they'll find a way to make it happen," he said.

Judy Slivinski, senior director of marketing and development at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, agrees. She said the impact of the return of the NHL to the city would not only be a boost to tourism but also provide the impetus for many Winnipeggers to get off of their couches and go out to various activities.

"We think it would be great if the Jets came back. Winnipeg is on the map for so many reasons. We have a lot of civic pride, we'd be very happy to have another high-profile group here," she said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 20, 2011 A3

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