Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Arts groups profit little from Jets' absence

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THE return of the NHL last year undoubtedly cut into revenues for arts groups in Winnipeg, but there's little evidence the hockey lockout is resulting in a stampede to cultural events this fall.

Because Jets season-ticket holders still had to pay for their seats, lockout or not, the disposable income for many of them hasn't changed appreciably this year.

Camilla Holland, general manager of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, said full-year subscriptions have "bounced back" slightly while the Jets are out of action, but that could be a function of the quality of performances it's putting on this year compared to 12 months ago.

"We have two great shows on right now (A Few Good Men and Red), and we're welcoming great audiences," she said. "Certainly, the enthusiasm people had for the Jets wasn't something we had seen from a competitive point of view in quite awhile."

In fact, Holland said many people in the arts community share in hockey fans' disappointment that the NHL and NHLPA continue to be at loggerheads in negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement.

"Downtown isn't the vibrant place that it was a year ago when the Jets returned. We feel for the businesses that are affected by that. It's having a really sad effect on so many people," she said.

The situation is much the same at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Executive director Jeff Herd said it has seen "small, incremental growth" in attendance this year, as it did last year.

"We'd all like to grow at 20 per cent, but that's probably not realistic," he said. Herd said his staff routinely joke about the reasons ticket sales might be falling short of hoped-for levels.

"The weather is nice, ticket sales are difficult; the weather is lousy, ticket sales are difficult. Pick your pain. It's like, do people buy less coffee when there's more activity or less? It depends on the coffee," he said.

Personally, Herd misses having the Jets around.

"It creates an interesting buzz and excitement in the city. Most of us feel that's valuable all by itself. We're a big city. We deserve the Jets," he said.

Local movie theatres have seen a "slight uptick" in traffic this fall, said Mike Langdon, Toronto-based director of communications with Cineplex Entertainment.

"Our business in Winnipeg is always strong. Winnipeg is one of Canada's best movie-going cities. It's very difficult to quantify, though, because what drives attendance in theatres is the movies being shown on the screens," he said.

Although patrons often complain about the price of popcorn, Langdon said movies are one of the most affordable types of entertainment around.

"It's a rare opportunity to see hundreds of millions of dollars worth of production for the cost of a general-admission ticket," he said.

Puck aficionados

give theatre a shot

EVEN some of the most ardent hockey fans have been giving the arts a shot. A few members of "The Dons," a group of hockey enthusiasts who come to Jets games dressed in Don Cherry-inspired suits, recently took in A Few Good Men at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre. Although the uniforms in the show didn't have a single hockey logo, they enjoyed themselves.

"Four of us went out that night and a couple of us brought our spouses. I had never been (to the theatre) before. It was a really good play," said Corey Cox, a.k.a. Don Cox. "The audience was substantially older than us, so we were a little out (of our element), but we had a good time. The tickets were only $25 each, which was nothing. We'd be interested in going back."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 21, 2012 A6

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