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West End theatre to feature Jets games for low-income fans

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You might need to be near the upper end of the income scale to watch the Winnipeg Jets in person but you don't need a big salary to be a fan.

That's why Tim Thiessen, manager of the Ellice Cafe and Theatre, is preparing to offer the TSN Jets channel at its 230-seat theatre next week. He said many low-income earners in the West End have had to rely on the radio or infrequent basic-cable broadcasts to follow their favourite team, not the wall-to-wall coverage the more affluent often take for granted.

"A lot of people in this neighbourhood can't afford cable or if they can, can't afford (TSN Jets). Showing the games here gives them a way to watch the game for free, bring a bunch of friends, hang out and have a good time," he said.

In an email blast to customers this week -- most have access to a computer -- Thiessen said fans could gain access to the theatre by either providing a lunch or dinner receipt from his eatery or buying a popcorn and drink combo in the theatre for $4. He's not planning to hire a bouncer to enforce the rules, however.

"They can just come in. Would we like them to buy concessions? Absolutely. But if they're not going to, I'm not going to throw anybody out. Unless we had 600 people show up," he said.

Brian Rusk, a longtime regular of the Ellice Cafe, agreed. He said shelling out $10 a month for TSN Jets simply isn't an option for many of his fellow patrons.

"There are a lot of very low-income people here on welfare who can't afford it. They're fans but they can't follow the team as closely as they'd like to," he said.

Thiessen said he would have liked to have signed up for TSN Jets at the beginning of the season but he wasn't ready until now.

He said many of his customers sport hats and clothing bearing the logos of both the current and old Jets. The difference between now and when the original Jets left for Arizona in 1996 is cheap tickets simply don't exist anymore.

"Jets gear is everywhere in the city and it's all over the place here, too. I'm sure there are as many Jets fans here as anywhere else. It doesn't look like the ordinary folks will have much chance to get to a Jets game. It's great for the team but I don't think there's a chance for most folks in this neighbourhood to get to a Jets game," he said.

The Ellice Cafe was founded seven years ago by late inner-city minister and activist Harry Lehotsky. The theatre -- which operated as the Mac's Theatre from 1913 until the late 1960s and later as the art house Cinema 3 -- opened a few months later.

Thiessen said he's confident Lehotsky would have been among the crowd if he had survived his battle with cancer five years ago.

"He had three sons. He was a hockey fan," he said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 10, 2012 B2

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