Entertainment-industry publication PollStar Magazine placed the MTS Centre 19th overall -- a big jump from 27th in 2007 -- in its annual list of the top 100 venues in the world based on ticket sales for non-sporting events.
The MTS Centre sold 385,427 tickets in 2008, also making it the third-busiest venue in Canada.
The only Canadian venues that beat the MTS Centre on the global list were the Air Canada Centre in Toronto (fifth) and the Bell Centre in Montreal (sixth).
MTS Centre general manager Kevin Donnelly said many of last year's top acts either had never come to Winnipeg before or hadn't been here for a long time.
"There had been a long period of pent-up demand," he said, which translated into high ticket sales.
But the secret to the downtown arena's success isn't its ability to attract "arena-rock shows," but to adjust its size to fit smaller, more intimate sessions, Donnelly said.
By adjusting the curtain and the stage to reduce the number of seats, the arena can create the appearance of a sold-out show. Donnelly said this transforms the MTS Centre into more of a medium-size venue that's more appealing to artists like jazz pianist Diana Krall.
Of the top-10 grossing tours last year, the MTS Centre booked only four, he said. The rest of the sales were made up of smaller 3,000- and 5,000-seat shows.
"The (entertainment) business isn't just about the top three or four artists that make the People pages. It's deeper than that," he said.
The fact the MTS Centre is the only entertainment venue of its size in Winnipeg also helps. Donnelly said many larger cities have multiple competing venues.
Ticket sales at the MTS Centre have increased steadily every year since it opened in November 2004. The recent economic downturn may put a dent in ticket sales heading into 2009, although there's the potential for some big tours to pass through town this year, including Bruce Springsteen, AC/DC, Britney Spears, and an Elton John/Billy Joel double-bill.