Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

No Jets, no problem for busy MTS Centre

Plenty of events at arena

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Officials at True North Sports & Entertainment don't know when they'll host the next Winnipeg Jets game, but that doesn't mean their programming has ground to a halt.

In fact, the coming fall and winter is shaping up to be, perhaps, the busiest since the MTS Centre opened nearly eight years ago.

"This year, by good fortune, our event calendar is as busy as it has ever been," said Jim Ludlow, True North's president and CEO. "We have a lot of non-hockey entertainment. It's on par to be the busiest non-hockey season as we have ever had."

Indeed, former Creedance Clearwater Revival singer John Fogerty hit the MTS Centre stage in September, and Canadian icons, Rush, followed last week.

Next month, the Smashing Pumpkins, Bob Dylan, Justin Bieber, Weird Al Yankovic and the Wiggles come to town. Hometown boy Neil Young and Crazy Horse will pay a visit in November, as will Journey and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

There's even one indoor professional sporting event on the docket -- an NBA exhibition game between the Detroit Pistons and the Minnesota Timberwolves on Oct. 24.

Kevin Donnelly, senior vice-president with True North and the man who books the non-hockey events, said the industry moves in cycles. For example, nothing was booked in the MTS Centre in August, one of the few months since the arena opened it's been dark.

"It's funny. I think our effort is consistent but periodically you get a cluster of activity," he said. "It's not like I was slacking off in August. I just couldn't find anything that made sense for the building and the market," he said.

Donnelly is hopeful he can land another big act or six to come to Winnipeg over the winter. His initial efforts to convince Paul McCartney to play here weren't successful -- the former Beatle is playing a show in Vancouver and two in Edmonton in November -- but he's not going to let up.

"Our efforts to get Paul to visit Winnipeg will continue as they will for virtually every act out there. Lady Gaga has announced a tour, Madonna is on the road. I'm trying to work what I can to have them consider Winnipeg. I think we can support every concert that's out there," he said.

"And I'm always trying to bring in the Rolling Stones."

There are about 150 events at the MTS Centre each year, compared to about 80 in the old Winnipeg Arena.

When the calendar is empty, Donnelly said his team redirects their efforts to maintenance, renovations and repairs to the 15,000-seat complex.

True North isn't in a position to book any acts for dates where hockey games are scheduled in case the lockout is settled quickly and the Jets need to move back in.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 1, 2012 B3

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