Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Give loyal Jets fans something free to cheer about

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There is no danger in hockey-mad Winnipeg that NHL fans will not return. The fact is, Jets season-ticket holders signed -- at a minimum -- three-year contracts and have pretty much bought out the entire building.

In addition, there is an 8,000-person waiting list for these highly prized ducats. The upshot is the MTS Centre is guaranteed to be sold out, each and every game, for years to come.

That said, it is also true most Jets fans are angry and bitter about another half season of hockey lost. This is, after all, the third NHL lockout in the last 18 years.

In a hard-working community such as ours, where the average full-time yearly income is $38,800 (2006 census), it is tough for fans to wrap their heads around millionaire hockey players fighting billionaire owners over how to divvy up a $3.3-billion pie. For the many fans who live paycheque to paycheque, the lockout is nothing more than a disgusting display of greed -- a perception not helped by Twitter pics of star left-winger Evander Kane flashing wads of cash in Las Vegas.

While Jets fans will fill the seats again when the puck drops, it is still important efforts be made to heal the rift created by the lockout -- to help them get over their frustration and disappointment. Besides the fact it is the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense for both the owners and the players. Happy fans will spend more money supporting their passion. So, then, what can True North do to help make fans "whole" again?

They should offer a proper apology. Conflict-resolution practitioners will tell you there are three parts to a proper apology. The first two parts involve an acknowledgment that you have upset someone -- and you need to be specific about how -- and an explanation to them that you're genuinely sorry. As the Free Press has reported, fans did not feel that the brief written comment by Jets president and CEO Jim Ludlow and Norva Riddell, the senior vice-president of sales and marketing, met this threshold. Instead, what needs to happen is this: The team's governor and co-owner, Mark Chipman, and its captain, Andrew Ladd, should step up and make a public, in-person apology to Jets fans. It needs to be a real, authentic, heartfelt apology -- not something overly scripted and rehearsed. Such a move is necessary and would go a long way toward making amends.

The third component of a proper apology involves the offending party making a symbolic gesture of reconciliation. Often, this will involve sending flowers or giving a small gift. The Jets organization should do something along these lines.

Last year, for example, fans paid $10 a month for the Jets channel, which allowed them to watch every game -- home and away -- in the comfort of their own homes. An excellent gesture to thank fans for their patience and support would be to provide them with this perk at no charge, or at a discount (say $5 per month), for the 31/2 months that will make up the 2013 season. Such a move would be greatly appreciated and it might lead to more people signing up, thereby increasing subscription rates for the 2013-14 campaign. Thus, it could be both a short-term and a long-term win for the franchise.

Or they could provide season-ticket holders and waiting-list members a 15 per cent discount on nearly all merchandise purchased at the team's official stores for the duration of the 2013 regular season.

The contract season-ticket holders signed allows True North to hike prices by up to three per cent each year. It probably goes without saying that True North should avoid any increase in ticket prices this off-season. To do so, after it's obtained millions in concessions from the players, would be seen by fans as a slap in the face.

Indeed, given that Jets tickets are already the second-most expensive in the league, it would be a nice gesture for True North to hold the line on increases for at least a few years.

For many fans, and especially children, meeting their hockey idols can be a very special experience. Perhaps, the best way to heal the lockout wound with fans would be to give them the chance to meet the players more. Of course, the NHL collective-bargaining agreement places strict limits on the number of appearances teams can ask players to make.

However, it would be a great gesture by the players to go above and beyond these requirements this year and make a significant effort to personally engage with their fans.

To sum up, both the owners and the players need to recognize fans paid a price in this lockout, too, and many feel angry and taken for granted. It would be in the best interests of both parties to follow the suggestions made above and work hard to rebuild the relationship with fans.

 

Sean Petty is an avid Winnipeg Jets fan and a season-ticket holder.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 10, 2013 A15

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