WITH the return of the NHL to Winnipeg and season tickets literally selling out in less time than it takes to run a two-minute drill between the hashes, the unspoken concern around town mere weeks ago was how this resurfacing would affect the business of the local incumbent, the Winnipeg Football club.
Fast-forward to present day and it's fair to say these fears have somewhat abated, with the Bombers having sold more season tickets for the 2011 season than they ever have before in the history of the club and are only 2,000 away from being capped at 22,500. Let's look at some of the reasons why those in the know were never really that concerned about the Jets coming back to town.
Let's start with the obvious, which tells us that these games could not be any more different if they wanted to, and cater to two different types of clientele. Watching football is like seeing a game of chess where all of the pieces assume the personalities and characteristics of amped-up wolverines and polar bears strategically trying to tear each other's heads off under the direction of a couple of conductors. NHL hockey is an expression of our culture and part of the fabric of our identity in Canada and showcases the best this country has to offer in terms of skill, heart and toughness.
The two games are not mutually exclusive when it comes to their fan bases, but in my observation, football fans in this town stretch the entire spectrum from the family consumer, all the way to the students and those on the east side who spend as much time coming up with innovative amusements like building beer snakes as they do watching the game. I've never been to a NHL game in Winnipeg, but having attended countless Moose games and Canuck games back home in Vancouver, the average NHL attendee seems a little more conservative, possibly because there are fewer rum huts at the MTS Centre.
In my estimation, CFL football games are the equivalent of attending a social mixed with a death metal concert, and NHL games are like going to a Broadway show, where celebratory moments are choreographed and not necessarily as spontaneous. Even the schedules are different, with the home football team offering 10 home dates (one pre-season) and 11 in those years where we host a playoff game, whereas the NHL plays 45 home games in a season and keeps the hardcore hockey fan real busy all year.
Another reason these two sporting entities can coexist is the fact they aren't really in competition with each other when it comes to their seasons. We kicked off training camp June 5, and the regular season starts in July and ends in October with the playoffs running the entire month of November. NHL training camp doesn't even start until September and the regular season kicks off in early October. That is only two months of overlap, and even then, the NHL is just starting up and the CFL is winding down.
Furthering the argument, these two entertainment options also cater to two very different price points and incomes. The cost of one seat for the cheapest ticket for one season of NHL hockey can buy you two of the best seats in the house at Canad Inns stadium.
Not only have both organizations coexisted in this town previously, but what we have witnessed thus far since the return of the NHL is that both sporting chapters can build off of each other as well. Football fans learned this year from the hockey test market that if they wish to have first choice of seats and luxury suites at the brand-new stadium which is to be completed for the 2012 season, they better get their name on a pair of season ducats in short order.
As different as these sports are, as different as their fan bases and seasons and schedules are, anyone who has ever played a sport at a high level knows a little indirect competition in a province that is starved for a championship never hurt anybody and is a good thing. The best way to win over fans and steal the headlines is to be successful, and in an approximately competitive environment not only do both organizations have to up their game, but it's a win-win for the fans.
One thing is for certain: The sporting spectating choices this year are diverse and gathering momentum, and for a population of roughly 750,000, Winnipeg sure enjoys its nights at both the arena and the stadium.
Doug Brown, a hard-hitting defensive tackle with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and even harder-hitting columnist, appears in the Winnipeg Free Press on Tuesdays.