Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Another tweak for MTS Centre?

Jets co-owner Chipman says adding seats in planning stage

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True North executive chairman and Jets governor Mark Chipman has long held -- and substantially proven -- that Winnipeg didn't need an arena bigger than the 15,004-seat MTS Centre.

Chipman is yielding a small bit of turf, though, on the seating capacity, which could go up in the not-too-distant future.

"We've looked at a plan to build some loge seating which would basically hang off the 300 level so we're going through the engineering and studying that, currently," Chipman said Wednesday. "But we're only talking about 250, maybe 300 seats, not thousands.

"The cost of that is being investigated and if we can do it and it makes sense, that'll be one of those items and ideas that falls into our current plan. But the building is not going to get bigger."

"We can't physically expand (the MTS Centre). And we're not going to do that and we never considered that."

True North has begun a capital re-investment in the MTS Centre, soon to hit its 10th birthday. A $30-million, five-year plan of upgrades, called True North 2020, has already begun in the building's upper deck.

He was also asked Wednesday on the state of his AHL franchise, currently the St. John's IceCaps, which has one more year on its agreement to play in Newfoundland.

Could the IceCaps, formerly the Manitoba Moose, return to Winnipeg for 2015-16 if True North's hoped-for scenario of moving the affiliate to Thunder Bay, Ont., doesn't materialize on time?

"It's one of many options," Chipman said.

Shovels are not yet in the ground in Thunder Bay, where the Jets' AHL team would be a tenant in a proposed arena.

"We're in the process," he said. "Lots and lots of work to be done before that project becomes a reality and I think it's making progress from what I can observe. We're not leading or driving it.

"We're hopeful they make progress. There's no certainty that's where we're going to end up."

The future of the AHL also sounds increasingly like it's going to include a Pacific Division by 2015, as the far-western NHL teams are lobbying hard to have their AHL affiliates closer to home. All five teams that live in the Pacific time zone (including Phoenix) have AHL teams in the Eastern time zone.

"That won't affect us but I'm not the one to comment on the plan," Chipman said.

Also discussed with Chipman on Wednesday:

-- The team has bounced back strongly from the lockout year and overall revenues have returned to Year 1 levels -- believed to be in the neighbourhood of $105 million -- or slightly higher. "We took a massive hit in the work-stoppage year but our revenues have come back to where we were in Year 1 and improved slightly in some areas," Chipman said. "Year 2 was a very costly year where, and it wasn't unique to us, we had to absorb some very significant losses."

-- The extra good news on Year 3 revenue is that it won't preclude the Jets from receiving some revenue-sharing income, as happened in Year 1 when the team was surprisingly in the NHL's top-15 in revenue right out of the gate.

"A new CBA that eliminated that exclusion for us participating in revenue sharing," Chipman said. "Previously, if you hit the mid-point, you were automatically excluded. That's about where we fall in, at the mid-point.

"We are able to participate depending on other factors and I think that's a good thing because it gives us greater certainty in terms of the viability going forward." The share won't presently be a full one but should help mitigate, as the CBA is designed to do, some of the fall of the Canadian dollar.

-- Ticket prices, and a pet peeve of True North and Chipman that the Jets are reported to have the second-highest ticket prices in the NHL, according to Team Marketing Report.

He said the team's average ticket price is, before taxes and fees, just more than $79 Cdn and is the sixth-highest of the seven Canadian teams and about eight dollars above the true NHL average ticket price, that it is not second overall at $97.84 as reported by TMR.

"They're inaccurate because what they do, from what we can tell, is they go into our website and they attempt to quantify or purchase tickets that are for sale on a walk-up basis," he said. "We're talking in the hundreds typically for a game and walk-up prices are higher than season-ticket prices." Season-tickets account for 13,000 tickets per Jets game.

"Walk-up prices are also different depending on the opponent. And the few hundred tickets for sale on a walk-up basis are not reflective of the average price of a seat if everything was for sale. It's the wrong sample.

"Even with taxes in, we are still among the lowest in Canada on an average ticket basis."

-- Chipman is as gung-ho as ever on the job GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is doing. He gave Cheveldayoff a five-year extension last September.

"Confidence is as high now as it was when we hired him," Chipman said. "I have every confidence in Kevin, maybe even more so because for three years I've had a chance to closely observe his skillset and his commitment and how passionate he is about his job. I think he's done a really good job. I'm very excited about the next few years and the job he and his scouting staff have done in identifying players and the job that (assistant GM Craig Heisinger) has done in the development process and with our American League team."

-- The Jets' player budget is on the rise, Chipman insisted, and will go up next year as the league's salary cap goes up, and he's not ruling out to near the cap, as it was this season.

"It'll go up," Chipman said. "I can't tell you exactly where we'll fall in. It moves up commensurate. We feel really good where we're at with the core of our team. It's not as though our plan is to not be successful in the near term.

"We're trying to win but not to the extent we're prepared to put at risk winning consistently year in and year out. We're trying to build something and if that point seems old, I don't apologize. It may seem old this time next year. We're on a plan and we're sticking to it. In the meantime, it's not like we're not trying to win."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 17, 2014 D2

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