Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Seventeen minutes says it all, heh-heh-heh

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We don't like to rub it in.

So to those who suggested NHL hockey would not work in Winnipeg there's little to say. "You were wrong" is a good start. "Shut up" is a better finish.

True North hit its goal of 13,000 season tickets on Saturday -- with just 17 minutes needed once packages were put on the market to the general public.

"This is a collective partnership and it speaks to the collective strength of the community to be able to do something as precedent-setting as this in the middle of the Prairies, way north of all these clubs in big cities in the U.S.," said True North CEO Jim Ludlow just minutes after the Drive to 13,000 had been completed. "Somebody for sure down there is looking and saying, 'Wow! This is going to be a great marketplace for us. And, wow! That community deserves to have this team back."

No kidding.

There's been lots of talk that the league made a mistake moving to a market that wouldn't be able to generate suitable revenue.

Let this be a lesson to the doubters.

Winnipeg and Manitoba are not also-rans.

Randy Carlyle said this to me the other day about Manitobans: "Just don't tell them they can't."

Seems Kitty knows a little bit about this place, because we just drilled the naysayers right in the lips.

Revenue is what makes an NHL franchise work and at an average price of $82 the Winnipeg club will generate just north of $54-million in ticket revenue this coming season. That's before they sell a beer or a board sign or a TV ad.

It's also in the top half of ticket revenue among NHL teams. The smallest building in the smallest market in the league will make more money off ticket sales than half the teams in the NHL.

Ugly Winnipeg, with its cold and its mosquitoes can't thrive in the NHL. Whatever.

When we got our chance, we delivered. Big time. This has been a week of triumph here. First for True North and now for the people of this city and province. Both were called upon and both answered with swift assuredness.

Commissioner Gary Bettman will take that message to New York on June 21 and ask the NHL's board of governors to vote on the conditional sale and relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg.

The vote will take about 30 seconds, after which Mark Chipman will be introduced to the rest of the board as its newest member. Our days of pressing our noses up against the window are over. We're in. End of story.

There's also a little something to be said to those who suggested the MTS Centre was too small at 15,000 seats.

Again, "you're wrong," sums it up nicely.

Winnipeg is pretty much guaranteed sellouts for a long time. Don't be surprised if the same thing that happened in Minnesota, where the Wild sold out for a decade upon returning to the NHL, takes place here.

Tickets to the NHL in Winnipeg will be among the most difficult to get in North American professional sports.

The building size may be the key to the franchise's long-term viability. True North moves to the front of the class in marketing.

Their product is hard to get. That's a good thing.

It will allow True North to have revenue certainty and to do their job in building and managing the franchise.

They'll have money and be able to spend it, making sure the on-ice product lives up to the expectations of the public.

True North did its part getting the franchise. Now, the people have done theirs by picking up the torch and selling out the building for years to come.

Finally we can move on.

Let the games begin.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 5, 2011 B3

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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