Circle June 21 on your calendar, hockey fans, as that is the day the sale of the Atlanta Thrashers to Mark Chipman, David Thomson & Co. will officially be made official by the NHL's board of governors.
But before the NHL grants its seal of approval and welcomes Winnipeg back into the fraternity, there will be an initiation -- a market test drive, if you will.
And that's where hockey fans and corporate types in this town will have to back up their talk with some cold, hard cash. And they'll need to ante up lickety-split.
True North Sports & Entertainment will kick off a Drive to 13,000 season-ticket campaign today in an effort to both show the NHL in advance of the governors meeting the level of support here, but also to confirm their $170-million investment.
"There is a sense of excitement, a sense of anticipation... there has been a sense of loss," said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. "I don't think anybody has ever doubted that NHL hockey has great fans in Winnipeg, but unless the fans are prepared to support the franchise it isn't going to work.
"And so there are two issues going on here: 1) I think it would be a good idea to tell the board of governors as soon as possible that there's nothing to worry about, this is going to be great; and, 2) The economics of running a franchise, particularly in this building and this market, requires the support of having the predictability season-ticket holders will give you."
Mark Chipman, True North's chairman, insisted the 13,000 mark was not a condition imposed by the NHL, but it does serve as a juicy nugget to dangle in front of the governors in New York in three weeks. It would also be an affirmation of a market in which his family and Thomson have shown so much faith.
"It's an objective we feel is necessary and achievable," Chipman said. "When we first started talking to Gary about the reality of this, that conversation came up very quickly: that we're going to need to demonstrate the community's desire to invest alongside us. I don't mind saying that. This is not being imposed on us."
The Drive to 13,000 campaign begins today at 1 p.m. with an exclusive presale to Manitoba Moose season-ticket holders, mini-pack holders and corporate partners that runs through to Friday at 10 p.m. The general public sale will begin on Saturday at noon and will be capped at 13,000 to ensure a limited number of tickets are available to the public. Ticket prices won't necessarily provide the sticker shock so many had predicted, either. The season-ticket packages run from $39 to $129 per game -- about the same range as in Ottawa, Edmonton and Calgary -- although single-game prices will be roughly 40 per cent higher.
"We spent a lot of time scrubbing those numbers, not only in this marketplace with our experience in the American Hockey League but through that and other NHL comparables in Canada," said Jim Ludlow, the president and CEO of True North. "We think those ticket prices make a ton of sense, most particularly for folks in this marketplace. We need to be fair to our fans and our customers and with the effort we've put into that analysis, we think we've hit the sweet spot on ticket prices."
The Drive to 13,000 will ask fans to commit to packages ranging from three to five years and comes with a monthly-payment plan the organization believes makes the financial hit more manageable. True North is also guaranteeing the ticket price per game will not increase by more than three per cent annually.
"Obviously we think this can be a profitable venture," said Chipman. "This is not a business that you get into necessarily for that purpose, but we're confident in the economics of the league, we really are, and it fits our community and we can sustain it over the long term. This is a very significant investment for us, we're hoping the community is going to invest alongside us. The corporate community has indicated very strongly that they will. We need the fans to do the same thing."
WHAT IS IT? A season-ticket campaign with the goal to soothe concerns the NHL may have about the Winnipeg market prior to the league's governors meeting on June 21 where the franchise relocation from Atlanta will be voted on. It will also help give True North cost certainty over the next five years.
HOW IT WORKS: Fans will be asked to make a season-ticket commitment of three, four or five years by going to www.driveto13.com (no phone orders accepted). Fans are limited to four tickets per account during the drive, although an exception will be made to Moose season-ticket holders who currently hold more than four seats. Important to note: Fans will only be committing to a number of seats and a price category and seat selection after the Drive to 13 is successfully completed.
PHASE 1 OF THE CAMPAIGN: Begins today, June 1 at 1 p.m. and runs to Friday, June 3 at 10 p.m. and is open to current Moose season-ticket and mini-pack holders and their corporate partners.
PHASE 2 OF THE CAMPAIGN: Begins Saturday, June 4 at noon.
COST: The season-ticket prices range between $39 to $129 per game and half of the packages will be available in the upper bowl. The drive will stop at 13,000, but individual ticket prices will run at an average of 40 per cent more than the packages.
How do the season-ticket prices compare to other Canadian cities?
Winnipeg: $39 to $129.
Ottawa Senators: $29 to $141.
Edmonton Oilers: $30 to $176.
Calgary Flames: $34 to $180.
FOR MORE INFO: www.driveto13.com