Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Winnipeg's ready to play, decision's been made

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The in-box late Monday presented a rather serious looking invitation.

The Conference Board of Canada is readying a Wednesday release titled Playing in the Big Leagues; Briefing 3, The Case of the Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets.

It purports to be an analysis of market conditions the group has previously outlined and an examination of whether they've changed enough to support the return of NHL hockey in the two cities.

With great respect for the esteemed economists and deep thinkers at the Conference Board of Canada, here's a first impression one day early that isn't going to change.

In Winnipeg, the decision's already been made.

Ahead of time, there's only guessing as to whether the Conference Board's report contains more positive or negative slants on the factors, though we know from a March report that Winnipeg's per capita disposable income has easily kept up and even surpassed some "Joneses" since 1995, and that behind the obvious locations of Toronto, Calgary, Montreal and Vancouver, Winnipeg is actually next on the list for the number of corporate head offices in its city, ahead of Edmonton, Ottawa and Quebec City.

One thing we are sure of is that while the report will be well-considered and researched, it is quite likely old news for Winnipeg's True North Sports and Entertainment.

Their decision to give this a shot has already been made.

TNSE has indulged its own investigations of these matters in the last five to seven years and marked them as "vision" for the basis of their work towards a rebirth of an NHL franchise in the city.

And there has been work. Let there be no doubt about it. TNSE has engaged the NHL in a discussion over time, something that surely has developed into a relationship, and talks have been substantive with an eye on being a solution to the ongoing problems of the failing Phoenix Coyotes or the struggling Atlanta Thrashers or the three or four other franchises headed for dark hours.

Improved

TNSE's principals have not gone down this road on a whim. They're not taking a flyer. They have a pretty strong opinion that their money-making arena, the MTS Centre, their strong ownership and partnership, and market conditions vastly improved since 1996's departure of the Winnipeg Jets to Phoenix put them in a position to be proactive.

The decision's already been made.

The Conference Board's mentioned March treatise on market factors was followed quickly an April paper by the Mowat Centre of the University of Toronto venturing that Canada could support 12 NHL teams.

The latter caused some measure of giddiness in some parts of Winnipeg but the basis of that reaction seems fairly irrelevant and behind the curve for Winnipeg.

The decision's already been made.

Yes, TNSE is going to go to the people for season-ticket and other commitments before the time comes to hand over $150 million or $200 million for an NHL franchise.

History on both sides dictates it's the wise thing to do.

Wednesday's report may or may not have some relevance for Quebec City, which at this point has been heavy on public debate, public grandstanding and public dollars and light on, well, an actual new arena and a concrete plan.

Yet Winnipeg, a full 10 years ahead of Quebec City in these departments, still contains a goodly number of people still looking for validation and for authentication.

That is curious, but old habits die hard. The leaders of the ongoing effort to restore the NHL to Winnipeg are all about discarding those old habits, top to bottom.

It's up to the market, specifically Winnipeg's NHL fans, to get with that forward-looking program. Wednesday's report, whatever it may say, will be no factor.

The decision to go ahead has already been made.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 3, 2011 C1

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