Apathy becoming Jets’ toughest foe Fans losing interest thanks to lacklustre performances from underachieving club

When it comes to the Winnipeg Jets and their fading playoff hopes, it seems like we’ve reached the point where fan anger has given way to acceptance. The current season is circling the drain, and even the most optimistic supporters see the writing on the wall.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 05/04/2022 (185 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When it comes to the Winnipeg Jets and their fading playoff hopes, it seems like we’ve reached the point where fan anger has given way to acceptance. The current season is circling the drain, and even the most optimistic supporters see the writing on the wall.

“Go 12 for 12. That’s the only thing we can hope for right now,” is how goaltender Connor Hellebuyck answered my question Tuesday on what the mindset is for the final dozen games. Considering his team’s longest winning streak of the year is just four games — and that happened way back in October — I’d put their chances of running the table on par with my odds of winning a Pulitzer.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS “Go 12 for 12. That’s the only thing we can hope for right now,” said Winnipeg Jets goalie, Connor Hellebuyck when asked what the mindset is for the final dozen games.

As we prepare to write the inevitable obituary on a 2021-22 NHL season that began with so much promise, most of the focus is going to be on what went wrong with the on-ice product. But I’d suggest True North might be facing an even bigger challenge off the ice when it comes to injecting some life back into the patient.

The toughest opponent of all might just be apathy.

Attendance is down — way down — and selling out the 15,321-seat Canada Life Centre as they did with ease for the first decade of the 2.0 era seems like a pipe dream at this point. The Jets are averaging only about 13,600 fans per game when capacity at the downtown rink is at 100 per cent.

In a clear attempt to address that, the organization recently announced a complete revamp of its season-ticket packages which includes an end to multi-year commitments and the return of the original seat-holder deposit.

The Jets are averaging only about 13,600 fans per game when capacity at the downtown rink is at 100 per cent.

Desperation is in the air, and not just from the hockey club trying to to collect valuable points in the standings. On Tuesday afternoon, Free Press colleague Kevin Rollason got a surprising email from the Jets, noting he was a member of the waiting list who hadn’t purchased any tickets this year. Like those delicious hand-outs you can get at Costco, the organization was offering him a freebie — two complimentary tickets to see them play either Seattle or Philadelphia later this month.

Unfortunately for those who have recently sampled the product, Winnipeg’s play at times has left a bad taste in the mouth.

Allow me to share an email I recently received from someone who has been attending Jets games since the WHA days of the early 1970s. Calling himself a “faithful fan for the past 50 years,” he spoke of being close to a breaking point.

“How can they justify this kind of performance when people are paying good money to see them? The complacency in which they seem to accept each loss is maddening,” he wrote. “We now have a situation where opposing coaches actually say that they don’t mind playing against the Jets because they are an ‘easy opponent’. They don’t play a tough game. There reaches a point at which their game simply becomes unwatchable and intolerable, especially when you are paying to watch them live.”

“How can they justify this kind of performance when people are paying good money to see them? The complacency in which they seem to accept each loss is maddening.” – Winnipeg Jets fan

Faithful Fan went on to explain that he has the disposable income to “indulge in such nauseating efforts without it being a severe financial burden,” but he truly feels for those who aren’t getting much bang for their limited buck these days.

“All I want is a little respect from the players and coaching staff. Show me you care. Get mad. Show some passion. I don’t mind losing. It happens. Some nights you get outplayed, or maybe this team may not be good enough. I get that. But lack of effort? Playing like you don’t (care)? That’s unacceptable and disrespectful to those who pay your salary,” he said.

That’s become a common theme in recent weeks, especially with the Jets often limping out of the starting gate and getting soundly outplayed. Interim coach Dave Lowry, like Paul Maurice before him, has been unable to light a consistent fire under the group put together by general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff. Finding out why should be priority No. 1 this summer. Whether it’s the personnel, the systems, the coaching, the culture or a little bit of everything, a full-scale audit of the franchise is needed. Big changes are likely coming.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Unfortunately for those who have recently sampled the product, Winnipeg’s play at times has left a bad taste in the mouth.

And that’s what makes these last 12 games so important. Not so much in the results, but in the areas the Jets can truly control. If they simply go through the motions and appear to be mailing it in, further damage to the all-important brand is likely. It’s imperative to see at least some glimmer of hope for a better future to at least mitigate some of the potential losses.

The NHL used to sell itself in this market, but those days are gone. The global pandemic has only accelerated a problem that was starting to appear before we’d even heard of COVID-19. And lacklustre play is a prominent factor.

“I won’t be renewing, and the amount of season ticket holders I know wanting out is significant,” a long-time supporter recently told me. “There is no incentive to be a season ticket holder any longer. In fact, it’s a disadvantage. Resale sites like FansFirst and StubHub are almost always offering tickets for way less money than face value of even the preferred season ticket holder price.”

“I won’t be renewing, and the amount of season ticket holders I know wanting out is significant… There is no incentive to be a season ticket holder any longer. In fact, it’s a disadvantage.” – Winnipeg Jets supporter

As an example, he noted trying to move his P6 tickets for various games this year, which he pays an average of $70 per seat. His usual haul is between $25 to $59.

“The consistent feedback I’ve heard from season-ticket holders is they’ve gone too far with price increases over the years,” he said. “Aside from the nominal discount they now offer season-ticket holders at the concessions, and having an insurance policy to have guaranteed tickets to playoff games, there is no reason to commit to 45 games. They’ve become a nuisance over the recent years, rather than a cool asset to have.”

Perhaps he can tell that directly to the organization through its newly formed “membership advisory council.” It’s a much-needed attempt by True North to better connect with the community and “ensure that we continue to make decisions that align with your expectations.”

Based on everything I’m seeing and hearing, I suspect they’re going to get an earful. Let’s hope they truly listen.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES The popularity of the Winnipeg Jets appears to be waning among even the club’s most dedicated fans.
Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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