April 5, 2020

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Opinion

Having Jets and Moose will change city's entertainment landscape

Winnipeg Jets owner Mark Chipman during the reveal of the Manitoba Moose as new name and logo for the Winnipeg Jets affiliate AHL team which is moving back to Winnipeg next season.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Jets owner Mark Chipman during the reveal of the Manitoba Moose as new name and logo for the Winnipeg Jets affiliate AHL team which is moving back to Winnipeg next season.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/5/2015 (1798 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

This fall, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet ought to consider asking its dancers to pirouette in skates.

Manitoba Opera might want to scrap the Marriage Of Figaro in favour of a new musical adaptation of Slapshot. The Winnipeg Art Gallery should clear out Olympus early and devote its main display area to Hawerchuk, Babych and Boschman: A Retrospective of the 1984-85 Winnipeg Jets.

The passion for professional hockey in Winnipeg is so intense, it will soon be the only entertainment option in this city. Or at least that’s how it feels, now that the AHL Manitoba Moose are back playing at MTS Centre along with the NHL Jets.

At least 80 times a year, one professional hockey team or another will be playing in downtown Winnipeg, thanks to True North Sports & Entertainment’s decision to repatriate its minor-league affiliate and operate two hockey clubs in the Manitoba capital.

The Winnipeg Jets will charge $43 to $143 per ticket and will sell out every game. The Manitoba Moose will charge $15 to $25 a seat and may come close to selling out the lower bowl all season.

This is not just the result of the pent-up demand for hockey that developed in Winnipeg during the 15 infamous years when the NHL was elsewhere. After the return of the Jets, there may be more of a demand for American League Hockey in Winnipeg than there was during the Manitoba Moose’s initial run from 1996 to 2011.

How is that possible? For starters, there are still thousands of would-be Winnipeg Jets fans sitting on a waiting list for season tickets. But that alone doesn’t make a business case for the co-existence of two pro hockey clubs.

The return of the Jets makes a farm club more exciting to Winnipeg audiences because fans will see Moose players as their own. Unlike in the old days, when the best of the Moose could get called up by the Vancouver Canucks, much of this AHL squad will be made up of Jets prospects.

This city is such a sophisticated hockey market, a large chunk of the Jets’ fanbase closely follows the team’s draft picks. There ought to be many Jets fans willing to see, say, defenseman Josh Morrissey, goalie Connor Hellebuyck or forward Nic Petan in a live setting if those prospects fail to make the Jets out of training camp in October.

This represents a big change from the fan connection to the original Moose, which existed primarily as a low-cost replacement for the NHL.

Sure, Moose tickets will remain inexpensive compared to NHL games. But going to see the Moose will no longer be just a diversion, at least for the sort of Jets fan who checks NHL.com before they have their first cup of morning coffee — and dissect the Jets’ playoff chances on Sportsclubstats.com every night after tuck themselves into bed.

These are not imagined customers. These are real, hockey-obsessed men and women — and there appear to be more of them in Winnipeg, following the return of the NHL.

Although True North may have initially contemplated moving its AHL team to Winnipeg as a mere stopgap measure, even modest financial success may very well keep the Moose here for a long time to come.

There will be some spinoff effects of having so much hockey in Winnipeg. True North ought to be able to realize some operational efficiencies. Hotels, restaurants and bars in the immediate vicinity of MTS Centre will be able to count on another 40 game nights, although some may come at the expense of other events at the arena.

On the downside, the city’s entertainment dollar will continue to be stretched. For example, when the Jets came back in 2011, there was evidence of a short-term downturn in attendance at some of Winnipeg’s performing-arts institutions.

Why did that happen? Mainly, because Winnipeg is merely a medium-sized city. While not all hockey fans are opera, ballet or theatre fans, there’s only a finite number of Winnipeggers who can afford a $100-plus ticket to any given event.

Ergo, there is some genuine overlap between pro-sport audiences and consumers of other forms of entertainment that demand a fair chunk of disposable income to experience. Jets ticket holders who don’t patronize the arts may be cutting back on travel spending or restaurant meals.

While the finances required to support a hockey habit do not necessarily require consumers to play a zero-sum game with their entertainment spending, it would be foolish to deny the Winnipeg market has changed.

On a similar note, it would be interesting to study charitable giving in Winnipeg — on both the personal and corporate side — before and after the Jets came back.

Having both the Jets and the Moose in this market will change the city even further.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

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