It’s too early to predict the economic impact of October’s Heritage Classic and alumni hockey games on the city but that hasn’t stopped local hoteliers, restaurateurs and shop owners from making sure their cash registers are in working order.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/3/2016 (2270 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s too early to predict the economic impact of October’s Heritage Classic and alumni hockey games on the city but that hasn’t stopped local hoteliers, restaurateurs and shop owners from making sure their cash registers are in working order.

Regardless of how many people come in from out of town to attend the games, the benefit to the economy is expected to be well into seven figures and probably higher.

The FIFA Women’s World Cup from last year is the economic high-water mark with an economic impact of $35.9 million.

The Winnipeg Jets will play the Edmonton Oilers in an outdoor regular season game at Investors Group Field on Oct. 23. The day before, the same venue will host a contest between NHL and WHA alumni from the Oilers and the original Jets.

The games may be more than seven months away but out-of-town hockey fans are already getting off their wallets in preparation.

"Our entire hotel is sold out for that weekend," said Jacqueline Storry, sales manager at the alt Winnipeg Hotel, which has 160 guest rooms.

"We have no rooms available for the Thursday, Friday and Saturday."

Groups from all across the country, including Edmonton, have been calling to book blocks of up to 30 rooms at a time, she said.

Phones have been ringing off the hook at the 340-room Fairmont Winnipeg, too.

"We’re essentially sold out over that period," said general manager Drew Fisher. "Everybody is always happy when a national event comes to your city. We were thrilled to hear this announcement. It’s another opportunity to showcase the city and show what we’re capable of, not only from a hospitality point of view but to provide that warm Manitoba welcome. It’s going to be fun. You can’t get enough hockey."

‘Very Lucky’

Chantal Sturk-Nadeau, senior vice-president at Tourism Winnipeg, said the two games will undoubtedly bring thousands of people to town. Just how many will depend on how many Jets season ticket and suite owners pony up for tickets.

"We’re very lucky to have Wayne Gretzky and Teemu Selanne coming," she said.

"We’re a winter destination. We own it now. We embrace it. This will be another event that shows how well we host events. It’s going to have the city buzzing."

And buzzed, as well, no doubt.

Chad Falk, executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association, said his members are "extremely excited" about the two games.

"Any time you have a gathering of more than 33,000 people two days in a row, it generates that buzz and gets Winnipeggers out and about, dining and having a good time," he said.

There’s no question the Heritage Classic will be one of the biggest hockey events Winnipeg has ever hosted, he said, along with the 2007 Women’s World Championships and the 1999 World Juniors.

The hope is that not only will people who visit Winnipeg to see the games find reasons to come back in the future but the potentially millions who watch on television will see enough of what the city has to offer to book their own trips here.

"Any time there is anything happening national or international happening in the city is great for us," said Scott Jocelyn, president and CEO of the Manitoba Hotel Association. "Those are going to be tough tickets to get. It will be such a celebration of Winnipeg’s hockey history and we’ll be on a national stage. The television audience will be huge."

Even if not every hotel room in town is booked, their beverage rooms will undoubtedly see a pick-up in business before, during and after the games.

"If I told you 10 years ago that we were going to have an NHL team back and host an outdoor game, you’d probably have had me arrested," Jocelyn said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca