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A lengthy playoff run by the Winnipeg Jets — accompanied by images broadcast around the world of Winnipeggers going crazy rooting for the NHL team at Whiteout street parties — scored a big goal in terms of positive perception of the city by its citizens.
According to a Free Press poll conducted June 5-19 by Probe Research, almost half of adult residents surveyed (49 per cent) said they feel "a lot more positive about Winnipeg" in the wake of the Jets making it to the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs and the accompanying public celebrations.
Another 27 per cent said they were "somewhat more positive" about Winnipeg. The remainder said the NHL excitement had no impact on their perception of the city.
"Sometimes, if it's about sports, there would be differences, but here there aren't," he said Friday.
"It didn't matter if you were a man or woman, or how old you were, your household income, or where you lived in the city, the positive feelings crossed all demographics... People would say, 'It makes us feel different.' They would say, 'It put us on the map. It made us look good.'
"It was how we were seen externally they noted," MacKay said. "The results are remarkable — this is a hockey team. How could one thing make such a lasting impact on people?... But this did it for a lot of people."
Mayor Brian Bowman said the results of the poll were "amazing."
"But, attending the Winnipeg Whiteout street parties, the overwhelming feedback I received was, 'I'm so proud to be a Winnipegger.' It was a celebration of the Jets, but also a positive celebration of our city," he said.
"The feedback I received from Winnipeggers was also being paralleled across North America... The passion of our citizens and fans was on full display for all to see."
Bowman said the positive international media spotlight on Winnipeg only helps when trying to attract investments and new businesses to the city.
"When (France-based video game maker) Ubisoft said it was investing $35 million here, they said there is an incredible positive momentum happening in this city, and the Jets' playoff run emphasized it with an exclamation mark."
Kevin Donnelly, True North Sports and Entertainment Ltd. senior vice-president of venues and entertainment, was impressed by the poll numbers, but not surprised.
"But it follows my perception of who came to the Whiteout street parties," he said. "It was so democratic.
"It was every age group. Every sector... It was something that new Canadians and people who are not hockey fans could get into because of the positive vibe. People seemed to really enjoy the moment."
The moment may be of future benefit to True North (which owns the Jets and Bell MTS Place arena), Donnelly said, in terms of attracting non-hockey events.
"Anything we can use as a calling card, we will. This reminds the decision makers that we are a destination and a place to stop and a place where the audience gets engaged."
Meanwhile, David Chizda, the RBC Convention Centre's director of sales and business development, said centre staff know the hoopla drew the attention of national conference organizers.
"We've heard from so many people about our Whiteout parties," Chizda said. "We were thrilled by all the media attention... We could not ever buy that advertising. It has put us on the map.
"I'm sure it will pay off in the years to come."
Dayna Spiring, president and chief executive officer of Economic Development Winnipeg (which includes Tourism Winnipeg), said she is pleased with the positive reaction of Winnipeggers, as seen in the poll.
Spiring said her organization has created a promotional video of the city, featuring the Whiteout street parties.
"We showed it at the chamber of commerce luncheon," she said. "Whether it is something like the (NHL) Heritage Classic (outdoor game) or FIFA (international soccer), when we go after them in future, this is another arrow in our quiver."
The poll, which used random digital dialing of both landline and wireless numbers to speak to 600 adults residing in Winnipeg, has a margin of error of plus or minus four per cent, 95 times out of 100.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.