As I rolled up to Shaw Park last week, about 90 minutes before the Winnipeg Goldeyes were set to begin their pre-season schedule, there was a familiar face standing outside the gates.
"Busy time for you," I said to Dancing Gabe. The 56-year-old superfan laughed, acknowledging he was going to be hard-pressed to attend every single major sporting event in town this year.
He might want to stay hydrated, given how much dancing his jam-packed spring and summer will bring.
After all, the new kids on the block, Valour FC have joined a couple of mainstays in the Goldeyes and Winnipeg Blue Bombers in competing for sun-soaked spectators. The early returns for the local soccer club are positive, with nearly 16,000 people attending their first two matches down at IG Field, including Gabe. That's second-best in the seven-team Canadian Premier League, trailing only Forge FC of Hamilton.
A solid start, indeed. Valour FC will play a dozen more home games between now and mid-October, including their next one Thursday, which will be my first in-person look at the team.
The Goldeyes are now on the road following a pair of exhibition contests (a total of about 5,000 fans braved chilly weather to take them in) but will kick off their 50-game regular-season home slate May 24, running through early September. The 2016 and 2017 American Association champions averaged 4,477 fans per game last year, second-best in the 12-team loop, and up slightly from the previous season.
Bombers rookie camp begins Wednesday, the main camp starts Sunday and the only home pre-season game will be played at IG Field on May 31, followed by nine regular-season home games starting June 27 through late October. The team will be hoping to build on last year's regular-season average of 27,715 fans per game, down slightly from the previous year but trailing only Saskatchewan and Edmonton for tops in the Canadian Football League.
Things really heat up starting in the fall. The Winnipeg Ice of the Western Hockey League join a crowded hockey marketplace that already includes the Winnipeg Jets and Manitoba Moose.
The Ice are in the process of completing the sale of 1,400 season tickets at the University of Manitoba's Wayne Fleming Arena — which will be their home for two seasons — beginning in September after $1.4 million in renovations are completed, including loge-seating for 200 that will increase capacity to 1,600. The 68-game regular-season (34 home dates) will begin in late September, with a couple of earlier exhibition games likely as well.
The Jets, of course, will continue to pack in more than 15,000 fans every game at Bell MTS Place when their next campaign gets underway with three exhibition games in September, followed by 41 regular-season games starting in October. And the Moose will try to at least sustain the 4,722 fans-per-game average of last season when their 38-date home schedule begins in October. That ranked just 22nd out of 31 American Hockey League clubs, continuing a downward yearly trend since they returned in 2015.
Add it all up and there's enough on the plate to fulfil even the heartiest local sporting appetite, and this doesn't even include all the other options, including live racing at Assiniboia Downs (the 50-date season began last Sunday), the University of Manitoba Bisons football team, the Winnipeg Blues of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League action or any number of other university and high school sports.
And if you have a child or two actually playing sports, you're really going to need some help with time management.
All of which got me thinking: what kind of investment would be required to literally see it all? Luckily, I had a bit of time on my hands Monday, so I used it to find out.
Including pre-season, that means 52 Goldeyes games, 44 Jets games, 38 Moose games, 36 Ice games, 14 Valour games and 10 Bombers games. No, I don't advise actually trying this, but humour me for a moment, or, as it turns out, more than 42,000 moments.
Given the average game lengths of the respective sports, plus allowing for 30 minutes of travel time each way, you would need approximately 708 hours to take in all 194 contests. That's the equivalent of nearly 30 days of your time spent cheering for the home team.
You'll need tickets, of course. Assuming you went the cheapest route by purchasing a single season ticket to all six clubs, at the lowest available price, you'd be on the hook for around $4,500, with nearly half of that being wrapped up in your P7 upper-deck Jets ducats.
That doesn't involve parking or concessions for those 194 dates, which is definitely going to run up the price significantly, in addition to spending an entire month of your year at either Bell MTS Place, IG Field, Shaw Park or Wayne Fleming Arena.
Another question came to mind when crunching the numbers: at what point does this market hit a saturation point when it comes to sports? Or has it already? Can all six of these franchises not only survive, but thrive?
Colour me skeptical. There's only so much time, and disposable income, to go around, and you have to think the number of options now available is going to have an impact. Based on most recent attendance averages for the Jets, Bombers, Moose and Goldeyes, more than 1.2 million people combined took in all their games last season.
Now Valour and the Ice have joined the party, and you wonder if the more than 160,000 fans they may attract per season (based on the current average for Valour and ticket sales for the Ice) are going to come at the expense of others?
We are truly living in a golden sporting age here in Winnipeg, both as fans and those of us working in sports journalism. Competition is almost always a good thing, but it can also come with a cost. Whether you're the Jets, the big dogs in town, the community mainstay Bombers, Moose, Goldeyes or the new Valour and Ice, the pressure will be intense to draw eyeballs on your product.
We may have already seen some evidence of that during the Stanley Cup playoffs, where a handful of seats at the downtown arena were still available on Ticketmaster as the puck was about to be dropped between the perpetually sold-out Jets and St. Louis Blues when I checked before Games 1, 2 and 5.
All of which should serve as a reminder to every team out there, big or small, if you want to stay on top of your game, don't get complacent or take your fan base for granted. You're far from the only show in town. There are now more options than ever.
Even Gabe's dance card is getting full.
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.