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Jets' resurrection gets attention

Team's return to Vancouver generates excitement

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/3/2012 (1993 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

VANCOUVER -- If you looked at this through the eyes of an accountant, there are any number of reasons to be excited about the Winnipeg Jets, 2.0.

There's the mind-boggling ticket demand. Back in June, the 6,300 available season-ticket packages were sold in 17 seconds when 240,000 computers attempted to access the website.

Vancouver's Christopher Higgins (right) reacts after taking a high stick from Winnipeg blue-liner Grant Clitsome Thursday.


Vancouver's Christopher Higgins (right) reacts after taking a high stick from Winnipeg blue-liner Grant Clitsome Thursday.

Read that sentence again slowly.

There's also the question of sustainability. The Jets' various stakeholders -- advertisers, suite-renters, etc. -- were required to sign long-term agreements which means the franchise's revenue streams will be flowing at peak capacity for the next five years or so.

As for the size of those streams, the Jets ranked second in the NHL in merchandising as late as a month ago and, with an average ticket price of $82, they sit comfortably in the top 10 in the league in per-game revenues.

So there's a huge dollars-and-cents component to the Jets' resurrection and, before you get all misty over the feel-good aspects of this story, you have to be aware their existence is dependent on their business success.

But it's funny. When you talk about the Jets these days, no one talks about the licensing fees or sponsorship agreements or season-ticket numbers. Instead, they talk about the magic that occurs every night the Jets play on the tundra; the passion and energy that envelops this team and has carried them this season.

Yes, it's big business, about $100 million worth. But if you haven't been moved by what's happened in Winnipeg, then you're the kind of person who didn't cry at the end of Old Yeller.

"It's driven us," Jets head coach Claude Noel said in advance of Thursday night's meeting with the Vancouver Canucks. "I don't know if this process would have been the same anywhere else. I've never seen anything like it."

Team Lazarus made its only appearance of the season at Rogers Arena on Thursday night and it was difficult not to get caught up in the emotion around the game. Eight of the current Canucks played in Winnipeg when the American Hockey League farm team was situated in the Manitoba capital. Alain Vigneault coached the Manitoba Moose for a season. Jets assistant GM Craig Heisinger ran the show there and was an invaluable resource for the Canucks.

Prior to May 31, 2011, in fact, the Canucks were still affiliated with the Moose and the decade-long partnership had been successful for all concerned. But they would also become a distant afterthought in Winnipeg because that day the NHL announced it was moving back to the city it rejected 15 years before.

In so doing, they released the kind of energy that's released when an atom is split.

"We thought we had a model that made sense," Jim Ludlow, president and CEO of True North Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Jets, said from Winnipeg. "But no one anticipated the passion and emotion of our fans. All of us were rocked on our heels. It's been overwhelming."

And loud. Very loud. The buildup at the MTS Centre generally starts BEFORE the warm-up, rises to the opening faceoff, then hits something approaching mass hysteria when the puck is finally dropped.

"It's ferocious," said current Jet/ex-Canuck Tanner Glass. "It gives you goose bumps every time you play."

The Jets are also 21-10-4 at home this season. Only the New York Rangers have won more home games in the East.

"Coming from Atlanta, where you could be pretty anonymous, it's been a little different," said team captain Andrew Ladd. "But I'd trade the anonymity any day for the crowds we get and the passion they have for the game."

That passion was also there in '96. The problem was, that's about the Jets 1.0 had working for them. The Canadian dollar was trading at about 65 cents. The old Winnipeg Arena was hopelessly out of date. There was no salary cap and big-market American teams were throwing money around like drunken sailors.

Add it all up and it wasn't a huge surprise no one wanted to own or operate the Jets in Winnipeg.

Fifteen years later, however, those circumstances have been turned on their head. The Canadian dollar is trading right around par and there's a salary cap. The MTS Centre might not be the Taj Mahal but it serves its purpose and it's among the most profitable buildings in North America.

In Mark Chipman, the Jets also have an able owner-operator and, if that wasn't enough, his partner is David Thomson, one of the 20 wealthiest men in the world.

"It was like the Jets had to go away for 15 years before they could come back," said Ludlow.

They're back with a vengeance.


-- Postmedia News


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