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Esplanade RielIn 1996 Winnipeg seemed like quite a dismal place to live for a 19-year old such as myself, or anyone for that matter. The NHL Jets flew south, we lost both major Canadian breweries and we were being force-fed IHL Moose hockey at a re-re-modelled Winnipeg Arena. Times were not looking up. Fast forward 10 years and we are looking at quite a different picture. Well, we still have the Moose and we still don't have Labatt or Moslon back in town but we do have the beginnings of an exciting city again.

Winnipeg is currently undergoing a multitude of exciting changes. Our downtown has seen plans unfold to partially revitalize itself including new bridges, sky scrapers, business tax cuts, new landscaping and most importantly, a brand new arena that opened its doors in late 2004. There are still exciting Winnipeg Skylinedevelopments planned for Waterfront Drive, the minor league Goldeyes are thriving in their new ballpark, The Forks is ever-expanding, new businesses are opening up shop downtown every year and transit is undergoing large-scale improvements. Despite the growth, however, all of this action still does not tap the full potential Winnipeg's downtown has. The unique Exchange District is half-vacant, there are few pubs and/or sports bars and enough people still don't venture downtown unless it is absolutely necessary. What will spark an economic snowball effect and create a bussling downtown? Simple. The NHL as the anchor tenant in MTS Centre.

Exchange DistrictWe need to fill our new arena 44 hockey nights a year to enjoy all of the economic spin-offs that should come with a facility of its caliber. AHL hockey WILL NOT revitalize the downtown as hoped nor create any interest beyond “freebie” tickets. Will you drive downtown on a Tuesday night after work to see the Moose play the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins after it has been announced our best player has been re-called to Vancouver, again? This is supposed to be the long-term main tenant in our new arena? This is supposed to give downtown the boost it needs to spawn growth and business? I think not. Not only are there not enough people going to Moose games to sustain a new, vibrant downtown but the demographic is wrong as well.

MTS CentreIn order for Winnipeg to properly revitalize our downtown we need a main tenant in our new arena that will bring 15,000 people downtown 44 nights a year. Add that to 40-50 other nights of capacity crowds and you're looking at nearly 100 nights of 15,000+ people pouring out onto the streets of downtown, before and after an event. Think about that. It would help our youth decide to stay here and open up their own bars and cafes while dramatically helping out existing ones. It would fill the boarded-up vacancies of our Exchange District that would become hot real estate overnight. It would help our economy and tourism instantly. It would put Winnipeg back on the map. "It" is NHL hockey.

Inside the MTS CentreThere is a population base of approximately 715,000 in the Winnipeg vicinity and over 800,000 inside a one hour radius. One must not forget those communities that are within a reasonable driving distance to attend games regularly. Towns like Portage La Prairie, Stonewall, Selkirk, Beausejour and Steinbach are all less than an hour's drive of MTS Centre and are all travelled by four-lane highway. Even closer are the fringe communities of Stoney Mountain, Bird's Hill, St. Paul, Oakbank, Dugald, La Salle, Oak Bluff and Headingly. A vast majority of people from these areas and from Winnipeg were born learning to skate before they learned to speak.

Winnipeg SkylineWinnipeg, in reality, is not a small market. Raw population has no real significance to the feasibility of a team. What is crucial is the number of actual hockey fans there are in a city to draw from. Per-capita hockey fans is the figure that matters most when examining the feasibility of a team in a particular market. What does it matter if Sydney, Australia has 5 million people? How many hockey fans live there? Before you begin to think "apples and oranges", ask yourself if Nashville, Tennessee is really that different. Or Phoenix. Or Miami. The lucrative television dream is dead in the NHL so there no longer exists the argument that those cities have larger television audiences and advertising opportunities. If people aren't showing up in the stands down south, they aren't interested watching hockey on television either, which in turn is directly responsible for companies not being interested in spending huge advertsing dollars either. On and on down the line it all comes down to one simple solution. Fans. Fans are needed to pay full price for tickets, attend the game, buy a cap or jersey, grab a beer and nachos and pay to park. With enough fans you create supply and demand for tickets, a steady television audience and finally ample advertising dollars. It's really Marketing 101, and the NHL has many teams failing the course. Many of them aren't paying full price, if any price at all, for tickets nor are they finding a ticket hard to come by. Perhaps the biggest problem is that those who actually to have a ticket, whether paid for or free, aren't showing up at the game. This trend hurts most because none of the spin-off revenue can be generated when a person doesn't come to the game. No nachos, no parking, no cap. On top of this, virtually nobody is watching on television and advertising rates drop as a consequence.

Exchange DistrictThere are more hockey rinks per-capita in Winnipeg than any city in North America (fact). There is hockey history in Winnipeg that dates back to our very existence as a city. Notable eras in our timeline include the 1970's when Bobby Hull, the first million dollar hockey player, played for the WHA Winnipeg Jets. Then came the NHL years with hall-of-famer Dale Hawerchuk in the 1980's and the all-time highest scoring rookie, Teemu Selanne in the 1990's. Our hockey heritage is best reflected by the coining of the “white-out” tradition that has been copied throughout the league but never duplicated to nearly the same level. Speaking of level, there is the decibal levels! To this day no city has produced such crowd pandemonium where play-by-play announcers couldn’t even properly call the game. Don Cherry himself maintains “there is no question, Winnipeg has the best hockey fans in the world”. There's no need for rocket science marketing in Winnipeg. Just provide a seat and print a ticket and it will be filled. Paint the seats whatever color you wish...the building will be white anyway!

We have the ability to decide what we want for the future of our city and it starts with regaining NHL hockey. We have to stop being known for our complaining and start doing something for ourselves and our kids, the next generation. None of this dream is unattainable. It never was. The campaign has reached numerous milestones and thousands of people all over the world. It's never too late to hop on board! Remember, The NHL needs us and much as we need them! Click map for a larger view
Click image for a larger view

Winnipeg SkylineWith the NHL downtown people will be excited again about Winnipeg and not have the desire to move to away, like so many in my age group have. Don't forget those people have children and Winnipeg misses out on an entire family tree every time someone in their 20's leaves town. We need to feel that excitment and sense pride that a big-league sports teams brings to a community. The day this finally happens we can all feel proud. Not because we got an NHL team back but because we had the vision to do so. Small, narrow-minded people in this city perpetually make us believe we are inferior. We are not. We will get our Jets back. The NHL will be begging to have us back. This campaign has been correct thus far, there is no reason to think we can't go that one extra mile. This campaign has existed for three years and has never backed down. We will not. We will stuff this idea in front of everyone's face until the day we once again see the puck drop for our very own NHL team.



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