Winnipeg NHL fans to pay high price

Fans of Winnipeg's new NHL franchise are being asked to pay a higher price for tickets on average than all but one existing Canadian team.

Only Toronto Maple Leafs game tickets cost more on average

Fans of Winnipeg's new NHL franchise are being asked to pay a higher price for tickets on average than all but one existing Canadian team.

True North Sports and Entertainment launched a pre-sale on season packages at 1 p.m. CT Wednesday. Ticket-holders and corporate partners of the American Hockey League's Manitoba Moose are being given the first chance to buy seats before they're opened to the general public on Saturday.

Mark Chipman, right, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman shake hands after a press conference in Winnipeg on Tuesday, announcing an NHL franchise is returning to the city. (David Lipnowski/Canadian Press)

Seats at the MTS Centre will be priced over seven different tiers at an average of $82 — the same price Montreal Canadiens fans paid last year at the Bell Centre and behind only the Toronto Maple Leafs ($114 average) in Canada, according to the most recent franchise valuations by Forbes.

Ottawa ($56), Edmonton ($60), Calgary ($60) and Vancouver ($65) all had lower average ticket prices this season than what Winnipeggers are being asked to pay.

The new Winnipeg owners are hoping to get commitments for 13,000 season seats before the NHL board of governors meet June 21 to vote on the sale of the team.

"This success of the drive to 13,000 will ensure the long-term viability of a NHL team in Winnipeg and will allow our fans to showcase their support," said True North president and CEO Jim Ludlow.

Bettman interview

The CBC's Peter Mansbridge will interview NHL commissioner Gary Bettman tonight on the National. Watch on CBC NN at 9 p.m. ET or on CBC TV at 10 p.m.

The company considered a number of different pricing plans before deciding on the one it unveiled Tuesday. Tickets will range between $39 and $129.

One reason the average price is higher than other Canadian markets is because the 15,015-seat MTS Centre will be the smallest in the entire NHL.

"A pricing exercise in any given marketplace necessitates the balancing of a number of market-specific variables," said Ludlow.

"Arriving at what we believe to be the seven ideal price categories in the MTS Centre required a careful review of a number of key variables, including our market size and capacity, our building size, team operating costs, Canadian market comparables and our history with existing hockey customers."

Season ticket drive

True North launched the Drive to 13,000 website  to provide info on ticket sales and chart the progress. Fans wanting the most expensive season tickets will have to commit for five years while those looking for cheaper seats must sign up for a three-year term.

"I’m not going to contemplate that 13,000 won’t be sold," said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, when asked what happens if the response isn’t there.

What's changed?

Despite a heartfelt "Save Our Jets" campaign in 1996, the Winnipeg team was sold and sent southwest to Phoenix. What changed in Winnipeg between then and now?

"But like I said, it won’t work if the building isn’t full."

The landscape for the Winnipeg team is much better than it was when the Jets left in 1996, with a strong Canadian dollar and the new arena.

Since Mark Chipman and David Thomson own the MTS Centre, they can make money from everything from popcorn to tickets for other events such as concerts.

"You've got a lot more sources of revenues than the old ownership had," said Rob Warren, who teaches at the University of Manitoba's business school.

But Warren adds there are hurdles, such as keeping the seats filled every year.

"Right now, there's huge excitement in terms of the NHL returning to Winnipeg and I don't see any problem for the first three to five years," he said.

"But Winnipeggers, whether it's hockey, football or baseball, you can track the attendance of the games fairly tightly with the team's performance.

"We're not Maple Leaf fans," he chuckled.

There are also concerns that a rebound in the U.S. dollar could make salaries too expensive. If the Canadian dollars sinks back to 62 cents U.S. as it did in the mid-1990s, it could add tens of millions of dollars to a team's payroll.

"If five years from now, the new team hasn't made the playoffs and we see a drop in the Canadian dollar ... it might put more pressure on the team and the franchise to stay viable," said Dan Mason, a professor at the University of Alberta's business school who specializes in sport management.

"But right now, absolutely, I think Winnipeg is a great hockey market."

Street parties

Several thousand crazed hockey fans celebrated the return of the NHL long into the night at the Forks Market and the intersection of Portage and Main.

An estimated 1,000 people initially shut down traffic at the city's famous downtown intersection for about two hours immediately following the announcement Tuesday morning.

It seemed like everyone and their dog spilled into Winnipeg's downtown to celebrate the return of an NHL team on Tuesday. (David Lipnowski/Canadian Press)

Police cleared the area but the fans returned later in the evening, when the sun was down, adorned in an array of colourful costumes as well as Jets jerseys that provided a historical account of the team in terms of logos and names of former players.

They also danced, crowd surfed, and played impromptu games of road hockey.

The party at The Forks went uninterrupted from about 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. when things became more rowdy and police moved in. An advisory was issued stating, "the conditions at the Forks Market have grown to be unsafe for public attendance and police are asking all persons to stop attending."

By the time police were able to usher everyone away from The Forks and Portage and Main, it was about midnight and cheers continued to echo through the streets as people headed off in other directions.

Despite the large crowds and parties, there were no reports of any violence or injuries. A handful of people, however, were escorted to the city's drunk tank for the night, police said.

Crowds shut down Winnipeg's largest intersection, Portage and Main, Tuesday night to celebrate. (David Lipnowski/Canadian Press)