Thursday, September 22, 2011

Winnipeg. The Little City That Could!

It has been close to 2 months since Sportmentary.com went live.  The site was in part a celebration of my renewed faith in sports.  Why?  Because of a little town that could.  I grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.  Winnipeg is hockey country and like other Canadian cities, we live for the sport.

In 1996 the old Winnipeg Jets died and moved to Phoenix Arizona.  Gone from the tundra to the desert.  What a novel idea.  NHL hockey died for me that day. It was hard to get into the sport.  While I understood the reasons why my team left (Weak economy and Canadian dollar and skyrocketing hockey salaries), I was upset and felt like I had a dagger stuck in my heart.

Downtown Highrise Buildings from The Forks at Dawn, Winnipeg, ManitobaI moved on and to Minneapolis after college.  Early in the next decade the Twin Cities got their second chance at NHL hockey and shortly after that I became a fan but it wasn't the same.  I was a Jet fan.  A JET FAN.  I still remembered those days of watching my lousy beloved team that gave me few great moments like the Dave Ellett playoff goal in double OT.

Then a few years ago, word started spreading that Winnipeg had a chance of getting its second chance.  Were these prognosticators playing with my emotions?  I thought so.  What had changed?  For starters, the NHL had a collective bargaining agreement that allowed Canadian teams to survive and the Canadian economy and dollar had rebounded.

In fact Winnipeg's economy started showing major improvements about 7 years ago.  The housing market that had sputtered for 30 years was heating up and is still hot.  The economy created jobs and major, major developments started to occur.

You’re saying, sure a city of under 700,000 really rebounded?  It did my friends, it did.  Winnipeg was the recipient of a major Asian coup.  Winnipeg is a major hub for Asia, transporting goods throughout North America.
Then came word that Winnipeg was going to be home to the Canadian Museum of Human Rights which some believe will become the largest museum of its kind in the world.

It's expected that thousands of students throughout Canada will visit the museum every year.  Cha Ching baby.  Cha Ching.  Winnipeg is scrambling to handle this influx of people. People now come to Winnipeg for jobs as Manitoba is the second hottest economy in Canada.

Then there's this thing called energy.  Manitoba is a hydro power house.  They ship Hydro electricity throughout the United States.  Cha Ching, Cha Ching, Cha Ching.

While this was happening, Mark Chipman was building his model of the Manitoba Moose.  The team was a prototype for the NHL.  Marketing and the product on the ice was key.  How to build a winner was key.  Then one of the world's richest men (Richest in Canada and 20th richest in the world) David Thomas joined forces. Thompson is chairman of Thompson Reuters Corporation.

Chipman courted the business community and built relationships with it.
Winnipeg finally had the coin to operate a team.  Very few teams have an owner of that magnitude and the little town that could had one.  Then this summer after what seemed like an eternity, the impossible dream came true. Chipman and company had purchased the Atlanta Thrashers.  Now the team is named the Winnipeg Jets but has a new look and a new attitude.

There was still a little matter to take care of (Prior to the team being renamed and the deal being approved by the NHL board of governors).  There were still those who thought that the Winnipeg couldn't support a franchise.  So Mark Chipman set the bar high.  The city had literally days to sell out the more than 13,000 tickets at MTS Center.

In the first couple of days, existing Moose ticket owners and business sponsors had the first crack. As the returns were published (Ticket sales results), the hockey world was taking note.  Maybe this little town could do it.

Then on a Saturday morning, the rest of the tickets went on sale (About 6,000 tickets I believe).  Winnipeggers showed their character as the GREATEST hockey town in the world.  In just over 15 minutes all the tickets had been locked-up and the deal was done.

Chipman and company could take that to the NHL Board of Governors.  Ticket holders had locked in for 3-5 years.  That's a huge commitment.  Winnipeg would be confirmed weeks later and the little city that could, would be allowed to celebrate that impossible dream.

Winnipeg is a great sports story.  It's a little town that has character and a sense of community.  Unless you're from the Peg, you can't understand what was taken away from her.  At the same time, when the opportunity came calling, Winnipeggers put their resentment aside and banded together to bring NHL hockey back to its rightful place.

I have one plea for Winnipeggers.  When Gary Bettman returns to this city, applaud him and show your class.  Regardless of the past, Bettman did work behind the scenes providing council to Chipman and company on what it would take to garner NHL support for its return to Winnipeg.

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