Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Welcome Back NHL!


Winnipeg is getting an NHL franchise back. To celebrate, I cooked up a new avatar for the forum. It's been a long time coming and a ton of big let downs along the way for this city to get a professional team back since the Jets moved to the desert and became the Coyotes.

We seem to have always been number one on the list to get one of the disasters that are the failing teams in the southern US, but the conditions were never just right. We've come so close to reclaiming the Jets from Phoenix numerous times but it's never lined up perfectly as the suburb of Glendale seems to be willing to flush debt guarantee money down the toilet year after year.

Listening to some of the ex-pat Canadians living in Atlanta, it sounds like it will be a few years before people there realize the team even left. As an owner you have got to know that your ship is sinking when the few people that are willing to pay for tickets and show up are confused by icing and offside calls. This is going to be in very stark contrast to Winnipeg and the younger players on the former Thrashers team who haven't known anything else are in for a pretty huge awakening when you go from a no-name face walking the streets of Atlanta to being the biggest celebrity in town. I imagine being a professional hockey player in the south is somewhat similar to being a professional poker player anywhere outside of Vegas. No one understands what you do for a living.

Note to Commissioner Bettman: The NHL should adopt a bylaw stating your city requires 30 days of near or below 32F weather per year or be north of the 37th parallel to even be considered. You know about the 3 Advantages of Poker. The 3 Advantages of hockey marketing are just as simple: North. Cold. Population.

Back to Winnipeg. The MTS Centre is a small, but new arena smack in the middle of downtown. The cost of living and wages here are relatively low and this has always been the sticking point to getting a team back. Not enough money. Not enough seats. Enter Mark Chipman and True North Sports and their marketing plan. Pure. Genius. It's a 15k seat arena. They had a plan to not only sell the place out, but to make it sustainable long term: Lower the cost of the relatively small number of high end tickets, raise the cost of the nosebleed seats slightly to compensate. And sell them for 3, 4, 5, 7 and 10 year blocks at a time with better seats requiring longer commitments. No more huge season ticket drives every summer trying to re-sell every seat. Targeted, staggered groups instead, every few years.

Their goal was to sell 13k season tickets. There was a meeting for the business community to continue to buy their box seats, but now at $180k annually on average, more than 3x the price of what they were paying for Moose games (AHL hockey). The overwhelming response was "Where do we sign?"

First dibs on season tickets were then given to long time Moose season ticket holders and they were sold to groups of fans online over a few days with timing depending on how long you had owned your seat, creating this feeling of tickets being somewhat rare. They sold 7158 tickets over the course of a few days. Tickets were then offered to the general public, and all 5842 tickets were gone in 17 minutes. I predict a huge spike in keyboard sales in Winnipeg due to mass F5-ing. And the marketing continues even for those left out with a waiting list membership that gives you team store discounts.

The name of the team is still up in the air and rumor has been that TNS has been trying to distance itself from the Jets name and history. Personally, I think by using the old Jets name you've got a huge built in fan base. Where else on this continent (outside of perhaps Quebec City) do you see people buying and wearing fan apparel en masse for a team that left more than a decade ago, and wearing it throughout their entire exile? People want their history back.

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