Monday, March 14, 2011

Jets to Fly Again?

teemu forever jets winnipeg
Stop me if you've heard this before: the Phoenix Coyotes are having trouble drawing fans. This isn't news considering the team has incurred losses totalling several hundred million dollars since their move from Winnipeg, causing the team to file for bankruptcy in 2009. Currently, the league owns to the Coyotes, which is unlikely to change anytime soon. Every time a potential new owner is seemingly set to give the franchise a sense of stability there's a snag that keeps the Coyotes' status in the desert in jeopardy. Currently, it's a battle between the city of Glendale and the Goldwater Institute that leaves Matthew Hulsizer's bid as owner tenuous.

There's also trouble in Atlanta with dwindling attendance, which has led some in the Canadian media to descend on the situation as they usually do when a Southern market struggles to support a team. The Thrashers are certainly in less immediate danger of relocation than the Coyotes, but if the team continues to draw attendance numbers that hover around 10,000 the same question will be asked: is it time to bring a team back to Canada?

The league's revenue is certainly derived largely from the success of the six Canadian franchises, especially considering the dollar is so strong. Logically, it makes sense why the league should relocate a franchise to Canada considering both Quebec City and Winnipeg desperately want to have a professional team back.

If a team was to move, Winnipeg seems the more likely of the two cities to get a relocated franchise. The possibility is gaining so much momentum that has a Jets Meter that represents how close Winnipeg is to getting an NHL franchise - which will surely become the Jets once settling in Winnipeg.

There is already an ownership group in place that has done their due diligence with the NHL on the Coyotes franchise and, more importantly, are enthusiastic about owning a team in Canada. Oh, and part of that ownership group is David Thompson... he's only the richest man in Canada, no big deal.

The team would play out the MTS Centre - currently home to the AHL's Manitoba Moose - which has a capacity just eclipsing 15,000. This would be the smallest in the NHL, but the Oilers play in an arena with a capacity of less than 17,000. That's not an outlandish difference, especially if Winnipeg is able to fill their arena at a level similar to the other Canadian teams. Only Ottawa fails to sell out consistently, yet still averages over 95% capacity each home game.

Here's an in-depth look at the viability of a franchise in Winnipeg done during last Saturday's Hockey Night in Canada's broadcast.

Quebec City is another option for the league to plant a relocated franchise.

Mayor RĂ©gis Labeaume is trying to solicit money from the federal government to help finance a new NHL style arena, which seems more likely now that Quebec media giant Quebecor is willing to pledge tens of millions of dollars. Without a new arena the NHL has already stated that Quebec City would not be considered for a franchise.

Of course, neither team is guaranteed to replicate the success of the other Canadian franchises. Neither city boasts a population over 750,000 - whereas even Edmonton has over a million people. Plus, both cities have already lost a team. But the Canadian dollar is strong and it seems likely that both teams would at least be revenue earners, which would be welcomed news to a league that supports a Coyotes franchise that reportedly loses $30-40 million every season.

Even if they lost $30-40 million per year, isn't it better they do that in Canada rather than some desert?

Realistically, hockey fans in Canada shouldn't get their hopes up, but earlier this month Gary Bettman told CBC's Hockey Night in Canada Radio that "at some point under the right circumstances, I would like to go back to places that we've been before that - at the time - we had no choice but to leave."

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