Much of the debate about whether or not Winnipeg could support an NHL franchise has been guess work.
Economic experts saying this, the man on the street saying that and people believing what they want.
For example, would a team here have enough corporate support?
Instead of guessing, we decided to find out.
The results, like a rising slapshot from the unknown rookie, caught us off guard.
A series of interviews suggests Winnipeg’s business community is waiting, chequebook in hand, for the chance to make an NHL team here viable.
The Sun contacted about one-third of the luxury suite holders at MTS Centre, and 17 of the 25 executives we reached said they would renew their suites at our predicted NHL price, which is triple the current rate.
Three more said they’d reduce their portion of their suites but stay involved, while three said they weren’t sure.
Just two of the 25 said the high price tag would force them out of the game.
“There is a high level of excitement about the return of an NHL team,” Carol Paradine, managing partner with accounting firm Deloitte, said. “We do have suites in most of our major market places and this probably wouldn’t be any different.”
Even though the yearly cost of leasing a suite is expected to soar from an average of around $60,000 to $180,000 (private suites in Edmonton start at around $150,000).
“I’ve heard people say it’s a lot of money, but they’d still do it,” David MacAngus, president of Winnipeg Building and Decorating, said. “It slipped away once before, and I don’t think corporate Winnipeg wants to see it happen again.”
Many firms, like the two noted above, already share luxury boxes with other companies, a practice that would likely increase in the pricey world of the NHL.
“I’m pretty sure we would scale back what percentage we have there today,” said Curtis Wyatt of Wyatt Dowling Insurance, which splits a suite, 50-50, with a partner.
That scale back, though, could be made up in new corporations jumping on the big-league bandwagon.
“A lot of people who don’t have a suite today would reconsider if the NHL came back,” Wyatt said.
Charlie Spiring of Wellington West Capital agrees.
“There will be a changeover,” Spiring said. “But it will be a layup.”
With Spiring going up for an early slam dunk.
“We will be the first to sign up.”
He may have some competition.
MTS, Keystone Ford, Princess Auto, Maple Leaf Construction, W.K. Chan Jewellers, Carlyle Printing, the Winnipeg Sun, Qualico Homes, Manitoba Blue Cross and Lazer-Grant, a local accounting and business advisory service, were among the companies vowing to beef up their contributions.
“Certain concerts have huge demand and it has great value for us,” Derek Johannson, chairman of Carlyle Printing, said. “My sense is the NHL would be the same. It’s certainly a leap of faith at the start. Probably we would take that leap of faith.
“Talking to our customers, there is tremendous excitement and anticipation.”
Business types generally use their suites to woo clients and reward employees. So it’s a perk, but one with potential financial rewards.
“Our guys are big hockey fans,” Blake Fitzpatrick, co-owner of Maple Leaf Construction, said. “It’s our way of entertaining our guys.”
But even Fitzpatrick acknowledges there are limits.
And two of the executives we talked to said tripling the price would force them out.
“We’d probably sell it,” said Elite Communications boss Scott Greer, who shares a suite with three others. “It’s expensive. Probably too expensive for what our benefit would be. We’re pushing it right now. We’re a relatively small company on the Winnipeg landscape.”
Greer says he’d love to see the NHL return, but just isn’t sure it would be sustainable, long-term.
One executive, choosing to remain anonymous, went one step further, saying Winnipeg is actually better off without the NHL because people can better spread their money around.
“There’s no way we could continue,” he said of his company’s suite lease. “Most of us here don’t really want the NHL. I just can’t see the building selling out on a Wednesday in the middle of January.”
But the vast majority are watching the clock with anticipation, counting down the days and months — maybe years, considering it looks like the Phoenix Coyotes are staying put — until that first NHL faceoff.
One hand holding a Jets pom-pom, the other their wallet.
“There would be sticker shock,” John Daniels of Qualico said. “And then support.”
WORDS FROM THE SUITES
“Winnipeg is a big-league city. And there’s a lot of quiet money out there that a lot of people don’t realize.”
— Bob Kozminski, Keystone Ford
“Everybody talks about head offices, but it’s not just head offices. (We have) many companies with a presence across Canada.”
— Blake Fitzpatrick, Maple Leaf Construction
“It’s certainly a leap of faith at the start. Probably we would take that leap of faith.”
— Derek Johannson, Carlyle Printing
“There’s a strong chance we’d support it the first three years and then evaluate it.”
— Anonymous executive
“It slipped away once before, and I don’t think corporate Winnipeg wants to see it happen again.”
— David MacAngus, Winnipeg Building and Decorating
“We’ll support it. However, we’d like to support it at double (the current price, not triple).”
— Joel Lazer, Lazer-Grant
“Most of us here don’t really want the NHL. The city has become better since the Jets left.”
— Anonymous executive
“The city’s got a big sticker shock coming.”
— Anonymous executive
“There will be sticker shock. And then support.”
— John Daniels, Qualico Homes