One piece of puzzle in place

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:34 AM ET

Some say it's not quite big enough, that another 2,000 seats would be ideal.

Some say it's perfect, just the way it is.

But at least they're talking about it. Talking about the possibility of Winnipeg's one-year-old, downtown arena attracting a NHL franchise again, some day.

It's a conversation that was pointless before the 15,015-seat MTS Centre existed.

"There's an acceptance that the size of it is adequate for an NHL team," Mark Chipman, chairman of True North Sports and Entertainment, the company that owns the facility and the AHL's Manitoba Moose, told The Sun in a recent interview. "You could find all kinds of examples of buildings that aren't achieving 15,000, or haven't for some time. That, coupled with the suites and the technology of the building, at least gives you the opportunity to contemplate it."

The existence of 50 private suites, or luxury boxes -- more than double what the Winnipeg Arena offered -- combined with a greater number of quality seats means the new facility can generate far more revenue than the old one ever could.

The high-tech scoreboard, outdoor video screen and electronic "power ring" inside also translates to more advertising income.

You can't overestimate the impact of the ownership structure, either: When a team owns its facility, and reaps the rewards of, say, 100 concerts per year and all the concession sales that go with them, the financial picture changes dramatically.

That's why any local NHL owner would likely have to be part of True North.

Of course, several things still have to happen for the NHL to return to Winnipeg.

An existing franchise would have to move or sell, and a local group, presumably spearheaded by Chipman, would have to scrape enough money together to acquire at least part of it.

The rest of the NHL would also have to approve the sale, and Winnipeggers would have to pony up enough long-term season-ticket commitments to warrant an owner -- or owners -- taking the plunge.

"I don't think anybody should be under the illusion that ticket prices are going to be anywhere near the 27-buck average we had that last year (1995-96)," Chipman said.

More like an average of $60 to $70.

Eye-catching attendance

The way fans have accepted the new building can't hurt the cause. People noticed when 15,000 packed the place for Team Canada's world junior exhibition games last December.

The Moose are one of the AHL's top draws, too, frequently drawing the lower-bowl capacity of 8,800, or close to it.

It's likely Winnipeg would see competition for an NHL team from larger, American markets, such as Houston. But if somebody wants to bring the game back to another market in Canada, it'd be difficult to imagine it going anywhere else.

"One thing I think we could say, we ought to be at the top of the list as a Canadian market," Chipman said. "Given the fact the building's here, now."


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