'Nice,' but not for NHL

ROSS ROMANIUK -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 10:36 AM ET

It's an impressive addition to Winnipeg's sports scene -- but the MTS Centre won't produce nearly enough dollars to support an NHL team, say a couple of U.S. pundits making the Ultimate Sports Road Trip.

Andrew Kulyk and Peter Farrell -- self-described "sports road-trippers" from Buffalo, N.Y. -- have given the new downtown complex a solid rating on their well-known website, calling the MTS Centre "a pretty darn nice venue."

SOBERING WORDS

The men behind The Ultimate Sports Road Trip -- a seven-year-old project in which they've toured every major-league sports facility in North America -- say, however, that the MTS Centre has too few private suites and club seating to pump out the dollars needed to support a big-league hockey franchise.

"When we walked through the MTS Centre we said, 'Wow, this is nice,' and, 'Isn't this quaint?' but the public spaces to devote to that sort of function don't seem to be in that building," Kulyk told The Sun yesterday in a phone interview from Buffalo.

The Portage Avenue arena's 50 corporate suites -- priced at $40,000 to $60,000 per box -- are far fewer than the 200 or more found at Chicago's United Center or Toronto's Air Canada Centre, they point out.

Those sobering words don't deter Darren Ford, a 27-year-old organizer of a "bring back the Jets" campaign that will hold its second annual Winnipeg social Feb. 4.

Ford is about to take his drive for corporate support -- in case an NHL team decides to seek a new home during the league's labour dispute -- to the province's top 100 firms.

"Am I to believe that those same companies wouldn't support the NHL, albeit at higher prices?" Ford asked.

"I'd like to hear from a single current luxury suite subscriber that they wouldn't like to entertain their clients or co-workers from other offices with NHL-calibre hockey rather then AHL hockey."

Kevin Donnelly, MTS Centre operations manager, suggested Farrell and Kulyk are bang-on with their critique of his venue.

"Concerts work within it. The Moose can succeed within it," Donnelly said.

"But this building was never meant to become a competitive home field against the Air Canada Centre. That needs to be understood."

The road-trippers, who have appeared on NBC's Today Show and ESPN's Sportscenter, say Winnipeg's NHL dream needn't die if the NHL undergoes an economic shakeup.

"A new NHL could be much smaller, much leaner," Kulyk said.

"Cities like Winnipeg, Hamilton and Quebec could become towns that might be right for the new NHL that comes out of the ashes."

- On the web:

www.thesportsroadtrip.com/mtscentre.html, www.jetsowner.com


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