SUN Hockey Pool

Jets buff gauges business support

ROSS ROMANIUK -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:11 AM ET

Manitoba's corporate community is being asked to ante up its two cents -- and possibly much more -- on its potential support for an NHL franchise for Winnipeg if one becomes available.

Darren Ford, head of a grassroots "Return of the Jets" campaign, has begun distributing information and questionnaire packages to firms across the province to help prepare the city in case the league's labour dispute prompts franchises to seek new homes.

"I have no doubt that the fan support is there, but the naysaying downer-of-the-month is saying we don't have the corporate community to do it. And I think that's complete nonsense," Ford said yesterday while launching his mail and web-based campaign.

"This is my way of proving it is out there, and hopefully people will participate."

The push by the 27-year-old graduate urban planning student follows advice from Mayor Sam Katz, and hypothetical support expressed last winter by media mogul David Asper and Charlie Spiring of the Wellington West Capital investment brokerage firm.

The National Hockey League's player lockout is expected to kill any play this season, while several pundits anticipate that southern U.S. franchises may seek greener pastures if it continues into next fall.

Ford admits the NHL would have to become far more affordable to mid-size cities for the 'Peg to get a shot.

However, he pointed to Manitoba Moose president Mark Chipman's recent comment to The Sun that big-league franchises "are aware of the fact that if someone was interested in putting a team here, we would be ready to engage anybody in having that conversation."

Among other questions, Ford is asking corporate players whether they'd purchase club seats or private suites at the $133-million MTS Centre, home to the AHL's Manitoba Moose.

A $30-million US team salary cap and revenue sharing are seen as among the realities Winnipeg would need before it could reclaim the glory it lost when the Jets departed in 1996.

MORE CONFIDENCE

However, Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce president Dave Angus said NHL franchises and local companies will also need more confidence in Manitoba's business environment.

"If you compare us to Alberta, they have no payroll tax and we do. They have much lower corporate tax than us," Angus said.

"It will take a shift in policy and shift in thinking in this province to establish conditions needed for growth."

Katz said Ford is making the right moves.

"Trying to measure interest from the business community has to be done sooner or later," he said. "There's nothing wrong with doing it sooner."


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