Plenty of competition to relocate a franchise

ADAM CLAYTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 1:20 PM ET

The Jets are long gone but many local residents are hoping the NHL will return to Winnipeg someday.

The league's new collective bargaining agreement -- which includes a salary cap and revenue sharing -- makes it easier for smaller-market teams to operate and local hockey fans are hoping the CBA will give Winnipeg a reasonable shot at acquiring another NHL team.

Ian Hudson, an assistant economics professor at the University of Manitoba who specializes in the economics of sports, said it's possible an NHL could be financially viable in Winnipeg.

"The problem is, it's also much more likely to be financially solvent anywhere else," said Hudson. "To get a team to Winnipeg it would take someone who cared so much about bringing the team to Winnipeg that they would be willing to forgo the extra income they could earn in another city."

Mark Chipman, chairman of True North Sports & Entertainment and governor of the Manitoba Moose, has previously expressed interest in bringing an NHL team to Winnipeg. He declined to discuss the city's chances of landing an NHL team while the Manitoba Moose are in the midst of the AHL playoffs.

Mayor Sam Katz said all of Winnipeg's professional sports franchises are quality products but it's not quite the same as having a major league sports franchise.

"People miss the NHL," he said. "The Manitoba Moose are a great franchise in a great league but then again, when you have one of the four elite sports in North America, it's difficult to lose it."

Darren Ford is so eager to see the NHL return to River City he created a website to promote his Return of the Jets Campaign. Some southern U.S. teams appeared to be prime candidates for relocation prior to the lockout that cancelled the 2004-05 NHL season but the new CBA will make it easier for teams to stay put.

Still, Ford said it's probably just a matter of time before a franchise grows tired of low or artificial attendance figures. In the NHL, official attendance figures are based on the number of tickets distributed rather than tickets sold.

"At what point does it become better to just move it to a hockey market where you can get full price for tickets, sell out the building and have rabid hockey fans?" he said. "I have to believe that common sense will prevail."

Dave Angus, president and CEO of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, said there's no question Winnipeg could support an NHL team some day.

"I think the only thing holding us back is our size, and we can control that," he said. "We can grow; we can attract more people and we can attract more business if we develop a strategy to do so."

John Loewen, the former chairman of the Manitoba Entertainment Complex group that attempted to buy the Winnipeg Jets and build a new arena at the Forks in the mid-'90s, said he would love to see the NHL return to Winnipeg but he's not optimistic about the city's chances.

"I think there's going to be lots of struggling franchises in the south but the question will be is there somebody who owns a franchise down there who wants to move that franchise to Winnipeg," he said.


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