SUN Hockey Pool

Cash and the NHL

There are many things the city of Winnipeg would have to do to get an NHL franchise again. (Sun...

There are many things the city of Winnipeg would have to do to get an NHL franchise again. (Sun Media File/Chris Wahl)

TOM BRODBECK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:45 PM ET

The thing about bringing the Jets back to Winnipeg isn't so much about NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, the Phoenix Coyotes, salary caps or potential owners.

It's mostly about Manitoba's economy, which often gets left out of the debate when we talk about bringing the NHL back to Winnipeg, like we are again.

Sure, we need to know who would buy a team and put it in Winnipeg, whether a team is available and whether the league's board of governors would approve it.

There are many things Winnipeg would have to do to get an NHL franchise again.

But the most important aspect is often ignored -- Manitoba's wealth compared with other hockey jurisdictions.

The biggest obstacle to Winnipeg getting an NHL club is not the size of MTS Centre or who would buy the team. It's whether Winnipeggers can pay the kind of ticket prices that would have to be charged in order to have a team here.

One of the first things prospective owners do when they contemplate buying an NHL franchise is look at ticket prices, because what it really boils down to is what owners can charge for ticket prices versus what their player salary costs are projected to be.

It's really that simple when it comes to sustaining an NHL franchise.

This is not the NFL or Major League Baseball, which enjoy lucrative television revenues. TV revenues for the NHL are modest.

NHL teams rely much more on gate sales to pay the bills. And there's a huge difference between a team that can sell tickets for $50 to $70 and ones that can sell them for more than $100. A half-decent ticket for a Vancouver Canucks regular season game, for example, is $130. Is there enough jingle in the jeans of Winnipeggers to pay that kind of freight on a sustained basis?

According to Statistics Canada, we have among the lowest average weekly wages in Canada. In 2008 only PEI, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick had lower wages than Manitoba.

This isn't the 1990s, where you can sell $7 hockey tickets at 7-Eleven. The world of hockey has made a tectonic shift since we last had a team. And being near the bottom of the Canadian wage-earner list does not help our cause.

If we want amenities like an NHL franchise, we're going to have to do a much better job at attracting private capital and high-paying jobs to this province.

We also need to be much more competitive on taxes.

Manitoba has among the lowest wages in Canada. But we also have among the highest income taxes in the country -- a toxic combination when it comes to the availability of disposable income for expensive hockey tickets.

Take a two-earner family of four with a household income of $75,000 in Manitoba. They are the third-highest taxed in the country, behind only Quebec and New Brunswick.

That family in Manitoba pays $4,206 in provincial income taxes. In Saskatchewan the same family pays half that, at $2,082. It's a huge difference.

So the issue is not only who would buy an NHL team and bring it to Winnipeg, or whether Gary Bettman would allow it. The question also has to be what are we doing in this province to make ourselves more competitive and wealthier to be able to afford an NHL team?

Taxing and regulating people and businesses to death -- which Manitoba is very good at -- does not create the kind of economic climate that attracts high-end amenities like an NHL franchise.

We have to do a lot better on that side of the ledger if we ever want NHL hockey to return to Winnipeg.


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