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Sticky ticket frenzy

Fan Cost Index numbers mislead: the $65 average in Edmonton and Calgary is more like $100. That...

Fan Cost Index numbers mislead: the $65 average in Edmonton and Calgary is more like $100. That could mean $75/game here. (MARCEL CRETAIN/Winnipeg Sun files)

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:01 AM ET

It’s one of the questions I get asked most often when talking to people across Canada about the possible return of the NHL to Winnipeg.

Could we support it by selling out the building every night and generating enough corporate support?

Short-term, yeah, I believe we could.

Based on the frenzied reaction to the collapse of the Phoenix Coyotes, there would be a honeymoon period of at least a couple of years, should the Jets, or a reasonable facsimile, skate again.

The phones at True North Sports and Entertainment were humming again, Friday, like they do every time another report, premature or not, suggests it’s over in Arizona.

I put in my own call to True North, and was told the latest reports were more fiction than fact, that there’s no imminent sale of NHL season tickets planned.

In fact, they’re getting ready to send out renewals for the AHL’s Manitoba Moose. It’s business as usual.

Of course, those plans could change, and change quite quickly, once NHL commissioner Gary Bettman sounds the final horn on hockey in the desert.

Long-term support for the NHL here is another kettle of fish.

The two keys to any NHL franchise are the sale of seats and suites.

I’ve got good news and bad on those fronts.

The good news is on the luxury side.

I know of only one extensive survey of Winnipeg’s corporate community, and that’s the one done in this space, last October.

I contacted 25, or about one-third, of the current luxury suite holders at MTS Centre, asking if they’d renew at NHL prices, believed to be triple the current rate.

Suite prices range, depending on the view for concerts, with the average suite cost currently at around $60,000 per year. We expect that to triple, to an average $180,000.

“There would be sticker shock,” John Daniels of Qualico said. “And then support.”

No less than 17 of the 25 executives I reached said they’d renew at the higher cost. Three more said they’d stay involved, but have to reduce their investment by sharing the load more. Three more said they weren’t sure.

Just two of the 25 said they’d have to bail.

But they’d likely be replaced.

“A lot of people who don’t have a suite today would reconsider if the NHL came back,” Curtis Wyatt of Wyatt Dowling Insurance told me.

That’s the good news.

The bad news, ticket prices will likely be higher than we’ve been reporting, based on prices in Edmonton and Calgary, the most comparable markets.

Until now we’ve projected an average price of around $60 per game, give or take.

I’ve based that on the Chicago-based Team Marketing Report, which comes up with a Fan Cost Index every year.

It turns out those numbers have been grossly misleading.

Actually, they’ve been pure fiction.

TMR had Edmonton and Calgary at around $65, on average, per game this season.

But an extensive web search revealed numbers far higher.

The Oilers, for example, charge $37.50 at the door for their cheapest standing room ticket, $43 for the worst seat in the upper level, $95 for the best. Lower-bowl seats are $130-$251, depending on the opponent.

From what I could tell, season-ticket discounts can be as much as 40% off the walkup price.

Similar deal in Calgary: the worst upper-level seat this season was $34 at the door ($20 as a season ticket), the best upper-level seat $126 at the door ($94/game for the season).

Lower-bowl seats at the Saddledome start at $151 individually ($107 for the season) and peak at $235 ($162).

Add it all up, and fans in Edmonton and Calgary have to be paying $100/game, on average.

I’m not saying tickets in Winnipeg would be as high.

But I can’t see the average being less than $75.

Sticker shock, to be sure.

But support, long-term?

We’ll find out.

Be prepared to pay

NHL TICKET PRICES, PER GAME

Edmonton

Standing room: $37-$51 (depends on opponent)

Worst seat: $43-$55

Best seat, upper level: $95-$116

Lower level: $130-$251

Calgary: walkup/season

Worst seat: $34/$20

Best seat, upper level: $126/$94

Lower level: $107-$235/$151-$235


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