WINNIPEG - One of Canada’s largest think-tanks says Winnipeg has a better chance today of supporting an NHL franchise than it did when the Winnipeg Jets left the city in the 1990s.
More proof this city is well-suited and well-placed to get an NHL team again.
The Conference Board of Canada this week released the third instalment of its ongoing study on what professional sports teams require to survive in Canadian markets.
This time it focused on Winnipeg and Quebec City, two towns vying for the return of the NHL to their cities.
What it found is that the business, economic and demographic environment that was once too weak to support an NHL franchise in Winnipeg has changed. And it’s changed for the better.
With a few qualifiers, Winnipeg has a decent chance of making the NHL work in its city, the study found.
“We believe that Quebec City and Winnipeg have the right market conditions for another shot at NHL hockey — but not at any price,” the study says.
I couldn’t agree more.
Winnipeg has a better chance than Quebec at supporting an NHL team, the study concludes. The ’Peg has slightly higher income levels per capita than Quebec, more corporate head offices and it has an NHL-size arena that the former Nordiques’ city does not have.
Meanwhile, both cities’ populations have grown sufficiently since the 1990s to support an NHL team, the study says.
The Conference Board estimates that a city requires about 800,000 people in its census metropolitan area to provide a sustainable fan base for ongoing ticket sales.
Winnipeg’s CMA has grown to nearly 750,000, which brings it very close to that threshold, the study says.
An NHL salary cap and a much stronger Canadian dollar also makes having an NHL team in Winnipeg more viable than in the 1990s.
What the report points out as a weakness for Winnipeg is that it might not have a large enough population to sustain two professional teams — an NHL franchise and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers football team.
According to their calculations, a CFL team requires an additional 250,000 people, meaning a city with an NHL and CFL team should have about one million people to sustain both clubs.
I don’t buy that part of the report. The two teams would play in different seasons and I think the Conference Board underestimates the strong demand for both products in this city.
So I’ll cherry- pick that conclusion and take it off the table.
The report also say Winnipeg has far fewer corporate head offices than cities like Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver.
With the growing need for corporate support to make professional sports teams viable these days, that could be a bit of a problem for Winnipeg, the study says.
However, Winnipeg does have 30 corporate head offices, more than Edmonton, which has both an NHL and CFL team. So I’m not sure there’s really an issue there.
A lot of what is in this report we already know.
And what’s missing in it is an analysis of how Winnipeg’s new arena and NHL team would be owned and operated by a single group, capitalizing on all available revenues associated with an entertainment complex. That is one of the single biggest improvements over what the Jets had in the ’90s when they had to rent arena space from a dysfunctional, arm’s-length city organization.
I’m surprised the Conference Board didn’t include that as an important business model improvement for Winnipeg.
Whatever the case, the report is yet another analysis that supports the argument that the Winnipeg that lost a team in the 1990s is not the same city with the same business model that we have today.
Not even close, actually.