|Hockey fans Ryan Abbott (left) and Alex Snell cheer during a "Bring Back the Jets" rally in Winnipeg in April. (QMI Agency/Brian Donogh)
WINNIPEG - A new study argues both Winnipeg and Quebec City are now in far better positions to support NHL franchises than they were in the mid-1990s when both cities lost their teams.
The Conference Board of Canada study looked at four “pillars” needed for support, including sufficient market size, income levels, corporate presence and a more-level economic playing field.
While both cities are deemed to be in better shape now in all categories, the study’s authors questioned whether there is a large enough market in Winnipeg to support both an NHL team and the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers, an argument football club officials and advocates for the NHL’s return say holds no water.
“From our standpoint, we feel the NHL’s return would be a positive for this city and province,” said Bombers media relations director Darren Cameron. “We have a strong relationship with (potential NHL ownership group) True North and support its return if that does in fact materialize.”
Cameron said the NHL and CFL happily co-existed in Winnipeg in the past and was confident the Bombers’ base of 17,000 season-ticket holders puts the team in good stead.
Longtime Winnipeg NHL booster Darren Ford said he believes the potential ownership group has done its homework on the issue.
“True North aren’t going into this just for fun,” he said. “They’ve done their own market research. Certainly they feel the Bombers aren’t going to be a negative issue, and neither is the market size.”
The Conference Board of Canada bills itself as an independent, not-for-profit research organization that specializes in economic trends, organizational performance and public policy issues.
The study’s authors note that in both Winnipeg and Quebec City, population growth has boosted market size favourably, in Winnipeg’s case up to about 750,000 — just under the 800,000 they argue is necessary to sustain a team.
The study also said Winnipeg’s per-capita income is higher than it was in 1996 when the Winnipeg Jets headed to Phoenix, and the ‘Peg is currently ranked at sixth among the country’s nine largest cities, ahead of Quebec City.
The study also pointed out Winnipeg has more corporate headquarters than Edmonton, Ottawa and Quebec City.
In terms of a level economic playing field, both Winnipeg and Quebec City are in much better standing now than 15 years ago thanks to the NHL’s salary cap — which benefits smaller-market teams — and the strength of the Canadian dollar compared to its U.S. counterpart.