Saturday, 11 June 2011

Winnipeg Gets Coverage

Just a few weeks ago, I gave some major kudos to Maclean's Magazine in Canada for its tough look at Eric Lindros and other professional hockey players who have had their careers and lives derailed by the effects of concussions. Maclean's almost seems like it is moving into The Hockey News' territory with all of their hockey coverage, and this past week's Maclean's Magazine was no exception as another hockey piece made the cover of the magazine. The report on how Winnipeg got an NHL team back is a very insightful, thoughtful piece on how True North Sports and Entertainment did everything correctly when it came to meeting the NHL's expectations, and the article contains some very damning information on the demise of the Thrashers in Atlanta. If you can get your hands on this edition of Maclean's Magazine, spend the money because the article is entirely worth the read.

Jonathan Gatehouse wrote the article and, like Cathy Gulli's article, there is no topic here that seems to be off-limits. It is this kind of investigative reporting that I enjoy because it seems that Maclean's Magazine enjoys asking the tough questions. Mr. Gatehouse did a wonderful job in this piece, and it certainly deserves a read from you.

Here is the article in its entirety. I'll have my comments below this paragraph, but please read through the article. It is extremely well-written, and Mr. Gatehouse's work is deserving of some accolades.

Fifteen years on, [University of Winnipeg political scientist and anti-poverty activist Jim] Silver, himself a former Junior B centre for the River Heights Cardinals, isn't opposed to the NHL's return — in fact, he looks forward to taking his grandsons to a game. He remains convinced, however, that Thin Ice was right to object at the time. "We had kids lined up in front of the Salvation Army waiting for breakfast and they wanted to give millions of dollars to people to play a game," he says. "It just wasn't financially viable then. None of the corporate leaders were willing to put in money."
This is more of a political idealism, but, personally, I have to agree with Mr. Silver in not using public funds to finance a luxury item like an NHL team. I hope the city of Glendale is realizing that underwriting the losses of an NHL team year after year is a great way to bankrupt your city. Public funds should be used to help the masses, not an NHL team. Again, I fully agree with Mr. Silver in using public monies to try to help impoverished people improve their lives before saving an NHL franchise.
The Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in Macon, 120 km southeast of Atlanta, boasts 14,000 sq. feet of display space and some 3,000 artifacts. Four of them relate to the two National Hockey League teams that called the state home for a total of 19 seasons. There's a stick from the Thrashers' first game, signed by all the players, along with a souvenir jersey. A fan of the Atlanta Flames, the franchise that decamped to Calgary in 1980, donated a red sweater adorned with the burning "A." And there's a goalie mask autographed by their backstop, Dan Bouchard, who finished his career with the Winnipeg Jets in '85-86. None of the hall of fame's 377 inductees have anything to do with hockey. "It's open to anyone who brings honour to Georgia through sports," explains Benjamin Baughman, the senior curator. "I guess no players have been deemed worthy enough in the eyes of the voters." Although it seems like more of an oversight than a prejudice. There's a pretty big display case devoted to the Macon Whoopee, a now defunct East Coast Hockey League team, notes Baughman.
Look, no one is denying that hockey in Atlanta didn't have much time to develop. In fact, in 19 seasons, the Flames and Thrashers really didn't produce any sort of local hero at any time. But you would think that after losing the Flames to Calgary in their first attempt at NHL hockey, there might be more of an effort to bring more artifacts to the hall of fame from the current NHL team's legacy. Or not.

Combined, the Flames and Thrashers made the NHL Playoffs seven times. They never made it to the second round once. While the Flames made the playoffs six times, the Thrashers' only appearance in the postseason saw them as the third-seed in the Eastern Conference after winning the Southeast Division. Four games later, the Rangers were in the second round, and the Thrashers were cleaning out their lockers. Again, it's hard to enshrine someone in the hall of fame if they really have no business being there.
At just 15,000 seats, the MTS Centre is now the smallest barn in the NHL. But even before the puck drops it is already among its most profitable. Designed as a top-flight concert and event venue, as well as a sports one, the building has become one the busiest facilities in North America, occupied more than 200 times a year. On-site restaurants and retail add year-round revenue streams. "It doesn’t need an NHL team to make it work," says Glen Murray, who has the framed architectural drawings of the rink on his office wall at the Ontario legislature. "It was an incredibly successful model. A solution not only for Winnipeg but for other places like Hamilton and Quebec City."
The key in this whole thing is that True North Sports and Entertainment can fill the arena for concerts, shows, and spectacles as much as they want because they own the barn. With every dollar that comes through the turnstiles, TSNE can leverage some of the NHL team's bills with that money. So while some have said that the NHL probably will not work in Winnipeg for the second time, the economics within MTS Centre have changed the playing field entirely from what was seen in 1996 with the Winnipeg Arena. Because TSNE are making money off every beer, hot dog, ticket, and piece of merchandise sold, they are in a much better situation than what Barry Shenkarow was.

Look, I'm excited for the NHL to be back, and I have full faith in True North Sports and Entertainment. They took an IHL team that was losing money in Minnesota and turned it into one of the best AHL franchises in recent history. The men who run TSNE are smart businessmen who work very hard to make their businesses successful and profitable. There is no doubt that an NHL team will require every ounce of energy they have, but these men didn't become successful because they were lazy.

Let's get the ball rolling for fans. We want a name. We want team colours. We want uniforms. We want to be part of the fastest game in the world again. We're in this game for the long haul this time, and you'll have to pry this second iteration of an NHL team from our cold, dead hands before we give it up.

But let's give credit where credit is due in terms of the people who are financing this new Winnipeg team. Without them, this may never have happened.
The 50-year-old scion of a Winnipeg car dealer and real estate mogul had been working with quiet, single-minded devotion to the goal since he was part of the failed efforts to save the Jets. It was True North that purchased the Minnesota Moose and brought pro hockey back to Winnipeg in 1996. It was True North that finally got a new rink built after the multiple failures of other groups. And it was True North — Chipman actually — who first started telling Gary Bettman back in 2001 that the NHL was destined to come back to Winnipeg whether the league liked it or not.
So how did we get our team back? According to Gary Bettman, it was through Mark Chipman's "patience, professionalism, perseverance and persistence". Mark Chipman deserves a lot of credit in re-igniting the city of Winnipeg, and I want to thank Mr. Chipman for his success in all facets of his life. Especially for his "patience, professionalism, perseverance and persistence".

Without that "patience, professionalism, perseverance and persistence", we might never had seen Mr. Gatehouse's article written.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

No comments: