NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says Winnipeg is a ‘strong NHL market’

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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says Winnipeg is a ‘strong NHL market’
WATCH: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says Winnipeg is a strong NHL market where hockey matters and that he believes the attendance issues will be resolved. Here's more on what he had to say while meeting with reporters tonight. – Feb 27, 2024

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says he doesn’t think the Winnipeg Jets’ attendance issues are a red flag for the team’s viability.

Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly spoke to reporters Tuesday before the Jets hosted the St. Louis Blues.

“I don’t view this as a crisis,” Bettman said. “But I do believe as with any team in any market, there needs to be collaboration between community and the fan base and the club. And I believe ultimately it will be here.”

Bettman’s visit to the Manitoba capital came days after Jets co-owner and chairman Mark Chipman said in an interview with The Athletic that current attendance numbers are “not going to work over the long haul.”

Bettman said he wasn’t visiting to address a particular need or concern, although he met with some business leaders.

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The Jets say Winnipeg’s season-ticket base has decreased 27 per cent in three years from approximately 13,000 to just under 9,500. Canada Life Centre is the league’s smallest permanent arena with a capacity of 15,225 for hockey games.

When Bettman visited Winnipeg in 2011 to announce the sale of the Atlanta Thrashers and its relocation, he talked about the city’s smaller rink and the need to fill seats.

“I was quoted in 2011 saying for this to work well the building’s gotta be full, and that’s true,” Bettman said Tuesday. “I know that Mark Chipman and (co-owner) David Thomson aren’t interested in just surviving in the NHL, they want to thrive along the lines of how the team is playing this year. And this will get sorted out.”

After Bettman and Daly met with reporters, they joined Chipman on the ice to talk to about 500 fans in the stands and answer some of their pre-submitted questions.

Chipman recognized the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and recession on fans, but said the organization is trying to be strong and healthy for everyone.

“It’s not something that we can do it on our own,” he told the fans. “There are very few levers that we can pull. But one is the number of people that come to games, so that’s why it’s so important to us.

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“It’s long-term health so that we can be competitive, so that you can be proud of our team.”

Despite icing a team that’s battling for top spot in the Central Division, the Jets have the second-lowest average attendance at 13,098. Only the Arizona Coyotes, who are temporarily playing at 4,600-seat Mullett Arena in Tempe, draw fewer fans.

The Jets set a dubious franchise record last Oct. 24 against St. Louis when it drew 11,136 fans — the lowest attendance without pandemic restrictions since relocation.

However, the team had its first of four sellouts this season on Dec. 30 against the Minnesota Wild. Attendance has been trending up since that match, with an average of 14,320 fans at the last 11 home games prior to the Blues match.

Chipman is aiming to get back to a season-ticket base of 13,000, including more corporate support.

“It’s like one at a time, earning people’s trust back,” Chipman said. “Or finding a way to get them to come back with a different package or a lesser commitment. … We’re doing that.”

Bettman was asked by a reporter what he’d tell fans who have been feeling anxious lately about the team’s future in the city.

“Get over your anxiety and come to games,” Bettman said. “There’s no better way to deal with anxiety than rooting for your hometown team.”

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Forbes listed the Jets’ value at US$780 million in December 2023. The Thrashers were reportedly bought for US$170-million.

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