Jets grounded

The Jets are coming! The Jets are coming!

Well, hold on there little Jimmy, not so fast. While there may indeed be a team moved to Canada — maybe even serious consideration of Winnipeg — the Jets will not likely return anytime soon. Even if they did, this city would likely struggle to keep them here let alone allow them to be any more competitive than other struggling teams in the league.

The numbers just don’t make sense to me. Let’s examine first what it would likely cost to buy a team and move it here. Jim Balsillie offered over US$200 million to buy one of the worst teams in the league last year. That kind of money is Asper/Richardson money, and would likely be akin to lighting that money afire when compared to the return on more traditional investments. The yearly cost of player salaries alone would be in the neighbourhood of US$48.8 million (the average of the upper and lower cap limits). Now, even if you have the gate counting for as little as one third of team revenue, and assuming fickle Winnipeg fans sold the place out every game, you would be looking at an average ticket price of approximately $258.20 based on the 15003 seating capacity at the MTS center.

We would likely need to have this kind of take from the gate, as the Winnipeg business community would not be able to provide the required corporate sponsorship to compete with other mid-market teams — for example, the Edmonton Oilers or Calgary Flames who have many large corporations with head offices in town. I don’t see Best Sleep Center or Kitchen Craft being willing or able to pony the same kind of cash as Talisman Energy, Telus or Rexall.

I also don’t see ‘Peggers who complain about $10 movie tickets selling the place out every night at those prices. Actually, I don’t see Winnipeggers having the loyalty to a team to sell the place out even at half that price. Just look at how fickle we are with our beloved and storied Blue Bombers. This is a team with strong connections to our city and an established fan base steeped in history. People have gone to Bomber games with their parents since they were infants, in some cases. Sounds like the stadium should be full every night, right? Not unless they are winning. And winning is not something Winnipeggers can expect, for the first little while, from any team that comes here. After all, there is a reason they are for sale.

And who will pony up the dough to bring a team here? Can we trust owners from Toronto? Owners want to make a profit and will not be willing to wait patiently for Winnipeggers — who want “Giant Tiger” ticket prices — to come around to the fiscal realities of small market ticket prices. There is always the Asper family, right? Yes, the same family that is struggling to come up with the money to build the new stadium and finalize the purchase of a CFL team. I wouldn’t count on them to come through any time soon.

I know this city misses their Jets terribly, but that alone does not make it viable to bring the NHL back to Winnipeg. With Quebec City building a new 18,000-seat hockey palace (which may still be too small) and Hamilton needing anyone other than Balsillie to step up to the plate, I think that Winnipeg is likely fourth or fifth on the list for a NHL transfer. The likely order will be Kansas City and Las Vegas getting first whack at the piñata, then Quebec City and then, if we are lucky, Winnipeg.

Yes, we are a hockey town; yes, we had a team before. We have successfully supported an AHL team for the last few years. We also, however, are a cheap bunch of fair weather fans that fill the Pan Am clinic several times a year with a mass outbreak of broken ankles from the bandwagon jumping of “supporters” of our local teams. I, for one, would dearly love for this city to get an NHL team so I can watch my beloved Calgary Flames mop the ice with them several times a season, but I won’t be holding my breath.

Stephen Milner is a Flames fan studying sociology.