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Trouble in Winnipeg As Bettman Plans Visit for Ailing Jets

  • The NHL commissioner is set to meet with local politicians, sponsors, and fans.
  • There is little margin for error as the team plays in the league’s smallest market.
Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL’s smallest and perhaps most overlooked market is sounding the alarms, and league commissioner Gary Bettman is paying attention.

Despite sporting the third-best record in the Western Conference, the Jets currently have the league’s lowest attendance (not counting the Coyotes, who are playing temporarily in the 5,000-seat Mullett Arena). The Jets’ home average of 13,140 is down by 6% from a year ago. And given the team’s Canada Life Center is also the smallest in the league outside of Mullett Arena with a capacity of 15,321, the Jets already had little margin for error. 

A season-ticket base of 13,700 in 2021 has fallen this season to 9,500, and a prior waiting list for tickets has evaporated. 

“I wouldn’t be honest with you if I didn’t say, ‘We’ve got to get back to 13,000,’” Jets chair and co-owner Mark Chipman told The Athletic. “This place we find ourselves in right now, it’s not going to work over the long haul. It just isn’t.”

In addition to the arena challenges, Winnipeg also stands as the smallest of the NHL’s seven Canadian media markets, holding a metro population of about 850,000—a figure less than one-seventh the size of Toronto, and is also smaller than all of the league’s American team markets. 

Bettman is scheduled to travel to Winnipeg on Tuesday and will conduct a series of meetings with local politicians, corporate sponsors, and media, as well as fans in a “fireside chat” before the Jets’ home game against the Blues. 

As Winnipeg regained an NHL franchise in 2011, ending a 15-year absence from the league, Bettman said then, “It isn’t going to work very well unless this building is sold out every night.” No relocation threats have been issued surrounding the Winnipeg situation. But the problems there are arising as a growing number of U.S. markets are openly coveting a league franchise, including Atlanta, Houston, and Salt Lake City

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