August 23, 2011

The Return of the Winnipeg Jets

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J-E-T-S! JETS! JETS! JETS! After several years without a real presence, the Jets are planning to make a huge splash this NHL season. No, not those Jets. I’m talking about the Winnipeg Jets.Being a Canadian from Winnipeg, Manitoba I can say that the city does not get the respect it deserves. Even though we are a populous, thriving city with many cultural attractions, we’re known across Canada mostly for our simple way of life and our friendly nature — our license plates read “Friendly Manitoba.” In the U.S., including at Cornell, most people believe Winnipeg is either some obscure farming town or a made-up city. So, by regaining an NHL team, Winnipeg will hopefully become a recognizable city once again.The reason the Jets were originally relocated in 1996 was not an issue concerning a dying fan base, but rather the U.S.-Canadian exchange rate. The teams had to pay salaries in U.S. dollars, worth about $1.40 Canadian dollars, while they accumulated revenue in Canadian currency. Since then, Winnipeg has grown as a city; however, more importantly the Canadian dollar is now on par with the American dollar. All these factors have contributed to the reacquisition of the Jets.Despite the relocation, Winnipeg never stopped loving the Jets and prayed for the team’s return — merchandise for the team remained popular long after its departure and cheers of “Go, Jets, go!” still routinely broke out during any preseason NHL game played in Winnipeg. Our situation mimicked that of the Browns and the city of Cleveland. The team was unceremoniously ripped from the city, but the fans still loved the team and pleaded for its return.The decision to bring the Jets back to Manitoba has been rewarding for all parties involved. True North Sports and Entertainment — the company that bought the Atlanta Thrashers and moved them to Winnipeg — and its chairman Mark Chipman have been granted God-like status in the city, where they stand to make large profits. Gary Bettman ’74 has even (somewhat) quieted some of his detractors by finally expanding the NHL’s presence in Canada.Since I was in Winnipeg when the announcement came, I had a first-hand look at the hysteria created by the news. The day it was announced, bosses everywhere allowed their employees to leave work early and celebrate downtown with the rest of the city. For the two weeks after the announcement, impromptu chants of “Go, Jets, go!” and “Let’s go, Jets!” were started countless times in bars and pubs throughout the city. As for ticket sales, the Jets sold out their 13,000 season passes within the first five minutes that they were on sale. Another 8,000 fans are paying $50 just to be on the season ticket waiting list. On StubHub, the cheapest ticket to any Jets game is over $100, while the NHL franchises in Nashville, Phoenix and Anaheim have tickets available to fans in the $15-$30 range.With tickets to the Canada-United States Olympic hockey finals selling at prices comparable to the Super Bowl and the craze surrounding the return of the Jets, it is clear that Canada has a passion for hockey. So one obvious question comes to mind. Why is the NHL protecting hockey teams in the Southern U.S. (places without snow), while depriving real hockey fanatics in Canada of a chance to cheer for a home team?Bettman’s inexplicable reluctance to relocate struggling teams, like the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes, to thriving markets in Canada is a major factor in this decision — and hockey fans know it. Look up “Gary Bettman booed” on YouTube and click on any video and you can see a level of hatred normally reserved for sports figures such as Art Modell or John Rocker.One Canadian metropolis that definitely deserves a second chance is Quebec City, another victim to the exchange rate between Canada and the U.S. in the 1990s. The Quebec Nordiques called the city home until 1995, when they became the Colorado Avalanche. Similar in size to Winnipeg, Quebec City has the capacity to support an NHL team and fans are craving NHL action almost as badly as Winnipeg was before the reintroduction of the Jets. It seems all but assured that a similar hysteria will befall the city if it were to regain its hockey team.After the 2004-05 lockout, the NHL has been building steam with an influx of new fans and young, talented players; however, due to the nature of this winter sport forcing Southern U.S. cities to adopt the sport remains difficult. The NHL should stop trying to push the sport to the football-crazed South and reward its faithful fans up North instead. Then again, maybe I’m just a Canadian homer.

Original Author: Albert Liao