Greetings from beautiful Ponemah, Manitoba, along the southwestern shores of majestic Lake Winnipeg! I finally found a few days on my schedule to get out and enjoy some time at the cottage, so of course once I was out of the city True North Sports and Entertainment speedily completed their deal to purchase the NHL's struggling Thrashers team from the Atlanta Spirit Group.
So Winnipeg will have an NHL team! That's great! And the mass wave of jubilant civic celebrations are happening while I'm out of town; that part's not as great, but whatever, I've got a lake fifteen steps from my porch. I'll live.
Yes, assuming the press conference at the MTS Centre is actually about an NHL team and True North didn't just call it for giggles, our fair city is on the verge of patching up one of the longest, deepest, most noticeable scars on its collective psyche. How long will the presser run? Will the much-debated name of the soon-to-cease-being-hypothetical team be announced today, or held off for a future media event? Will the ticket drive be formally announced, and will ticket prices be disclosed alongside it? And -- surely the question on everybody's minds today -- will this cause Gary Bettman to discard his human disguise and rampage around like Yakra XIII in Chrono Trigger?
Well, we're about to find out! I may be missing the parties, but I've got the official business locked down; I have a crackly CBC feed running over the airwaves, channel six on the dial, so let's you and I liveblog this coverage here and see what we all learn.
The press conference isn't actually set to start for a good fifteen minutes or so, so we open with Janet Stewart and Mitch Peacock filling time. Damn, Peacock could stop a bullet with that hair, couldn't he just.
We get an interview with one of the Forks planners, because the City of Winnipeg has officially disavowed any concept of Portage and Main being historically significant; behind her are what appears to already be thousands of people, absolutely zero of whom are wearing Moose gear. I'm just saying! I'm just saying.
A superfan at random is pulled from the Forks audience; he announces his intention to get season tickets and identifies Byfuglien, Bogosian and Kane as the three players he's most looking forward to seeing. Someone's done their homework!
Wab Kinew is on hand at Portage and Main, and--
HOLY CRAP SUSAN THOMPSON SIGHTING HOLD EVERYTHING
"This is a 'woo-hoo' day!" is her opening line, all smiles, looking quite well. "We've got an NHL team, so it gives us our status in terms of sports, gives us an international reach [. . .] look the spirit everybody's showing! And we're going to win the Stanley Cup, so, heyyyyyy!" She also reassures Atlanta players by announcing "we're the warmest city in the world!", and gives this huge smile, and... well, she seems in high spirits, I think that's fair to say.
Wayne Babich is interviewed at the Forks -- don't worry, folks, his eyebrows are as swanky as ever -- and he says pretty well the same thing every other former Jets player has said. We then walk five steps to our right and there's Dan Vandal, who busted out the white Jets jersey for the occasion, and we get a bit of noise from him before they finally fire it to the MTS Centre proper. Here come dignitaries! Here comes... a long pause while they make sure everything's ready!
Peacock, ad-libbing: "Well, you know, waiting has been a big theme in this story."
Scott Brown, Communications Director of True North, opens up the... festivities?... by listing off True North's existing successes. "Today marks the most significant announcement thus far as pertains the City of Winnipeg, the Province of Manitoba, True North" okay slow down augh
Chipman is called up to give us the good news himself; he mentions that he was involved in the original attempts to keep the Jets, uses the same psyche metaphor I busted out twenty minutes ago (YEAH PSYCHES WOO), and credits the Moose as the experience they needed to work towards returning the NHL to the city. Sh... shoutouts to the Moose? I guess?
He notes that True North was also waiting out the economics of the League until Winnipeg would work, then goes over his own history with Bettman and with the NHL Board of Governors (nothing particularly juicy, a lot of "building trust" and "always maintaining that the NHL would come back to Winnipeg" and so forth.) He'd been asked in 2007 to make a presentation showing that Winnipeg would be viable, and here we are, I suppose. (CBC throws in a side-shot of people watching the screen at the Forks, then seeing themselves on the screen, then whoo-ing and chanting.)
Chipman basically says that the next step is to sell them season tickets -- not in those exact words, but c'mon now -- and tells us he has full confidence that the community will come through. He moves on to individual shoutouts, the majority of whom seem to be lawyers; he also mentions that we'll be hearing from Bettman and Selinger, which... well... do we have to?
Polite -- the most polite -- applause for Bettman as he's brought up. Bettman immediately lies that "it's great to be back in Winnipeg after all these years", and one guy claps, so Bettman kind of shrugs like "welp" and the rest of the hundred or so people there eventually clap too. Policy Frog hypothesized that this conference is closed just so Bettman wouldn't be booed out of the building, so Commissioner Bettman, on behalf of Winnipeggers and sports fans around the world, I just want to add BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
Bettman immediately congratulates Chipman on working quietly these many years, quietly being emphasized because Balsillie.
Bettman tells us that the vote will probably go to the BoG on June 21st, then gets maudlin on everyone. "As I've said before, we don't like to move franchises (. . .) but sometimes we have no choice." He insists this was the case in Winnipeg in 1996, "because of circumstances we don't need to get into", and then leaps into consoling Atlantans even though absolutely none of them are watching. "We are not happy about leaving Atlanta, please be assured, it was never about whether Winnipeg was better than Atlanta, it was just" and he blames the ASG for a while, and somewhere in Atlanta men light fire to their bedsheets.
"We get to return to a place we wish we hadn't left in 1996. And the best way for Winnipeggers to celebrate this return is to buy season tickets. Selling 15,000, 16,000 tickets is the best way to sway the Board of Governors (. . .) and to be candid, this isn't going to work really well without selling out the building."
Scott Brown's back up, who then throws it to Premier Selinger. Brown's the MC, I guess.
"NHL -- welcome home. Here in Winnipeg, Manitoba, back where you belong, and we're going to make it work forever now that you're back." boy are we going to regret that soundbite when the team leaves in five years
Selinger quotes Gretzky's line about going to where the puck will be, mentions his own presence at Mike Keane's number-retiring so we get that he likes hockey (did he just call him "Mark"? Uh-- well anyway, he likes hockey, guys), and talks up how improved downtown Winnipeg is.
Selinger becomes the third person to note that we need to buy the season tickets -- this is starting to get quite the PBS fundraising drive to it -- but is the first to note, and sort of stumble over, the revelation that the target is 13,000 season tickets sold. Huh! That's good to know.
True North President Jim Ludlow is up, and I dig the cut of his jib when he welcomes "the return of the Winnipeg Jets" and then knocks on the wood of the podium because it's not actually a real thing yet.
Understandably he talks up the venue itself, going over the accolades and list placements you've probably all heard plenty of times by now -- also namedropping Keith Urban first in his list of the venue's big concerts, now that I didn't expect -- and formally announces the drive to 13,000 tickets. Only now do they throw up a True North graphic for "NHL Drive to 13,000", so... I don't think Selinger was supposed to bust that out when he did. Ah, well! Maybe no one noticed.
Ticket presales start tomorrow for Moose season-ticket holders and corporate accounts, and then the general public get their shot at 12:00 noon on Saturday, June 4th. Well, there we go! The official website for the drive is (wait for it) driveto13.com.
He now notes that the MTS Centre has been carefully rezoned to establish the new pricing for NHL tickets, zoned from P1 to P7; single-game tickets, which look pretty reasonable considering the deathly guesses people were making, are given as following:
I missed the season ticket and mini-pack tickets transcribing those, but man, they didn't look too bad either. Average ticket price is $82.00 -- $105 for the lower bowl, $54 for the lower. Tickets range from $39 to $129; that maximum price is actually way lower than similar Canadian markets, he helpfully includes on the next PowerPoint slide.
MONTHLY PAYMENT PLANS FOR SEASON TICKETS START AT $71.50 PER MONTH? Oh, sorry, sorry -- didn't mean to start yelling, it's just that that's crazy when you phrase it like that. Hey, are you working two full days this month? Congratulations: you can afford the NHL.
He guarantees that ticket prices will not raise more than 3% over... over... okay, he's speeding up dramatically now, so this is getting harder to transcribe. Dude, take your time! This is your show. He's giving us a step-by-step description of how the season ticket purchase works, and I'm pretty sure this information will be made available elsewhere, so we can get back to that.
"We expect demand to be strong", he says, perhaps understating the matter a bit, but again he points us to "www.DRIVETO13.com -- NOW LIVE!" (thanks, Powerpoint) and reminds us when the sales begin.
"These are terrific times to be living in Winnipeg -- it is, as I'd said, a beautiful day -- thank you very much."
Brown announces that the time has arrived for open questions (which must be why ChrisD.ca was shut out, that loose cannon, watch out for that guy); the honour of first question goes to Gary Lawless, who asks David Thompson (whose hair and suit make me think of him as a European soccer coach -- lookin' good, guy) why he so eagerly pursued a venture for a city he doesn't live in. He seems to appreciate the question, and takes the time to assure everybody how very committed he is to Winnipeg.
HERE COMES THE NAME QUESTION -- aaaaand Chipman casually sidesteps it, telling us that the name hasn't been chosen yet. His story: they were too busy with the details of buying the team. (And considering how this all kind of evolved hour-by-hour last night, I suppose that's fair.) He promises us that it's coming soon, though.
Sean Reynolds of CBC asks Bettman how it felt to bring hockey back to a place it's so obviously appreciated, and Bettman... is "platitudes" a verb? Well, it should be, because he platitudes it. But he didn't transmogrify and tear the room asunder with his claws, so we'll just describe him as "very well-behaved" and move on.
Asked about what the BoG will do if the Drive to 13,000 doesn't hit that number, Bettman answers that "I never like to engage in speculation" and "I never like to be presumptuous about what the Board would do", but again notes that he doesn't expect the team to work here if the building isn't full.
Leah Hextall basically asks Chipman about the redemption angle of the team returning, and he freestyles a bit about it. My attention is distracted, however, by the side-picture of the crowd; one bearded dude is wearing a Jets hat and a white Atlanta Thrashers jersey, just to cover his bases, and that's pretty funny.
Somebody asks Bettman about whether this will raise hopes in other cities, notably Quebec City, and Bettman's opening line at that is a long, hesitant "Uhhhhhhhh...."
"I get extremely unhappy and cranky about raising expectations when they shouldn't be raised," he adds in his eventual explanation, because the one thing I came here for is Gary Bettman character sketches. Bettman essentially begs us to not read the outcome of this situation into any other situation, and then piggybacks on the previous question to Chipman for whatever reason to announce that "In all of my dealings with Mark over the years -- and I'm talking lots and lots of years -- his focus, to me, has always been about Winnipeg and Manitoba. That's what I've always taken his focus to be about." So there's that.
Chipman, asked when he internally decided that the NHL would be viable here, said a lot but really just went "2004" and that was kind of that.
Questions about the 13,000 number come up again; Bettman once again hammers down that "Unless Winnipeggers support the franchise, it just isn't going to work" and Chipman notes, in case we hadn't noticed, that the team "is a considerable investment".
A Sportsnet guy -- one of them, I don't know, it's Sportsnet -- very astutely notes that the NHL draft is actually only a few weeks away, asking where this new franchise will be on that. (It's a very good question! Man, I wonder who that guy was.) Chipman assures us that the actual hockey side of things will be looked after shortly, so START THAT DRAFT HYPE YEAHHHHH
Brown is talking about handing out press releases, but because we aren't allowed to care about him the CBC throws it back to the Portage studios and we get Janet and Mitch bantering about the price point.
Portage and Main is now successfully closed -- haaaaa, good work keeping the intersection open, City of Winnipeg -- and we get like fifteen seconds of Wab Kinew before they lose the feed because it is the windiest corner in the universe. So instead we get an interview with former Jet goalie Joe Daley, and... the sound still isn't working all that well. Live television, guys!
"I think the prices are fair! I was expecting the high end to be higher, to be honest with you." Asked what the name should be, Daley wisely announces that "Thaaaat is a path I am not comfortable going down." "The name is immaterial; it's supporting the cast that's coming here, we're going to have a great bunch of guys to go out and support." He also vouches for Chipman and Thompson as competitive-spirited owners, citing their AHL records (I'm not sure how applicable that is, necessarily, but okay), and makes the same announcement Susan Thompson did -- that Winnipeg will surely win the cup at some point. You know what we should do? Race Toronto for it. Boy, Toronto fans will appreciate that! Ha ha ha ha ha ha!
CBC throws it back to the Forks for reactions from gathered fans: "That announcement changed me from a mini-pack buyer to a season ticket buyer. I was expecting a low end of sixty dollars, but a low end of forty is great." Somebody else declares them "incredibly reasonable", adding that "Winnipeggers are thrifty! Forty bucks for a ticket? I think Winnipeggers will respond." And one guy, pushing a stroller with his children in it, gives us this exchange:
"Will you be taking the little ones to the game?" "I don't think they'll have a choice."
Now we get the spectacle of people being asked what they think the name should be, because we just have not had enough discussion on that question, and... everybody starts chanting "Go Jets Go". So, uh, yeah.
Well, people appear to be enjoying at the Forks, that's nice. I'M GLAD YOU'RE ALL HAVING FUN. Man, if I didn't think there will be at least a hundred photo albums of this online, I'm sure I'd be curious what's going on out there.
Hey, they interview the Thrashers jersey guy! Asked about the name, he pauses and then tells us -- ha, I dig this guy -- "TRUE NORTH IS A CLASSY ORGANIZATION. THEY'LL DO IT RIGHT."
The feed goes back to the studio, having failed to find one person at the Forks who does not intend to buy season tickets or who believes the team name should be something other than the Jets. Stewart and Peacock interview Greg Selinger, standing completely alone in the MTS Centre seats, and nothing of particular substance is discussed amongst them. (Although Janet Stewart does play the journalistic equivalent of "I see a smii-iiiile" with him, which... I don't even know what to make of that.)
"Are you happy to have the NHL back in an election year?"
"We're happy to have them back in any year."
We try, again, to go back to Portage and Main; Wab Kinew tells us that we just missed the anthem, but there's a big ol' street hockey game going on in the background, so that's cute. We get an interview with, I don't know, some guy, and then an interview with some other guy, and everybody agrees that the ticket prices are perfectly groovy. "I don't think the drive to 13 will be a problem. I think it'll be 15,000 and done."
The weather cooperating was nice, wasn't it? I'm pretty sure it was supposed to be twelve degrees and thunderstorms everywhere today.
Now back in the studio, we get the Gary Bettman Comedy Hour:
"Mr. Bettman, you're a popular guy here today, but that wasn't always the case in years past."
"Tsh -- reall-llyyyyyy? Nawww. I hadn't noticed."
Beyond that, the Bettman interview is pretty well just a talking-point paint-by-numbers; NHL in Winnipeg "because the circumstances were right", talks up new ownership, talks up arena, plugs the playoffs ("People in Canada -- not just Winnipeg! -- love hockey!"), deal had to get done quickly, that sort of thing.
Again we're told that the Board of Governors vote will be the 21st of June, and Janet Stewart quickly recaps the City's valiant but totally fucking stupid pleas to keep Portage and Main celebration-free. She also uses the phrase "a place we call The Forks" in describing one of the parties, so... is this feed being used nationwide now, or is she just stretching it out to fill time? Either way, she throws it back to the Forks, and we get an interview with another man-on-the-street who 1) likes the ticket prices, 2) intends to buy season tickets and 3) would prefer the name "Jets" but will go regardless of the name. I think they need to do a better job rooting out some contrarians. Look for the frowniest dudes there, I don't know.
Twitter, which appears to have completely exploded, brings word that Driveto13.com has apparently already crashed from the traffic.
I don't know how long the CBC intends to run this coverage -- although it'd have to be better ratings than whatever they'd have on normally -- but I think the gist of it has been successfully conveyed. They're currently talking to Scott Morrison about whether Atlanta is any good or not, and he's also reassuring us viewers that players will indeed want to play for a hockey-mad town in a well-run organization, so I think we're running low on stuff to talk about.
Wab Kinew is now interviewing a guy from Take Pride Winnipeg, so, yeah, I don't think anything new is about to emerge. And just as soon as that finished up, they in fact concluded the broadcast entirely, so I guess my instincts were correct on that one. (And the first thing they throw it to as their regular coverage is a CBC News story about the Stanley Cup Finals. BREAKING NEWS CANADA LIKES HOCKEY IT TURNS OUT)
All right! Well, good work, Winnipeg, we've got a team again. Assuming thirteen thousand people buy tickets and the NHL Board of Governors thinks that's reasonable, but these both seem pretty doable -- and we'll know the endgame of both within three weeks, which is nothing compared to how long the rest of the story took. So let's enjoy it! It's as sunny a day as it's going to get out there, so I hope you're all enjoying the day, wherever you are; I've got a dog who insists on being walked, and then I have pizza and beer out here, so I think my day is pretty well set.
My original plan for today had been to announce that I'll be doing a post every day through the month of June, as an exercise to see how well I can commit to short frequent posts instead of long occasional posts, but... I think that'd be overshadowed, a little. So I'll tell you about it tomorrow, that'll probably work out better. Deal? Deal!