WINNIPEG – The Winnipeg Jets did so well financially in their return to the NHL that the plan of being a team that relies on revenue sharing went out the window, team co-owner Mark Chipman said Friday.
“Our revenues exceeded the point at which we were allowed to participate in revenue sharing, so we feel really good about that,” Chipman said, while adding the club ended up in about the same place it expected to be financially.
True North Sports and Entertainment studied the league’s revenue-sharing model when calculating how to make the NHL viable in Winnipeg, with the Nashville Predators a perfect example of how to do it right in a small market.
A huge part of the Jets’ success was the fan support that filled the MTS Centre for every game, and will likely do so for years to come.
“Thank you wouldn’t be enough,” Chipman said. “I don’t know how to put it into words. I don’t even know how to express the depths of my gratitude and I can tell you (co-owner) David (Thomson) feels the same way.”
At the same time, Chipman couldn’t hide his disappointment at missing the playoffs. The Jets sat 10th in the Eastern Conference heading into their final game on Saturday against Tampa Bay, seven points behind the Washington Capitals for the final playoff spot.
Making the playoffs would have put the glass slipper firmly on their Cinderella season.
“While we have clearly a long-term plan to be successful in this league, we also had a short-term plan and that was to make the playoffs and we didn’t do that so, in that respect, this season did not live up to my expectations,” Chipman said.
But the Jets’ return to the NHL has been satisfying in just about every other way possible.
Chipman says he can still hear Winnipeg fans in Florida belt out “True North,” at the top of their lungs, just like they do in Winnipeg when they sing “O Canada.”
Among the pluses were national exposure, acceptance by fans, season-ticket sales and merchandising that put the team deeply in the black—and Chipman doesn’t expect it to end any time soon.
“I’m sure it will taper off nationally … but I don’t see it tapering off at all (locally),” he said. “I think I think I can more easily imagine it amping up.”
Chipman admits some days he still wakes up with a little feeling of wonder that he brought an NHL franchise back to a city the league left in 1996.
“I guess, as time goes on, that will taper off but it hasn’t yet,” he said.
The success does mean thousands of people on the season-ticket waiting list don’t have much chance of coming in from the cold any time soon.
“There will be some attrition, naturally, there is every year,” Chipman said. “Businesses move or so on and so forth, so there may be opportunity for a few but, unfortunately, not a lot.”
The Jets have already announced an increase in season ticket prices and Chipman defended the hike by saying they expect costs to go up.
It also seems Winnipeg is in the Southeast Division for at least another year after the NHL Players’ Association rejected realignment.
As for on-ice performance, Chipman is leaving that up to his general manager and coach, but says they’re not changing their philosophy of how to succeed.
“We’re a young team and we stayed young by design,” he said.
“I don’t think you’re going to see a dramatic shift in the way we go about things next year. We’re going to continue to be a young team and let players develop.”
At the same time, he didn’t rule out using free agency to improve the club in the off-season, if the market is right.
“If it’s a stable market and there’s a chance for us to acquire some talent that will make us better, then we’ll do that.”
Chipman says they didn’t just look at Nashville when it comes to how to survive financially with a small-market team.
“That may sound strange to people in Winnipeg, that Nashville’s a team we’ve looked so carefully at.”
But he says on the ice, Nashville consistently makes the playoffs and gives the NHL’s best a run for their money. The Predators have missed then playoffs only once since the 2003-2004 season.
“They’ve done it methodically, they’ve done it by developing their players and they’ve done it with a consistency in management and philosophy … I think but for a couple of bounces that team could have a Stanley Cup banner hanging under their rafters.”