Jets Return Sees No Sign of Crashing

Article excerpt

Winnipeg able to support teams until 2035: report

HAVE no fear, Winnipeg hockey fans, the Conference Board of Canada is confident you will never have to endure the loss of your NHL team again.

A new report from the Ottawa-based think-tank indicates the long-term future for professional sports in the Manitoba capital is downright "rosy" through to 2035. In particular, it points to a steadily growing population and rising incomes as evidence the city will be "quite able" to support the Winnipeg Jets, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Winnipeg Goldeyes. With an average annual growth rate of 1.5 per cent, the Conference Board predicts Winnipeg's population will approach 1.1 million people in 2035.

"You'd be like Calgary, Edmonton or Ottawa right now. You could easily carry the three franchises," said Glen Hodgson, senior vice-president and chief economist with the conference board.

"Each (Winnipeg) team needs to be aware of the market. The market is constrained now with just under 800,000 people, but it's growing with good momentum (expected) over the next three to five years. The population is bigger and income levels have risen -- the fundamentals are all aligning now for the Jets."

The conference board had expressed concern in an earlier report about Winnipeg's ability to support both an NHL and CFL franchise, but "so far so good," Hodgson said.

The Jets have sold out the MTS Centre for the next two to four years, depending on the section, and with a waiting list of 8,000 people, they won't see an empty seat in the foreseeable future. The Bombers, meanwhile, are also in a good position with their new stadium set to open next season. Hodgson said he expects a honeymoon period with the new home to last three to five years.

"People will go for awhile just for a chance to see the new facility," he said.

In fact, Hodgson predicted Winnipeg's arts groups, which have suffered to varying degrees since the Jets returned as people shifted their discretionary spending toward sports, stand to benefit from the rising population and incomes, too.

"Everybody in the country knows you guys feel much better about yourselves right now. …