Bettman appeals to Jets fans: ‘Come to games’

NHL

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said he doesn’t think the Winnipeg Jets’ attendance issues are a red flag for the team’s viability.

“I don’t view this as a crisis,” said Bettman, who spoke alongside deputy commissioner Bill Daly Tuesday before the Jets hosted the St. Louis Blues.

“But I do believe, as with any team in any market, there needs to be collaboration between community and the fan base and the club. And I believe ultimately it will be here.”

Bettman’s visit came days after Jets co-owner and chairman Mark Chipman said in an interview with The Athletic that current attendance numbers are “not going to work over the long haul.”

Bettman said he wasn’t in Winnipeg to address a particular need or concern, although he met with some business leaders.

The Jets say Winnipeg’s season-ticket base has decreased 27% in three years from approximately 13,000 to just under 9,500. Canada Life Centre is the league’s smallest permanent arena with a capacity of 15,225 for hockey games.

When Bettman visited Winnipeg in 2011 to announce the sale of the Atlanta Thrashers and the team’s relocation, he talked about the city’s smaller rink and the need to fill seats.

“I was quoted in 2011 saying for this to work well the building’s gotta be full, and that’s true,” Bettman said Tuesday. “I know that Mark Chipman and [co-owner] David Thomson aren’t interested in just surviving in the NHL, they want to thrive along the lines of how the team is playing this year.

“And this will get sorted out.”

After meeting with reporters, Bettman and Daly joined Chipman on the ice to talk to about 500 fans in the stands and answer some of their pre-submitted questions.

Chipman recognized the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and recession on fans, but said the organization is trying to be strong and healthy for everyone.

“It’s not something that we can do it on our own,” he told the fans. “There are very few levers that we can pull. But one is the number of people that come to games, so that’s why it’s so important to us.

“It’s long-term health so that we can be competitive, so that you can be proud of our team.”

Winnipeg is battling for top spot in the Central Division, yet the Jets have the second-lowest average attendance at 13,098. Only the Arizona Coyotes, who are temporarily playing at 4,600-seat Mullett Arena in Tempe, draw fewer fans.

The Jets set a dubious franchise record on Oct. 24 against St. Louis when they drew 11,136 fans — the lowest attendance without pandemic restrictions since relocation.

However, the team had its first of four sellouts this season on Dec. 30, against the Minnesota Wild. Attendance has been trending up since that game, with an average of 14,320 fans at the last 11 home games before the game against the Blues.

Chipman is aiming to get back to a season-ticket base of 13,000, including more corporate support.

“It’s like one at a time, earning people’s trust back,” Chipman said. “Or finding a way to get them to come back with a different package or a lesser commitment. We’re doing that.”

Bettman was asked by a reporter what he’d tell fans who have been feeling anxious lately about the team’s future in the city.

“Get over your anxiety and come to games,” Bettman said. “There’s no better way to deal with anxiety than rooting for your hometown team.”

Forbes listed the Jets’ value at $780 million in December 2023. The Thrashers were reportedly bought for $170 million.

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