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Bettman puts damper on joy

While Winnipeg celebrated the much-anticipated return of NHL hockey yesterday, it came with a warning.

While Winnipeg celebrated the much-anticipated return of NHL hockey yesterday, it came with a warning.



Revellers staked out bars and work shut down while the city listened as the new owners of the Thrashers franchise talked about fulfilling a dream.



But NHL commissioner Gary Bettman threw a little cold water on the subject.



“It isn’t going to work very well unless this building is sold out every night,” Bettman said.



Maybe it was supposed to be a pep talk for the season-ticket campaign — sell out 13,000 season tickets of the 15,000-seat arena and the NHL board of governors would look favourably June 21 when they rubber stamp the $170-million deal and say goodbye to Atlanta for a second time.



But it didn’t sound like one.



“We don’t like to move franchises, but sometimes … we simply have no choice, as it was back in ’96 when the Jets left Winnipeg,” said Bettman.



The cold reality of the business of hockey is the team needs to make money to compete, to survive, to be a going concern. It’s a stark reminder that teams need money — about $35 million beyond player salaries — to break even.



At an average ticket price of about $80, Winnipeggers are being asked to dig deep into their pockets to help turn the team into a success.



Part of the deal is $60 million to the NHL as a relocation fee, money that may well be used to facilitate the sale of the Phoenix Coyotes, the league’s ownerless team.



Given the party atmosphere, none of that really seemed to matter to Winnipeggers yesterday.

 
 
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