Anytime the National Hockey League team expands to a new market, there are concerns. When a team relocates to a city that lost its own NHL franchise years ago, there is understandably jubilation, but at the same time there must be at least some fear that failure could happen again.
If the reaction of Winnipeg fans to the opening day of ticket sales is any indication, those fears are misplaced.
As was reported this morning, it took just 17 minutes of open sales for the Winnipeg team to reach the target goal of 13,000 season ticket holders. Even given that ticket pre-sales had brought in 7,158 season ticket packages, that’s an impressive milestone to reach so quickly.
There are a number of things that make that an impressive figure – not in the least the fact that multi-year commitments were involved – but it is worth noting that expansion/relocation always starts with a big wave of general interest. Is Winnipeg exceptional in that regard? Let’s look at some other recent expansion teams.
Atlanta – The Thrashers had an inaugural goal of 12,000 season ticket sales, and they hit it well before the NHL’s deadline of March 15, 1999. Over the first few weeks of sales, though, they sold just 5,300 tickets.
Columbus – Details on early season ticket sales are hard to find at this point, but the Blue Jackets got a lot of positive support early on. This article in May of 1998 says that the Blue Jackets had more than 11,000 requests for seat licenses a year and a half before the team even started playing (The article in question is down in the corner, next to an ad for “The Foxy Filly All Nude Showbar,” something I point out in a blatant attempt to get hits via unrelated Google searches).
Minnesota – I had trouble finding articles on how quickly the Wild sold their initial batch of season’s tickets; I was able to find that they surpassed the 12,000 mark 17 months before they ever began playing.
Nashville – There were early warning signs in Nashville. Like the other teams, they met the 12,000 season ticket holders requirement to secure the team, but they managed it just three days before an NHL-imposed deadline.
Looking at these franchises, the fact that Winnipeg secured 13,000 season ticket-holders is not especially remarkable. What is amazing is that it took just four minutes to sell the roughly 6,000 tickets that hit the open market, and less than 20 minutes to process all those sales, and that the team now has a waiting list of 8,000 (that number, by the way, is misleading because that’s where the team capped it). Despite strong markets in Minnesota and Columbus, there simply isn’t any comparison to the incredible drive of hockey fans in Winnipeg.