Sometimes the Hockey Gods get it right. The Winnipeg Jets, one of the mainstay NHL franchises brought over from the old WHA, was brutally ripped away from this community in 1996. Despite broad fan support and a culture that was ravenous about hockey, financial problems exacerbated by a then weak Canadian dollar, coupled with the league's "Southern Strategy" to base more teams in the southern USA, doomed the Jets to Phoenix.
But the dream here never died. The community built the new MTS Centre in downtown Winnipeg to replace the old and dated Winnipeg Arena. A new AHL franchise, the Manitoba Moose, began play here. Grassroots support grew and grew for the return of the NHL. The dreams were realized in the 2011 offseason, when the Atlanta Thrashers were bought and relocated here. The Winnipeg Jets are back again. All seems right with the world.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Considering the venue is newer, and remembering the great menu selection from the Manitoba Moose days, the fare here is a bit disappointing. Canadian chains Pizza Pizza and Tim Horton's coffee are mainstays. Only one draught brand, Molson, is sold in the concourses, $7 for the small and $8.50 for the large.
Themed food stands include Spud's Poutinerie, offering various concoctions of Poutine, which basically is a French Canadian thing - fries soaked in gravy and cheese curds. The Voyageur Smokehouse offers grilled sausages and barbecued pork sandwiches. The main Jets store is on the northwest corner of the arena on Portage Avenue.
One cool satellite team store in the main concourse has an ample rack of team jerseys, which fly over the fans heads in a continuous display. A themed restaurant called the Exchange Restaurant and Beer Market is at the event level and is available by reservation only for tables.
One could best describe this arena as a modern day Boston Garden. Small (15,004 seat capacity), intimate, and noisy. Fans are right on top of the action. The seating bowl is split into two decks, with a ring of suites lining the top of the lower deck. A two tiered press gondola hangs high up the rafters and is right on top of the action. The 4 sided scoreboard is not of the HD variety, but is augmented by the 360 degree ribbons. Much of the Go Jets Go chanting is spontaneous and fan driven.
MTS Centre is located on Portage Avenue smack dab in the middle of downtown Winnipeg. With the brutally cold winters in this city, many of the buildings are connected via an elaborate system of skybridges and overhead walkways, and they connect right into the arena. Retail/shopping nearby is abundant, the streets are clean, and the provincial seat of government is headquartered here.
Notable eateries close by included Moxie's Grill, which is actually part of the arena itself, Tavern United Powerhouse Pub, and an English style pub in the Eaton's Powerhouse Building across the street, and Canadian chain Boston Pizza is one of many food venues in nearby Cityplace. Except during the most bitter cold spells, this downtown is bright, clean, safe and very walkable.
Fans here are very noisy, very passionate and they know their hockey. They capped season tickets at 13,000, and another block of seats are for suite sales and for official and team use. That leaves a scant 800 single tickets available for individual games. Those are sold on a monthly basis via lottery. On game day, leftovers, averaging 30 or so scattered tickets, go on sale and the queue is a long one. The fans raise the decibel level here like few NHL venues do. The waiting list for tickets here is huge, and with the small sized arena, that should continue for years to come.
Despite the high density and number of buildings and skyscrapers in the neighborhood, there are actually almost 13,000 parking spaces within a 10 minute walk of the arena. Coupled with the network of skybridges connecting right into the arena, getting here doesn't seem all too difficult. Public transportation is via the city bus system, with many routes stopping right outside the front door. Mind you though, Winnipeg is not exactly replete with expressways, so wherever you are heading, expect city traffic, stop lights and congestion going to and from the arena.
The ample parking here also comes with dirt cheap prices, parking as low as $8 can be found right next to the arena and drops quickly to $5 for lots a block or more away. But that savings is quickly erased with the eye popping ticket prices. When available, fans will pay $117-$200 for lower bowl seats, while the scant few end zone nosebleeds will go from $49-$60, not bad, but almost impossible to get. Games are categorized in the A B or C category depending on night of week and attractiveness of opponent. Oh, did we mention beer at $7 and $8.50? But there is certainly something almost magical about having the NHL back in Winnipeg, so it may be worth it, for now.
We give props to Mark Chapman and True North Sports and Entertainment, the people with the vision and investment to bring the NHL back to Winnipeg. As a tribute to the owners, fans shout out the words "True North" as these lyrics come up during the singing of the national anthem. A nice and unique touch.
At the old Winnipeg Arena, there hung, in one end zone, a massive portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. We hear the mural is in storage somewhere in Ontario. Bring back the Queen, stat!
Last props to a community and an organization that made the business model here in Winnipeg work. This is a small venue; concourses and public spaces are narrow and congested, nothing like the massive peer venues in such places as Pittsburgh and Chicago. Ticket costs are way up there, yet the community rallies around their beloved team that they fought so hard to get back. You see the Jets' presence right at the baggage claim in the airport, and banners and billboards are everywhere in this city. Winnipeg has their Jets back, and don't you forget it.
**Andrew Kulyk is a stadium travel expert. Follow all of his journeys at The Ultimate Sports Road Trip.
I loved the WHA Jets; loved the NHL Jets (version 1.0), but I was never too keen on the old Winnipeg Arena after the addition of the upper decks. I am once again in love with the NHL Jets (version 2.0 now), and the MTS Centre is far and away much better than the old barn- with a few exceptions. The upper concourse is not as spacious as it could be. Between periods it is wall to wall people; most of these people are waiting in line to use the washrooms. Which brings me to another shortfall of the MTS- bring back the trough! The old Arena had Men's facilities that consisted of long rooms lined with a long trough to accommodate shoulder-to-shoulder "use", and had doors on either end of the room. You could pack a whole lot of people in there; the line moved VERY quickly- in one door and out the other. Now the facilities consist of a single entrance, 4 urinals, 3 stalls, and 4 or 5 sinks. Getting in and getting out of the room is like being in a tin of sardines (without the oil to help you slip through). The line moves at a snail's pace as well. If you consider the average Winnipegger and their capacity for beer intake, the designer(s) of the building weren't thinking when they designed the building.
This brings me to the last shortfall. The designer(s) left no space to hang the Queen's portrait- 'nuff said!
Overall the MTS Centre is the best place that I have ever had the privilege of being in to watch a hockey game. The food is more than adequate, the atmos and the fans are electric, the downtown area is far safer now than it was before the MTS was erected, I've never had a problem getting to the arena whether it be via public transit, cab, car, or on foot. There are a number of excellent sports bars, restaurants, and pubs in the area for pre and post-game food and fun, and you always get your money's worth, whether the Jets win or not.
If you somehow manage to get Jets tickets you will never regret going to the MTS Centre, unless you want to see the Queen or use the washroom.
The Jets are great for the city but dangerous city. Security is good but things are way too expensive. Many Fans also have no knowledgeably about the game.
There are no local entertainment entries. Help us build with your expertise!
There are no local lodging entries. Help us build with your expertise!