From the beginning, when True North bought the IHL’s Minnesota Moose, it began to run the hockey team like an NHL franchise. The group knew it would have to prove over time that Winnipeg was ready for NHL hockey to return. Having the once difficult US/Canada currency issues under control has helped immensely, but careful planning and a clear vision was needed to create better financial conditions.
The success of the Jets has been led by the decisions of some very sharp local business leaders. In 2011, under the leadership of Mark Chipman, Chairman of True North Sports and Entertainment, a vision of what an NHL franchise would look like came into sharper view quickly and is what the current Winnipeg Jets and their fans are enjoying today.
Among the key decisions in building a successful business model has been the structuring of season ticket commitments where multi-year commitments are required. Additionally, establishing inclusive efforts to provide single game tickets through a lottery draw process has helped appeal to all fans. Add to it a careful crafted plan to develop, establish and market the new Jets brand, and in keeping a very active event calendar for the MTS Centre all points to a successful launch of a new identity.
With a metropolitan population of 850,000, Winnipeg is the NHL’s smallest metro market, but is unquestionably among the most passionate in the league. When you walk inside the seating area of the arena, there is a distinctive sign which appears high on the east side of the rink at the first level of the press box. It reads “Home of the Winnipeg Jets – Fuelled by Passion.” As the new Jets continue to weave their impression into the fabric of Manitoba’s capital, visitors to the MTS Centre can look forward to a first-class NHL experience and one of the best the league has to offer.
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".
There are two things to strongly consider when determining your food selection for the evening (photos of both appear in the image gallery).
First is the Jumbo Jets Dog ($8.50), a foot long beef frank cooked to perfection with some added crispiness to the skin. For another $1.25 each, add chili, bacon, perogie pieces (little dumplings filled with cheese), or nacho cheese. It's tough to tackle one of these, but it can be done.
Second is the Classic Poutine ($9), golden brown fries topped with cheese curds and dark gravy. DO NOT TRY to eat this by yourself. You won't be able to do it and if you try, you just might reduce your life expectancy. So add a smaller version of the poutine as an add-on to a sandwich for $5.50.
As for standard fare, Coke products are sold here along with Budweiser beer along with a few Canadian choices. Prices are fair with a 17 ounce draft beer at $9.25, a canned beer at $8, bottled soda for $5, fountain soda for $4.75 and $5.50, and bottled water for $4.50.
Snacks and other main courses are plentiful with variety and quality well-represented. Slices of pizza are $5.75, a Reuben Panini Platter is $14, a Smoked Meat Sandwich Platter is $12, French fries are $5.75, and popcorn is priced at $5.25 and $6.50. I was surprised at the wide array of ice cream treats priced from $4.75 to $6.25. Tim Horton's, Pizza Pizza, and Subway are also a part of the main concourse.
Most of the permanent concession areas are recessed back into the underside of the sections they are below and away from the main concourse flow. This is helpful in preventing backup into the walkways. Still, there are a few temporary concession stands which are largely placed in the concourse corners and bottleneck traffic at intermission.
For more of a sit-down restaurant experience, there are two choices inside the arena.
Moxie's, a casual restaurant located inside the MTS Centre complex, has a main street entrance as well as access just inside the main lobby near the main ticket window. It is on the outer edge of the concourse at the north end and offers a nice variety at a fair price. Consider the honey garlic top sirloin if you really want to live well.
Also within the arena is the Exchange Restaurant & Beer Market also located at the North end of the arena, but on the event level. Reservations are required at least 72 hours in advance. An elegant and more upscale choice for dining before, during or after the game, consider the tasty Manitoba Bison Meatballs at $19.
The MTS Centre is a cozy building with the smallest capacity in the NHL, but perhaps among the best experiences in the league. Nestled in the heart of a resurgent downtown, the building is on one of the smallest footprints of any arena in the NHL. This adds to the charm.
It is the only arena where the main concourse is at street level and this is most apparent when walking either of the two straightaway concourses which run the length of the ice. The cars driving along the bordering streets are just 3 metres from the window.
As you walk the main concourse, you will enjoy wide walkways measuring 30 metres at most points and 20 metres on the ends and most of the upper level. If you must stray from your seat, you will not miss any of the action as there are television monitors every 30 metres overhead.
Unlike many buildings, every seat is filled and while the smaller arena capacity helps achieve this, I sense the building could still fit more than capacity.
To determine where to sit, consider your choice as though you were sitting at centre ice across from the benches. An aisle runs directly in line with the centre red line so section 106 would be to the left of the aisle and section 105 to the right of the aisle. From this view, the Jets logo is pointed toward the benches and the direction you are viewing in front of your seat.
The home bench is to the right in front of section 119 with the visitors in front of section 118. Incidentally, while the home team enters the bench from under section 119, the visiting team must step onto the ice at section 109 and skate to their bench. The Jets shoot twice at the goal in front of section 112 while the opposition shoots at the opposite end where the aisle between sections 125 and 126 is centered on the goal. The penalty boxes are in front of section 105 (Jets) and 106 (visitors).
Keep in mind, the lower level (100 level) contains 16 rows while the 200-level is part of the lower bowl containing 7 rows followed by a ring of suites around the entire arena. The upper bowl is the 300 level and contains 12 rows. Row pitch in each section is very good making fans feel like they are right on top of the action from every seat (see images in gallery). Seat width is adequate and each seat has a cup holder.
The scoreboard is large enough, but not overdone similar to many of the elements of the MTS Centre. The four-sided fixture shows scores, shots on goal, period, and time left above with a larger, twice-the-size video replay and live action board below. An electronic ribbon at the lower face of the upper deck provides sponsor advertising, but score, period, and shots on goal are at the ends behind the goals. Visiting scores are shown just to the right of this information at each end of the ice.
Deciding on where to sit is one thing, but determining your willingness to pay how high of a price is another. Of the 15,004 seats at the MTS Centre, 13,000 of them are owned by season ticketholders. It took just 17 minutes to find that many people willing to make three, four, or five year commitments to buy season tickets. The average face value ticket price is $90 with a face value range from $40.75 to $135.25.
Of the remaining 2,004 tickets, a random lottery system determines who gets to buy them. The first step is registering online at the Jets website.
These tickets go on sale approximately the third Saturday of each month for the following month's games. Individual game ticket purchasers will be determined via a random draw. Each month, fans will be randomly chosen and provided a unique password that they will then use on a private page at ticketmaster.ca to purchase seats. Only the selected accounts will have access to available tickets.
Draw winners will be given the opportunity to purchase two tickets. These tickets can be split up as one pair to one game or two singles to two games. Ballot entry will remain open throughout the season. Fans DO NOT have to re-enter each month. Winning names are not re-entered into the draw once they have been selected. Any un-claimed seats after the lottery purchase period will be offered to the Waiting List members, then open to the general public.
As for other types of tickets, the Budweiser King Club offers service at your seat with theatre-style seating as well as access to a standing area with a view from the North end of the rink where the Jets defend twice. These inclusive areas can be found in sections 124 through 127 and sections 223 through 228. These seats are a face value of $135.25 and food costs extra.
For those willing to take a gamble, on game day and 90 minutes before puck drop, the south ticket office releases any remaining tickets turned back in from the team and other sources. This is located on the 2nd level and connects to Cityplace just across Graham Street. You might get lucky there, but there is risk involved by waiting until game day.
If pursuing tickets from the secondary market, choose NHL SeatExchange over StubHub. The MTS Centre is reluctant to accept electronic tickets printed from StubHub.
As for where I like to sit, ends behind either goal (preferably where the home team shoots twice), but between the curves in the corners OR up high on the sides facing the team benches is my favorite. If you like these perspectives and money is no option, consider section 111 down low or 305 or 306 up high.
Once you have your tickets, it is time to focus on what is ahead with pre-game skate and the game itself. Gates open 90 minutes prior to game time and the flood of people arriving this early is immense. Enter through the Northeast corner of the MTS Centre at Portage and Donald. Walk to your left or right inside to the main level or up the steps or escalator to the second or third levels.
Pre-game skate begins 35 minutes prior to game time, but if you do not have a ticket for the lower bowl, you won't be able to enter this area. I had only seen this in Montreal at the Bell Centre before my visit to Winnipeg, and found the lack of access to be disappointing.
The game intro carries the Jets' brand well with sights and sounds. Clouds and streaking planes play a role in setting the tone with the sound of a single piercing pass of jets streaking overhead providing the transition from introduction to the players stepping onto the ice. The fans are involved in getting things going as the game begins.
What might also help is what seems to be a respect for being in one's seat when the game is being played. Concourses are virtual empty during game play. Once the period ends, the mad rush to use the wash room, buy food or drink, or visit with friends begins. Have no fear of getting carried away with all there is to do at intermission. The Jets' public address announcer gives the arena a "three-minute" warning. You should see the hurried scramble after the announcement, as fans are careful to be in their seats when play starts and for that matter, seem to stay until the very end regardless of the score, an uncommon occurrence in many NHL cities.
As for other entertainment, in a nod to their AHL franchise which opened the MTS Centre, Mick E. Moose is the team mascot and along with the banners which hang in the arena, is the only reference to the franchise which was the first step in getting the NHL back to Winnipeg. He is involved throughout the game. Also, on the night I attended, a bagpiper opened the night by playing from the north end 2nd level before the game. Lastly, I was impressed with the unique and clever games like Price is Right "Plinko" selected fans played as part of the promotions of the night shown on the scoreboard.
The MTS Center was built right in the heart of downtown. In fact, the resurgence of the area is arguably due to the return of the NHL Jets and can be seen throughout downtown with the arena as the epicenter.
On the southwest corner of the arena, you will find Tavern United, a sports pub worth visiting at Hargrave and Graham for a variety of beer options and good pub food.
While in Winnipeg, I walked all the way to the arena using the elaborate and climate-controlled walkway system. A hallmark of Winnipeg's downtown, two kilometres of indoor walking paths, most above ground, but some below ground, connect visitors to many Winnipeg landmarks as well as 2000 shops, 80 restaurants, and access to over 3,700 parking spaces. Walkway hours are 7 AM to 12:30 AM. The options are endless.
Detailed brochures on parking options and the indoor walkway guide are available as part of the regular printed tourism pieces you find at hotels and shopping centres.
While in Winnipeg, consider seeing the following things; River City Sports (huge sports clothing and memorabilia selection), Hockey Life (huge hockey equipment and merchandise store), the Forks, Royal Canadian Mint, or a Winnipeg Blue Bombers game.
It is fun to see fans with lettered and numbered jerseys from so many different eras of a franchise. Jets fans sport WHA and NHL eras. Joe Daley (former goaltender who operates a sports memorabilia business in the area) was represented on the night I attended the Jets game along with Morris Lukowich, Doug Soetaert, Dale Hawerchuk, Randy Carlyle, Pokey Reddick, Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and of course the very first Winnipeg Jet, Bobby Hull.
As best I could tell, they played nice with fans of the Calgary Flames, the home team's opponent that night. A few conversations with several Jets fans yielded some lively conversations about the club's best ever goalie and the best season the NHL Jets ever enjoyed. The WHA Jets won three Avco World Trophies during the seven-year League lifespan including the last two.
Jets fans play a large part in generating energy in the building and do not need artificial help in doing so. It begins with the singing of the Canadian national anthem. A beautiful song, Jets fans listen to anthem singer Stacey Nattress until she gets to the part where the lyrics get to (the) "TRUE NORTH" (strong and free). In a nod to team ownership, fans yell in appreciation for the work this group performed in bringing NHL hockey back to Winnipeg.
It continues with cheers which need no urging from the scoreboard. It seems to be something Jets fans sense and certainly someone starts it and the rest is history. Whether it's the historic "Go, Jets, Go!" or the relentless chanting of the opposing goalie's name, the fans generate tremendous energy during the game.
Jets fans are good people and being from St. Louis myself, I could easily identify with some of the Midwestern characteristics which have been part of my upbringing.
As in most Canadian cities, people who want to go to games find one way or another to get there no matter how difficult. Unlike many NHL cities, there are not any light rail options which can transport you to the game. The city relies on many dozens of bus routes which get you close to the MTS Centre. One-way fare runs about $2.50 cash (no pennies and coins only).
For those who want to drive to the game and have the freedom to come and go as you please, there are a multitude of lots and parking garages surrounding the MTS Centre. Please note, street parking allows for a two-hour maximum so this isn't an option for those attending a game.
Lots and garage parking is plentiful and depending upon your threshold for price and convenience, there is much to choose from. I parked at Portage Place, the large indoor shopping center just two blocks west of the MTS Centre. The underground garage fee for the game is $15, and provide shelter from the cold and snowy weather and access to the mall. Nearby exposed surface lots can be found for $10 and for lots a few kilometres away for just $5.
Lastly, there are plenty of restrooms on the main level, but slightly fewer in the upper level. Concourse width impacts access to both levels with a little more than 9 metres on the main level and just 5 metres on the upper level. The backup between periods can be suffocating.
Ticket prices are typically higher than the average on the secondary market, but parking and food are fairly priced. If you plan to travel to Winnipeg, you know airfare is expensive. I travelled from St. Louis to Minneapolis by plane and then drove the 8 hours to Winnipeg. There is quite a bit of effort required here to do it on the cheap. But truth be told, it will be worth your while if you do it right. Winnipeg is unique in so many ways and a trip to see a Jets game will be among your best. In my case, having been to each current NHL arenas and about a dozen closed NHL arenas, attending a Jets game is among my top 5 regular season NHL experiences.
WINNIPEG HOCKEY DISPLAYS - on the main concourse at the North end on the outer ring, make your way to the display of the First Olympic Gold Hockey Team, the Winnipeg Falcons of the 1920 Games in Antwerp, Belgium. The story of the team and each player as well as artifacts from the franchise is on display.
On the inner ring at the North end, you will find an exhibit honoring great Jets figures from the WHA and NHL days as well as contributors to the hockey world from Winnipeg. Among them, Ken McKenzie founder of The Hockey News and HOF coach Fred Shero are represented.
Like so many other things at the MTS Centre, the exhibits are not overdone, but appropriately set to better tailor the honor they place on their teams and the people from the city who have positively impacted the game.
PROGRAM - among the finest in the NHL and free to all fans, each game's program is tailored to the Jets and their opponent for that date complete with updated statistics and details on each player. The articles are well-written and the updated action photography, some taken during recent games, is spectacular. It is one of the finest in the NHL.
MERCHANDISE - having a popular brand mark and color pallet is one thing, but knowing how to merchandise and promote it well is another. The Jets do a solid job of both. Their distinctive logo, inspired by the city's rich aeronautical history and connection to the Royal Canadian Air Force (in particular 17 Wing), is wildly popular. The logo incorporates the RCAF roundel mark prominently positioned on the CF18 jet. Incidentally, the Toronto Maple Leafs endorsed the use of the leaf logo during the design process.
The main store is at the northwest corner of the MTS Centre at Portage and Hargrave. The small current venue will soon give way to a larger store is being built on the second level of the arena in the northeast corner and should allow for greater merchandising and much larger capacity for fans to enter and stay awhile on game night.
While there is everything you would expect for sale at the team store and the various merchandise outlets on both levels, please know there are several "arena-only" items only found here. At each game, special offers are available on select items. The night I attended, select Jets winter gloves and winter hats were 50% off, part of a three-game promotion.
SUBTLE TOUCHES - typically teams do pretty much the same things in the way of promotions and events settings, but the Jets apply unique touches and it is noticeable. Take for instance the center red line. Most teams have a barber pole design or red and white blocks running the width of the ice. In Winnipeg, white imprints of the popular Jets logo run the length of the center line (see image in gallery). A bagpiper plays on the second level balcony of the north end as part of the intro. The games fans are chosen to play during breaks in the action are original and always tailored to a hockey theme.
TECHNOLOGY (WiFi, Website and Ticketing Functions) - the leadership of True North, owners of the Jets, is among the League's best. They are one of the first clubs to install WiFi throughout their building allowing connections to their fully functional application during games to see replays, check stats, etc. Their website is one of the NHL's finest with thorough and complete links to all you need to know long before the game.
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.
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.
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