Who’s Winnipeg’s greatest hero? If you asked any local resident on May 31, the unanimous reply would have be Mark Chipman — the man who brought the NHL back to the city. And it’s likely the momentum of the euphoria over the announcement will continue unabated, and as a result, Chipman will rise in stature in the minds of extremely grateful Winnipeggers and Manitobans now salivating in anticipation of big-league hockey’s return to the province.
And there was plenty of praise for Chipman during the special downtown announcement ceremony from NHL-starved hockey fans, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, business leaders as well as the province’s politicians, past and present. Quite appropriately, the praise neared the proclamation of sainthood for the “man who brought the NHL back to Winnipeg.”
“There has been a lot of talk over the past 15 years about the NHL returning to Winnipeg,” said Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger. “But as we all know, what makes a great hockey player isn’t talk — it’s getting the job done on the ice.
“That’s what Mark Chipman and his team at True North are all about.
“Wayne Gretzky used to say, ‘You shouldn’t go where the puck is — you need to be where the puck is going.’
“Mark Chipman has the vision to see where the puck is going — to see what’s possible in the future.
“And he has the skills to not only get to where the puck is going — but also to put it in the net,” the premier added.
A Canadian Press article by Craig Wong quoted former Winnipeg Mayor Glenn Murray, who is now a provincial cabinet minister in Ontario, as saying Chipman was the key to parlaying the private-public deal that led to the creation of the $133.5 million ($40.5 million public money) MTS Centre, the key to the return of NHL hockey to the city.
“You could not have built the facility or created the conditions for an NHL team to come back without a very community-oriented committed business leader like Mark, who was prepared to put his own reputation and assets on the line.”
Present Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz said a big “thank you” to Chipman.
After the Jets left town for Phoenix in 1996, Chipman brought the Minnesota Moose of the International Hockey League to Winnipeg. When the IHL folded in 2001, Chipman represented the members who brought six former IHL into the American Hockey League.
“True North Sports Entertainment has had a great run of building brands in the city of Winnipeg over the past six years,” said Jim Ludlow, president and CEO of True North, “ from the Manitoba Moose to MTS Centre to to the recently completed MTS Iceplex. This process has led us to today.”
From there, Chipman formed True North Sports and Entertainment Ltd. to own the Moose and build the MTS Centre, which opened in 2004. His partner in True North is Canadian multi-billionaire David Thomson, who’s own commitment and deep pockets were also instrumental in bringing the NHL back to Winnipeg. If any man also deserves to be labeled a local hero, it is Thomson, although he resides in Toronto. In fact, Thomson shared the stage with Chipman during the media conference announcing the return of the NHL.
“The return of the National Hockey League ... represents a superb outcome,” said Thomson.
In 2006, the Winnipeg Free Press named Chipman to a list of people shaping the province, prophesying — quite accurately as it turns out — that if the NHL was ever to return to the city, Chipman would be the point man.
Chipman is a passionate promoter of the city he calls home. He is president and chief executive officer of Megill Stephenson Co. Ltd., a holding company started by his father, Robert Chipman, who happens to be an inductee into the WinnipegREALTORS®-established Citizens Hall of Fame for his commitment to the community. It’s a case of like father, like son.
The company owns several businesses that include the Birchwood Automotive Group and National Leasing.
“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to bring the National Hockey League back to Winnipeg,” said Chipman, the chairman of the board for True North.
It was Bettman who delivered some news that had the potential to a big “oh-oh” to the ecstacy of the moment.
“The best way for our fans here in Winnipeg to celebrate the opportunity is to buy season tickets,” said Bettman. “Selling 13,000 season tickets is the best message to send to the NHL’s board of governors before they meet on June 21, and to be candid, this isn’t going to work very well unless this building is sold out every night.”
But to sighs of relief from fans, it’s a provision that turned out not to be an absolute requirement. True North wants to sell 13,000 season tickets to send a clear message to the NHL board of governors that NHL hockey will thrive in Winnipeg.
True North has kicked off its “Drive to 13,000” season ticket campaign. Moose season ticket holders, mini pack holders and corporate advertising partners were given the first opportunity to purchase season tickets, while sales to the public start on Saturday, June 4 (visit the website www.driveto13.com).
“Given the passion for NHL hockey that we known exists amongst Manitoba fans, we have no doubt they will respond to our season ticket campaign and make the MTS Centre the permanent home of the franchise come the fall,” said Chipman.
Once the NHL board of governor are satisfied that proof exists for the commitment from fans and the community, the Atlanta Thrasher franchise can be completed and the team will relocate to Winnipeg for the start of the 2011-12 season.
The purchase price of the Thrashers is reported to be US $170 million, which includes a $60 million relocation fee for the NHL.
“I know our community will support this team,” said Selinger. “True North and the NHL have given us all a chance to prove it.
“Friends, family and neighbours will come together to buy season tickets,” the premier added. “That’s what I’ll be doing.”
Fortunately, True North has made tickets for the big-league games relatively affordable to the lunch-bucket crowd. Single-game tickets range from a low of $39 to a high of $129. (I remember attending an Ottawa Senators game at a ticket cost of $154, and that wasn’t even the highest-priced seat.) Season ticket packages range in price from $1,755 to $5,805.
If anything, the efforts of Chipman and his group should be rewarded through a flurry of season ticket support for achieving what many long considered to be the “impossible dream” — returning NHL hockey to this city.