At a MTS Centre press conference noon ET on May 31, True North Sports and Entertainment announced they've reached an agreement to purchase the Atlanta Thrashers from the Atlanta Spirit Group. Though the deal still needs NHL approval, it's essentially final that the team will relocate to Manitoba over the summer.
Before the event began, a camera showed the arena's ice already in place. Here's a rundown of the press conference's events:
Scott Brown, a familiar True North name, thanked press for joining and fans for tuning in. At his side were Gary Bettman, Mark Chipman and ... some other guys. I'm sorry. He said, "True North Sports and Entertainment has long maintained that our goal has been to bring the highest-caliber sports and entertainment to this province."
Today marks the most significant announcement thus far as it relates to Winnipeg, Manitoba and the NHL. He then called on Chipman.
Chipman: "In the spring of 1995 I was fortunate to become close with our community's efforts to save our NHL Team. I came away with the realization that our lack of success was not anyone's fault. While the loss of the Winnipeg Jets had an effect on our city and province, it also stiffened our resolve to move forward."
He spoke of the city's commitment to running the Manitoba Moose as if it were a NHL team, and the guidance they received in running a major league franchise from that undertaking. In 1999, David Thomson joined up, leading to the MTS Centre's opening in 2004.
He said the NHL was also looking to correct the economics of its business model. He said he developed a relationship with Bettman and frequently made the point that Winnipeg should return to the league. In 2007, he and other Canadian NHL teams developed a presentation for the league, with the relationship between TNSE and Bettman "continuing to develop."
Chipman touted Winnipeg's economic development, comparing it favorably to the rest of the world's as of late. Chipman also thanked the Atlanta Spirit Group for their professionalism. Hold your laughter until the end, please.
Chipman: "On behalf of my family, our partner David Thompson, I am excited beyond words to announce our purchase of the Atlanta Thrashers ... As Mr. Bettman will explain in a moment, this transaction will be subject to the NHL's Board of Governors."
Bettman then took the podium. "It's nice to be back in Winnipeg after all these years ... Mark has been pursuing the NHL for quite a few years ... While Mark has been working behind the scenes with us, keeping the lines of communication open, at the same time the owners of the Thrashers have been looking to sell their club. Over this time, no real local ownership emerged, and Atlanta's ownership reached outside their local market. True North and Atlanta Spirit early this morning reached an agreement ... We were on a conference call at 4:30 ET, and it wasn't done yet."
Bettman again pointed out the June 21 Board of Governors vote.
"We don't like to move franchises. Sometimes we simply have no choice, as was the case in 1996 when we had to move the Jets. To our fans in Atlanta, we are not happy about leaving Atlanta. It was never about whether Winnipeg was better than Atlanta. The decision to move was only made after the team's ownership decided it was going to sell ... Times have changed for Winnipeg as a NHL market. The NHL has a different economic system that allows so-called small markets to compete."
He mentioned the NHL setting new highs in Canadian and American revenue and encouraged Winnipeg fans to start buying lots of season tickets -- 13,000, to be specific. Later, the website Driveto13.com was announced as the hub of that drive.
Manitoba's premier said a few words about the process, including himself among that 13,000.
All in all, they spent a lot of time talking about how big the MTS Centre is in Canada, at one point mentioning a Keith Urban concert as a high point. All right.
My favorite part: when the $39-and-up ticket pricing plan was pitched by listing NHL stars like Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin -- none of whom play for Winnipeg's new team. The average ticket price is $82, among Canada's most expensive.
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