Canadian Life Centre Winnipeg Jets

WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets are playing in a “strong NHL market” and are not in crisis mode, Commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday.

Commissioner Bettman and NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly were in Winnipeg days after the Jets made a public plea to get season ticket and game attendance numbers back to where they were through the first decade in the city following the franchise’s move from Atlanta in 2011.

“I believe that the season ticket base and the attendance will evolve back to where it was,” Commissioner Bettman said. “I was quoted in 2011 saying for this to work well the building’s got to be full, and that’s true. I know that Mark Chipman and David Thomson (Jets ownership) aren’t interested in just surviving in the NHL, they want to thrive along the lines of how the team is playing this year. And this will get sorted out. I don’t view this as a crisis, but I do believe as with any team in any market, there needs to be collaboration between community and the fan base and the club. And I believe ultimately it will be here.

“This is a place, Winnipeg, where hockey matters. I believe this is a strong NHL market. I believe that ownership has made extraordinary commitments to the Jets, to this arena, to the downtown area involving hundreds of millions of dollars. And I’m not sure why people are now speculating that somehow we’re not going to be here.”

The Jets have seen season ticket numbers drop by more than 25 percent over the past three years, to about 9,500, with an average attendance of 13,140 fans per game this season inside the 15,225-seat Canada Life Centre. This came after a decade of sellouts in the League’s smallest market.

Chipman said this week with season ticket holder numbers gradually dropping, the franchise needs to get both corporate and fan support back up to where they were prior to 2020.

“This place we find ourselves in right now, it’s not going to work over the long haul. It just isn’t,” Chipman told Chris Johnston of The Athletic on Friday.

Commissioner Bettman said, “What I believe Mark means by that -- and I think he’s been pretty clear because I’ve heard him say it repeatedly – [is] he didn’t want to just be a member of the NHL, he wanted a team that has the foundation for success. He wants to be competitive every year and he’d like to bring the Stanley Cup to Winnipeg. And so, if the team is going to have the resources and the ability to compete at the highest level, and spend to the [NHL salary] cap as they have, it’s important for the building to be full.”

Winnipeg (37-15-5) is tied with the Dallas Stars for first in the Central Division and has qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs five of the past six seasons.

The Jets relaunched their “Drive to 13,000” ticket campaign last spring -- the same campaign that in 2011 saw 13,000-plus season ticket packages get snapped up by fans in 15 minutes. Demand was immense when the NHL returned to Winnipeg after 15 years.

“This is a team that’s widely regarded around the League as a model franchise,” Daly said. “Well run from top to bottom, puts a competitive hockey team on the ice, spends to the cap. But also invests, as Gary said, in the community and all their charitable initiatives and their investment in the city. We wish we had 32 of these. … Hockey matters here and that’s important to us. So Winnipeg matters to us.”

Commissioner Bettman said, “And the Jets matter to Winnipeg.

“Obviously the attendance needs to improve, but it will. I have a confidence in the organization. And as importantly, I have a confidence in this community.”