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'I believe this is a strong NHL market': Bettman tries to put fears to rest as Jets deal with low attendance

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman (right) and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly speak to reporters prior to the Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues NHL game in Winnipeg on Tuesday, February 27, 2024. (Fred Greenslade/The Canadian Press) NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman (right) and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly speak to reporters prior to the Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues NHL game in Winnipeg on Tuesday, February 27, 2024. (Fred Greenslade/The Canadian Press)
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Gary Bettman had a clear message for Winnipeg Jets fans during his media availability Tuesday – he is confident in the team and the hockey market, and the Jets aren't going anywhere.

"If I didn’t believe in places like Winnipeg, we never would have brought the Jets back," said Bettman.

These comments from the NHL commissioner come after the chairman of the Jets, Mark Chipman, said in an interview with The Athletic last week, that the season ticket base needed to get back up to the 13,000 seats that the team had when it came back to Winnipeg. Currently, he noted the base was under 9,500.

In the interview, Chipman said the shrinking season ticket base wouldn't be sustainable over the long haul.

On Tuesday, Bettman wanted to squash any concerns that may have arisen in the past couple of days.

"I think there was a lot of speculation as to why I was here today, and even what I'm thinking in anticipation of being here today. 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 they're not going to be here," Bettman said Tuesday.

Winnipeg has been averaging the second-lowest attendance in the NHL at just over 13,000 fans a game.

For Bettman, this isn't viewed as a concern, noting this is part of the evolution of any franchise. He thinks the season ticket base will rebuild and fans will once again pack Canada Life Centre.

"(Chipman) didn't want to just be a member of the NHL. He wants a team that has the foundation for success. He wants to be competitive every year. 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 (salary) cap as they have, it's important for the building to be full."

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly – who was also at the media availability – said the Jets are viewed as a model franchise in the NHL.

"Well run from top to bottom. (It) has a competitive hockey team, puts a competitive hockey team on the ice. Spends to the cap, but also invests, as Gary mentioned, in the community and all their charitable initiatives and investment in the city. So we wish we had 32 of these," said Daly.

As part of Chipman's plan to increase the season ticket base, he reached out to the business community to see if they would buy tickets.

Bettman said he had no message to share with the business community during his visit Tuesday, but he does believe the Jets organization has "very robust" support.

When asked why corporate Winnipeg doesn't have a bigger share of season tickets, he pointed out that they didn't really get the chance when Winnipeg came back to the city.

"We announced on May 31 that the team was coming and a day or so later, it was go to your computer and sign up. And individuals did that in a way that kind of precluded, at the time, corporate purchasing. And if they had to do it over, maybe they would have held back 4,000 or 5,000 tickets and sold them as corporate packages. They didn't, but that's history. So we are where we are and we move forward," said Bettman.

Bettman added there can be a multitude of reasons why ticket sales have dropped, but the main focus should be on the future and adjusting to the current climate in the city.

"So we focus on the fact that we believe in this market. Ownership believes in this market. This is a strong organization that will do what it needs to do to adjust and I believe this community will adjust."

- With files from The Canadian Press

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