My congratulations go out to Winnipeg Jets fans, who yesterday received news that the NHL was coming back to town after 15 years. While they aren’t getting back their Jets, who still somehow reside in Glendale, they are back in the game.
What the heck is this new team going to be called? My sense is that the overwhelming public sentiment is that they be called the Winnipeg Jets. Other names I have come across are the Manitoba Jets, Manitoba/Winnipeg Moose, Manitoba/Winnipeg Falcons and Manitoba/ Winnipeg Thrashers. The Moose is Winnipeg’s currently American Hockey League franchise name, while the Falcons were an amateur team in Winnipeg that represented Canada in the 1920 Olympics and the first ice hockey gold medal awarded. The Thrashers would represent maintaining the team’s name from Atlanta. Calling the team the Thrashers would shock me.
Yesterday, the True North Entertainment ownership group did not indicate a team name during its announcement. On the driveto13.com website, the FAQ answer to ‘What is going to be the team name?’ is, ‘At present we are solely focused on successfully completing the Drive to 13,000 and securing an NHL franchise for the City of Winnipeg and the Province of Manitoba.’
Despite not listing a team name, the ownership group came across as incredibly well prepared to take on an NHL team. They have worked with the NHL the past 3-4 years on quietly positioning themselves for a deal; they have detailed operating budgets as suggested by the ticket drive and pricing structure; and they have structured the ticket sales with a long term view, evidenced by the five year commitment term on season ticket purchases. It would be shocking and practically impossible that an experienced hockey ownership group has gone this far without a detailed marketing plan in place.
Why not disclose the team name yesterday? I have two theories. Neither theory predicts the team name, Winnipeg Jets. Both theories allow the team and fans to focus on the season ticket drive without any negative energy dragging the process. If fans want to believe they are purchasing season tickets for the Winnipeg Jets, True North does not want to shatter the dream.
My first theory popped into my head this morning. It is plausible if you don’t spend too much time thinking about it. It sounds almost likely if you chew on it too long. The theory is that True North wants to make the big marketing push on June 21st, the date the NHL Board of Governors will vote on the move. Technically, Winnipeg does not yet have a team. There is no point in naming the team and selling merchandise until the team is in place. It reminds me of walking in the Bay in Saskatoon in 1983 and seeing Saskatoon Blues merchandise for sale. The ownership group jumped the gun and NHL subsequently rejected the move.
Under my first theory, the name of the team is the Manitoba Jets. Ownership utilizes the goodwill and recognition of the Jets brand name and makes the fans happy. They also continue the strategy used with the Manitoba Moose, by branding the team as one for the entire province. The fact the Premier of Manitoba spoke at yesterday’s press conference was telling to me. The mayor of Winnipeg was not asked to speak.
My second theory is that the team will not be named the Jets. True North is keeping the name under wraps to keep the focus on the ticket drive. There are millions of dollars to be made selling merchandise of a new team name. Ownership recognizes this and is going to take the route that maximizes revenues.
Another possible angle is that ownership wants to distance themselves from the Jets history. Taking away all of the current nostalgia, the Jets were never a good team. They never went anywhere in the playoffs. Perhaps management wants to strongly signal a new beginning.
The flaw of the marketing end of the theory is that there are millions to be made on Winnipeg/ Manitoba Jets merchandise. Revenue might be a bit smaller given the existence of fans with jerseys. The difference probably would not be worth the initial outrage.
As for the name itself, I do not have any special insights. Manitoba Moose does not make much sense to me. Why utilize an AHL franchise brand? Manitoba Falcons would probably be accepted over time. Perhaps ownership has another name in their pocket that Manitobans will love over time.
When I started writing this, it was with a view that my second theory was the one I believed in the most. The NHL Board of Governors vote is a slam dunk. Therefore, the concerns I raised in theory one do not make sense. As I wrote theory number two, it also does not make a whole lot of sense. An idiot owner would come in and rebrand the team. True North do not come across as idiots.
In any event, it will be a fun topic to debate over the next few weeks. The one prediction I will stand firmly behind is that the team name will be announced by June 24th, the date of the NHL Entry Draft. I can’t see Gary Bettman going up to the microphone and saying, “With the 7th pick in the 2011 NHL Entry draft, the new Manitoba hockey team selects….”.