SPORTS

Winnipeg's 'Drive to 13,000' is gold standard for Las Vegas season-ticket drive

02/11/2015 10:58 EST | Updated 04/13/2015 05:59 EDT
When Winnipeg needed to prove it deserved an NHL team again, it went from zero to 13,000 real quick. Season tickets were sold out within seven minutes.

"It really was surprising how quickly things went," said True North vice-president of sales and marketing Norva Riddell. "We were completely overwhelmed at how successful and how quickly that all resonated."

Almost four years after the Atlanta Thrashers were relocated, Winnipeg is the gold standard for season-ticket drives and one that Las Vegas would love to emulate as it embarks on trying to show the NHL an expansion team belongs there.

It's unrealistic to expect tickets to be gone in 420 seconds like in Winnipeg, but planning and sales personnel from Las Vegas sought out help from True North before launching their drive Tuesday. The Jets have been happy to lend a helping hand.

"If we can help people have successful operations in other markets, I think it's good for everybody," Riddell said in a recent phone interview. "The greater intention of everyone, to keep promoting the sport of hockey and have successful clubs in markets, I think is fantastic for everyone."

Winnipeg and Las Vegas are very different situations, something deputy commissioner Bill Daly pointed out recently when noting True North already had a season-ticket base in place and was selling actual seats to a real team already on the way. And there's no denying that Las Vegas presents a variety of different challenges, not the least of which include a lack of hockey tradition and a transient population.

In Winnipeg, True North knew it had an audience yearning for the NHL, which left in 1996. Aside from the ECHL's Wranglers, Las Vegas doesn't have a hockey history, but the same principles that helped Winnipeg's "Drive to 13,000" are important to the VegasWantsHockey push to get at least 10,000 for a team to begin play in 2016-'17.

"The inclusiveness, really educating the community and really trying to make them a part of it, I think, is a big part of it," Riddell said. "Because once people understand the logistics and how they can play such an important role in establishing that team and the brand and the identity, then there's a real pride associated to that."

Other advice included communicating details of the online-only drive and creating flexible options for fans in terms of prices and length of commitments. Hockey Vision Las Vegas, LLC declined comment through a spokeswoman.

True North set ticket prices ranging from CAD$39 to $129 with full-season deposits costing fans between $500 and $1,000. Seven different levels were available at full-season costs from $1,755 to $5,805.

With no real precedent to work from, Riddell said the company analyzed prices in other Canadian markets to figure out what they should be worth in Winnipeg.

"We'd been working on our drive for quite some time because we kind of had a bit of a false start the year previous," Riddell said, referring to other relocation speculation. "We felt that we had a pretty good understanding of the market and what things would be important to them."

The VegasWantsHockey prices range from US$20 to $220 (and deposits from $150 to $900) with the goal of making the average cost around the NHL's average of $62 to $65. The company's website doesn't list full-season prices, but they would be roughly US$900 to $9,990 based on 41 regular-season and four pre-season home games.

While Jets fans had to sign up for three, four or five years, the Las Vegas season-ticket drive includes options for one-, three-, five- and 10-year deals.

"Every market is different and everything is going to have a different impact," Riddell said.

The Jets saw a 96 per cent renewal rate on those fans who signed up for three years and are in the middle of their renewal process now for those with four-year deals. They have 8,000 on a waiting list and hope to chip into that with 278 more seats coming to MTS Centre for next season.

Four years after their season-ticket drive, things are going strong.

"I think people understand that they need to support the team in this community," Riddell said. "They just need to if they want it to stick around. It's very important within the fabric. So far so good."

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