Winnipeg is getting the hang of this “hosting major sporting events” thing, and it’s paying off handsomely.
Just nine months after welcoming soccer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup for seven games and three months after hosting the Grey Cup football game and festivities, the National Hockey League (NHL) has awarded a Heritage Classic outdoor game to the city, to be held Oct. 23, 2016.
Along with the regular season hockey game between the Winnipeg Jets and the Edmonton Oilers, an alumni game for the two teams will be held the day before, led by the longtime captain of the original Jets team (before it was sold in 1996), Dale Hawerchuk, while the Oilers legends will be led by some guy named Gretzky.
Both games will be held at the outdoor Investors Group Field, home of the Canadian Football League’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Oilers head coach Todd McLellan, who participated in an outdoor game a year ago in California, says the outdoor spectacles are like “mini-Super Bowls.”
But there won’t be anything mini about the economic impact of two sold-out games of 33,000 people each and thousands of visitors from across the country. In fact, within 48 hours of the NHL’s announcement, two of Winnipeg’s most prominent hotels, the Fairmont Winnipeg and the Winnipeg Hotel, booked all their rooms for the big weekend.
The high-water mark for hosting a sporting event in Winnipeg is FIFA, which generated almost $36 million in economic impact for the city, propelled by 20,000 American visitors who streamed across the border to watch the powerful U.S. team.
The Heritage Classic may not reach such lofty financial heights, but it will more than make up for that with over-the-top interest on both a local and a national level.
Gretzky says he has already confirmed that former teammates Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri and Dave Semenko will lace up their skates for the game. Hawerchuk has landed perhaps the biggest fish of them all – at least from a Winnipegger’s perspective – Teemu Selanne, who set the NHL’s rookie goal-scoring record of 76 while playing for the Jets back in 1992-93.
Just as important for many hockey fans, True North Sports & Entertainment Ltd. – which bought the Atlanta Thrashers in 2011 and used that team to create the most recent version of the Jets – is using the alumni game to pay tribute to the many trailblazers who played for the Jets.
Further down the road are the 2017 Canada Summer Games, which will celebrate both the 50th anniversary of what essentially are Canada’s domestic Olympics and Canada’s 150th anniversary as a country.
One thing would dwarf all of the previous events, however – a lengthy run by the Jets in the Stanley Cup playoffs. That’s not going to happen this year, but maybe there will be a Stanley Cup parade in a few years, as has been predicted by The Hockey News.
The Jets have been back in Winnipeg for five years. Haven’t Winnipeg fans waited long enough?
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