Winnipeg Jets fans have been getting an uncomfortable dose of déjà vu in the wake of their faltering attendance at the start of the 2023-24 season.
After 10 consecutive years of sellouts at Canada Life Centre, patches of empty seats are becoming commonplace at Jets games. Winnipeg has averaged 11,823 fans through its first four home games. That equates to 77% of the stadium's capacity— which is the NHL’s smallest arena (aside from the Coyotes’ temporary digs).
Naturally, many have wondered if the Jets — who in 2011 purchased and relocated the Atlanta Thrashers back to Manitoba’s capital 15 years after the Jets 1.0 left for Arizona — are at risk of relocation once again.
In an interview with TSN Insider Darren Dreger, Jets Executive Chairman and Governor Mark Chipman refuted that notion.
“I can see how you would ask that question because it happened once. Is it a concern it could happen again because it’s the smallest market? I say not on our watch,” Chipman said.
When the Jets returned to Winnipeg, True North Sports and Entertainment sold out 13,000 season ticket packages, and garnered an 8,000-person waiting list in a matter of minutes. In conversation with Chipman, Dreger revealed that the Jets’ season-ticket base has dropped below 10,000.
“It was a little surprising, to be honest,” Jets forward Kyle Connor told the Winnipeg Sun on Oct. 18, a day after the Jets had just 11,226 fans on hand to see the return of Pierre-Luc Dubois. “First game, I didn’t notice it right away. Me and [Nikolaj] Ehlers had a conversation sitting on the bench, we were looking around, and were a little taken aback.”
In April, Chipman told attendees of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce Luncheon that 15% of the Jets’ season tickets were owned by businesses – which he noted was considerably lower than other Canadian markets. At that same luncheon, Chipman and the Jets revealed a 90-second promotional video for their season-ticket drive called “Forever Winnipeg.”
The video was full of references to the Jets leaving and placed the onus on fans to step up to the plate. The video rubbed many the wrong way, as a large sector of fans interpreted it as a threat, given the overall tone of the video, in addition to the images of the team leaving at the end of the promo.
Chipman also explained the Jets’ rationale behind not rebuilding, a decision many have questioned considering the Jets have won one playoff round since their 2017-18 Western Conference Finals run.
“The word rebuild is really easy to throw around because it sounds good," Chipman said. "I’ve gone through every team that has said rebuild. It’s expensive and it takes a long time. People think rebuild is a year or two. Rebuild is a minimum…there’s five, they can be seven. I can show you some that are 10-12 years in the making."
Winnipeg is currently riding a three-game winning streak after defeating the Detroit Red Wings 4-1 on Thursday. The Jets have a 4-3-0 record to start the year.