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Spoelstra: At 15K, MTS Centre is perfect size for NHL hockey

Winnipeg JetsPerhaps pandering a little to the hometown newspaper, sports consultant Jon Spoelstra says the 15,000 seats at MTS Centre makes for a perfectly sized NHL arena and calls True North Sports and Entertainment “visionaries” for moving an NHL team to such a small arena.

Spoelstra, operating under the impression that lowering supply equals higher demand, says the creation of a long wait for season tickets should keep fans interested in the former Atlanta Thrashers franchise and create an exciting atmosphere.

He’s right that a small arena should make for an exciting atmosphere, especially in the first few years of the franchise.

“There’s an urgency to keep your season tickets,” Spoelstra told the Winnipeg Free Press. “If the team isn’t very good [for one year], people will tend to keep their season tickets because once they give them up, they might never see them again.”

In fact, he envisions a future in Winnipeg where no single-game tickets are on sale: all ducats will go directly to season-ticket holders.

“That wait list is gold. If they manage it right, they could sell [the MTS Centre] out for 50 straight years. You never have to go public to sell tickets, it’s all off the wait list,” he said.

Which would be the surest way to a fan revolt, we’re thinking. The accepted wisdom — one that Spoelstra is opening revolting against — is that a percentage of tickets should be reserved for single-game sales. Limit things totally to season tickets and fans will lose interest. Furthermore, there’s a decent percentage of season-ticket holders who don’t show up for every game, and you run the danger of having plenty of open seats even though the game is sold out: teams rely on those per caps. (In any case, we’re not so sure there’s a danger of selling every ticket as a season ticket, if this poll is any indication.)

Plus, we’re just not sure Spoelstra, who has focused on the NBA in his front-office career, understands the NBA game versus the NHL game. First off, in an arena built with hockey in mind, the design can keep those last 3,000 seats close enough to avoid the tag of “nosebleed seats.” Witness Xcel Energy Center, with a capacity of 18,064 for hockey. There, those last 3,000 seats are still part of the action because of the large rink. You still feel like part of the game sitting in the back of Xcel Energy Center for hockey; by contrast, the back rows of an NBA arena tend to be a mile away from the smaller court. Sit at the back of Target Center‘s upper deck and you’re a mile from the action.

Indeed, we’d put 18,000 or so as the perfect capacity for a NHL arena when it comes to a balance of intimacy and economics. The arenas that work best for NHL hockey — Xcel, Consol Energy Center, TD Garden, HP Pavilion, Air Canada Centre — tend to be in the 17,500-18,500 range with angles designed for NHL hockey. (Air Canada Centre is larger.) Anything larger and you do end up with too many undesirable seats, as in the United Center.

And there’s nothing magical about 15,000 as being a size where a team can maintain a large waiting list for season tickets: the Wild, Bruins and Maple Leafs manage to do with despite playing in larger arenas.

Playing at MTS Centre, even if the team sells at 100 percent of capacity, puts the new Winnipeg team at a disadvantage right off the bat. If the team had moved for the 2010-2011 season and sold out every seat, it would have ranked #24 in NHL attendance, behind the Dallas Stars (averaging 15,073 fans per game) and jut above the Colorado Avalanche (averaging 14,820 fans a game). Gary Bettman says the move to MTS Centre won’t move if the team doesn’t sell every seat; we’d add it probably doesn’t work if every sponsorship isn’t sold, either.

RELATED STORIES: No, it won’t be the Winnipeg Whiteout; Could Jets return to Winnipeg?; It’s official: Winnipeg’s back in the NHL; Will Winnipeg make most of second shot at NHL?; Thrashers not out of Atlanta — yet; Atlanta-to-Winnipeg rumors gaining steam; Spirit finally faces inevitable: Thrashers may need new home

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