Winnipeg hockey supporters rally at The Forks in Winnipeg, Tuesday May 31, 2011 after the announcement that an NHL team will be returning to the city after 15 years. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ David Lipnowski
WINNIPEG - True North Sports and Entertainment reached its goal of selling 13,000 season tickets for Winnipeg's new NHL team, and it happened only minutes after online sales to the general public began at noon on Saturday.
The tickets sold out in just 17 minutes, but the company said the online queue was actually full in two minutes and that the remaining 15 minutes were required to process the sales.
One of the lucky buyers, Jamie Shaughnessy, said the process was even faster for him and his friends because he already had a Ticketmaster account from when he'd bought NHL tickets for games in Minnesota last year.
"It was pretty much just click a button for every screen. It took you through the whole thing. You were out in two to three minutes," Shaughnessy told CJOB radio in Winnipeg.
For the last three days, only the 2,000 or so fans who had season tickets to the American Hockey League's Manitoba Moose could buy NHL seats.
As of Friday afternoon, those Moose fans had scooped up more than 7,100 season tickets.
"We would like to take a special moment to thank all of our fans in Winnipeg and Canada for their support over the past week, in particular, the overwhelming response of our fans which has resulted in a successful 'Drive to 13,000' campaign," True North's president and CEO, Jim Ludlow, said in a statement immediately following the sellout.
Ludlow said the season tickets campaign was a key ingredient to ensuring the viability to NHL hockey in Manitoba.
The as-yet unnamed team was bought by True North from owners in Atlanta earlier this week.
The company had hoped to sell 13,000 season seats ahead of the NHL's vote on the approval of the sale later this month. The ticket packages available were for three, four and five seasons.
The speed of the sellout took many by surprise, including NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
"While I had no doubt the 'Drive to 13,000' would reach its destination, the remarkable speed at which it got there certifies the fans' hunger for NHL hockey and their commitment to True North's initiatives," Bettman said in a statement.
There was no lining up for tickets. All purchases had to be made online.
With all 13,000 season tickets sold, there will be just over 2,000 tickets remaining for each game at the MTS Centre. It is the NHL's smallest arena, holding just over 15,000 people.
But unlike the old Winnipeg Arena, where the Winnipeg Jets used to play before they for left Phoenix in 1996, MTS Centre has corporate suites, ranging in price from $105,000 to $197,000 a season.
True North added it will be starting an official membership-only-based waiting list for any season tickets which become available, which will require a fee.
But it only took a few hours on Saturday before that wait list capped out at 8,000.
"We look forward to seeing everyone this fall at MTS Centre for opening night of regular season NHL hockey in Winnipeg," Ludlow said in the release.
Ludlow didn't provide any hints about what the new team will be called nor exactly when the name will be announced, but he said it won't be long.
Many fans would like to see the return of the Jets name.
Other names bandied about include the Manitoba Falcons, which would assuage those who live outside Winnipeg and feel the name should reflect the entire province while paying homage to Canada's first Olympic gold-winning hockey team, the 1920 Winnipeg Falcons.
Scott Brown, a spokesman for True North, said the company would try to make it up to fans who couldn't purchase season tickets.
"Hopefully we'll be able to satisfy those people through some events that we'll hold and notifications that we'll have for them in terms of when tickets that become available, in terms of individual games and season tickets," Brown said.