David Thomson’s calculated romance with the NHL
The plan to build a hockey rink on the Eaton’s site, which would become the MTS Centre, was less about the long-shot prospect of luring an NHL franchise to Winnipeg than about enhancing the value of that property by putting up a building which could be a stand alone profit-centre, with the American Hockey League Moose as its main tenant, and with a busy schedule of concerts and other events.
It was through the arena project that Thomson first met and entered into partnership with local businessman Mark Chipman to establish True North, the company that is in the process of relocating the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg.
One decision in which it appears Thomson had a very direct hand was the choice to scale the arena at 15,000 seats – to some minds, too small to house a contemporary NHL franchise – again, he says, drawing on his time with HBC.
“Do you build it at eighteen and a half thousand or fifteen? For those who hadn’t been in retail, you build eighteen and a half. For those who hadn’t spent time with Steve Stavro [who made his fortune in the big box grocery business], you build eighteen and a half. But the important thing is the customer experience. Yes, we have a smaller rink and I still tell people it’s too big in my opinion. More seats would have cost more money and you have to fill them. It’s not the Bell Centre. It’s not the ACC. But for Winnipeg, I think it’s the right size.”
P.-S. Le Colisée de Régis Labeaume aura… 18 000 places…