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The Greater Good of Hockey

As summer comes to a gradual end, Winnipeggers get ready to winterize. Turning the corner from summer to fall, there’s more to see than just the turning leaves as the start of the 2023-2024 Winnipeg Jets hockey season. 

With the Jets comes at least 41 games to be played in Winnipeg at the Canada Life Centre. This season’s first game played in Winnipeg will be an afternoon game on October 14th. 

Prior to the pandemic, in the 2018-2019 season, the Winnipeg Jets averaged 15,276 tickets sold per game. This is a near-sellout average as Canada Life Centre has a capacity of 15,321 seats for hockey games.  

All these fans downtown add thousands of additional customers for downtown businesses on game day. In past years, some downtown restaurants have reported four times the customers during the post-season games in Winnipeg, while the low-end predictions are a 30 to 40 per cent increase of clientele before Jets games. 

This comes as a great financial relief for businesses in downtown Winnipeg that have struggled substantially since the COVID pandemic caused dozens of restaurant and shop doors to close for good. On Graham Avenue alone are at least ten storefronts, which remain vacant after mass closures rid the neighbourhood of customers. 

With a new year come hopes of a successful season and a healthy run in the post-season. Since the original Jets, Winnipeg has been renowned for huge turnouts and the Whiteout, wherein all fans attending the playoff games in Winnipeg wear white. Along with playoff games is the street party. In 2018, on the most successful playoff run for the modern Jets, approximately 27,000 fans made it downtown per game for the viewing parties on the streets around the Canada Life Centre, totalling 120,000 fans in the three rounds the Jets played. 

With all this in mind, ticket sales have dropped post-pandemic. A tandem problem of rising cost of living combined with a somewhat dismal season by the Jets dropped ticket sales to an average of just over 14,000 tickets sold per game. 

A decrease in overall season ticket holders over the last couple of seasons led the Jets to release a ticket sales promotion at the end of the last season. The message to fans was clear: if tickets don’t sell, the team will not stay in Winnipeg. The video released by the Winnipeg Jets showed flashes of the modern team and the original team, who left in 1996. 

“Never forget. Never again,” the narrator said overtop the footage.  

Many fans took the advertisement as a threat from the company. There has been little response from Truth North Sports + Entertainment, save for one representative referring to the millions of dollars TNSE has invested in revitalizing downtown Winnipeg. 

Greater Than Sports 

What comes with the new season is more than economic success for businesses and Truth North ownership. Since they first started playing in 1972, the Winnipeg Jets have been a point of pride for Manitobans.  

While the game has an unknown date of origin in ancient Greece, Egypt and even Ireland, it is no secret that hockey plays a massive role in the culture of Canada. Every year, there are more than 600,000 Canadians playing youth hockey. In 2021, the NHL stated Canadian viewership of the Stanley Cup Finals was 15.6 million people, over 41 per cent of the country.  

Manitobans are no exception. On the Stanley Cup-winning team, The Las Vegas Golden Knights, six players, including team Captain Mark Stone, are from Manitoba. Former Chicago Blackhawks Captain Jonathan Toews, born and raised in Winnipeg, won three Stanley Cups in his career. All told, 26 Manitobans are playing in the NHL. 

True North Sports + Entertainment has made it a part of their investments in the city to include youth hockey through the True North Youth Foundation. The Winnipeg Jets Hockey Academy operates to help kids between grade four to high school attend training programs throughout the school year. The program, which has as many as 700 youth participants per 25-week program, allows kids the opportunity to access on-ice training and lessons they may not otherwise have access to. Upon reaching high school, participants will be allowed to join the 50 volunteers in the program, allowing them to give back to the organization which helped them when they were younger. 

Additional projects managed by the True North Youth Foundation include Project 11, which focuses on mental health in young people—through team-building exercises and lessons about empathy, connecting with others and developing greater awareness of personal emotional and physical wellness. Project 11 was inspired by the late Rick Rypien, former Winnipeg Jet and Manitoba Moose player who suffered from depression. 

Camp Manitou operates as a summer camp in the summer while providing outdoor activities through the winter. On a 28-acre property, kids are encouraged to engage with the natural world. Kids are provided with plenty of activities as well as educational programs. 

Psychology of Sports 

According to an article published in the Frontiers in Public Health from the School of Psychology and Sport Science at Anglia Ruskin University in the United Kingdom, attending live sporting events has a positive impact on overall life satisfaction. Primarily, live sporting events will reduce feelings of loneliness among individuals while feelings of general happiness increase as well. 

Among the study’s implications, the positive impact of live sporting events on a person’s “sense that life was worthwhile” is comparable to the “worthwhile” emotions attained from employment. This data will only apply to those who are interested in sports. Still, the sense of community that comes from cheering with 15,000 others is felt by all who attend. 

Other such studies have had similar findings. A German study found that two-thirds of Germans felt an increased sense of happiness and national pride after Germans won medals at the last Summer Olympics. These findings span across race, income, and level of education. None of these findings are an indication of status or lack thereof. They are broad, human experiences. 

In a book written by Florida State University professors Drs Daniel L. Wann and Jeffrey D. James called Sports Fans: The Psychology and Social Impact of Fandom, published in 2019, identification with a sports team leads to an overall increase in happiness and well-being. The book’s premise revolves around the camaraderie of sports and how sporting events bring us together with our community members. Sports create a sense of community among strangers. In many instances, watching sports creates a reason for two other strangers to talk to one another. Furthermore, it gives people the sense that they are a part of something greater than themselves. 

Some research indicates some negative consequences of sports viewership, such as increased anxiety and blood pressure. Some studies have indicated that the testosterone of viewers drops noticeably after their favourite team loses a game. Sports betting has also become an increased market across Canada as online gambling laws have opened avenues of participation. While sports fandom has many benefits, it is still crucial to remind ourselves it is only a game. 

– Matthew Harrison, U Multicultural

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