An Incredible Sponsorship Program – Winnipeg and the NHL

The deals are done! Winnipeg has come back into the NHL fold and now hosts a team once again. They sold out their seasons tickets in seven minutes! On the outside, it is a fairy tale story, in my opinion. Underneath though, it was great business acumen and an incredible sponsorship program. I think there is more to the story.

The return of the NHL to Winnipeg was all about careful planning and the success of the Manitoba Moose hockey franchise. True, it took money, negotiation, a failing Atlanta team and so forth, but the plan all started with the Moose. Upon the loss of the Jets and the eventual acquisition of the Minnesota Moose by Manitoba, the planning started. It was through sold-out stadiums for the Manitoba Moose, and a hot ticket and property, that the rebirth of the NHL in Winnipeg began. Because the owners built on what they had (the Manitoba Moose) and did not whine about what they did not have (the Winnipeg Jets), this ownership team catapulted the Manitoba Moose into one of the most successful sport franchises in Canada. They sold sponsorships that worked. They continued to increase investment levels as the brand became stronger and stronger. They sold more and more tickets. They created a passion and following for their brand…the Manitoba Moose.

Then came the MTS Centre. It is the most successful arena complex in North America with the lowest number of dark nights, the highest occupancy rates…and it makes money. The return of the NHL to Winnipeg was about a great business plan, not about whining and wishing. It was about making the Manitoba Moose a huge business success (look at the Leafs…can’t make the playoffs but a great business success, or the Flames who failed to make the playoffs for the last two years and have very successful business years despite no playoffs). The owners did not get caught up in their emotions. They kept their eyes on the business plan. Sure, they were passionate and emotional, but they separated that from the business of hockey.

Because they could be successful with the Manitoba Moose, they laid the ground work for the return of the NHL. They showed a track record of success in a small market versus showing merely deep pockets and the emotional desire to own an NHL team.

The “success” does not end there, though. They had a successful franchise in the Manitoba Moose which allowed them to negotiate for the movement of that team either to Saskatoon or St John’s. St John’s won. The Winnipeg farm team is now in St. John’s and the Moose are ready to “bring in September on the rock.” It was a master plan that was fulfilled.

To many, the “fairy tale” was about the return of the NHL to Winnipeg. For me, the fairy tale was truly about the passion to succeed, follow a business plan that works and overcome all adversity by slowly working toward the goal, one step at a time. It has been over 14 years since the original plan was hatched on a napkin in the Winnipeg coffee shop The Fyxx, but success was achieved. Like all sponsorship programs, when you plan, tools and expertise,  you will succeed. You just need to remember that it does not happen overnight. Congratulations to Mark Chipman and his team. I salute you!

These are just one person’s thoughts. Yours are welcomed, please comment below. Thank you for reading.


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