The Hockey News - Money & Power
IN A BILLION-DOLLAR sporting industry, it’s far more common for an owner to be reviled than revered by the local fan base. In Winnipeg, where all was once lost only for it to be found again, where it was built anew and built bigger and better than ever, where the ownership group is celebrated during the Canadian national anthem – TRUE NORTH! – there are few places Mark Chipman goes where he isn’t greeted with handshakes and cheers.
For Chipman, it was an arduous process to bring NHL hockey back to Winnipeg, and one that took nearly 15 years. It began in a way that’s reflective of the journey many Jets have taken to the pros: in the minor leagues.
In 1996, Chipman was president of his family business, which had been started by his father in 1963 and included car dealerships as well as real-estate and property-development interests. A passionate hockey fan, Chipman was among the heartbroken supporters who said goodbye to the WHA-turned-NHL Jets following the 1995-96 season, bidding them farewell as they departed to become the Phoenix Coyotes. In the aftermath of the Jets’ relocation, Chipman sought to fill the void left by the team’s departure south of the border, and joined forces with several local businesspeople to acquire the International League’s Minnesota Moose, who were summarily renamed the Manitoba Moose and became the new tenant at the Winnipeg Arena.
Despite some difficult early years and financial uncertainty surrounding the team, the Moose began to see steady growth with Chipman at the helm, and upon the IHL’s disintegration following the 2000-01 season, it was Chipman who was one of the key figures who orchestrated the merger of several franchises with the AHL, including four current teams in the Moose, Chicago Wolves, Grand Rapids Griffins and Milwaukee Admirals. And it was in the AHL that the Moose truly flourished, which in part allowed Chipman to pursue a new arena.
With the need for a modern facility to replace the half-century-old barn, Chipman, who had helped found True North Sports & Entertainment Ltd., began to pursue a downtown arena development deal. In May 2001, his dream became a reality and led to a partnership that would eventually pay great dividends. With a desire to put the arena at the site of the famed Eaton’s department store on Portage Ave., TNSE acquired land from Osmington Inc., a real-estate firm founded by billionaire David Thomson. But Thomson, the chairman of Thomson Reuters and one of the world’s wealthiest people with a net worth of more than $20 billion, wasn’t interested in dollars and cents in exchange for the land surrounding what’s now known as Bell MTS Place. Rather, he sought a minority stake of TNSE, which has since become complete co-ownership alongside Chipman.
By 2004, the arena was opened and the AHL franchise continued its growth over the next several seasons, providing hard evidence that Winnipeg was a viable NHL market. And in May and June 2011, the move became official when TNSE first purchased the Atlanta Thrashers and later gained approval to move them to Winnipeg, returning an NHL franchise to the city 15 years after the original Jets decamped.
Chipman, who holds the title of chairman with TNSE and is president of Megill-Stephenson Company, remains a presence around the new iteration of the Jets, as he has since their inception. He’s a fixture in the press box, and his hallmark has been patience during difficult early seasons – patience that gave GM Kevin Cheveldayoff the latitude necessary to build a young, exciting team with true Stanley Cup aspirations.
The building isn’t complete in Winnipeg, however, in either a literal or figurative sense.
In the summer, another endeavor of Chipman’s, an ambitious revitalization project in downtown Winnipeg centered around the aptly named True North Square, opened up for business with the entire fourtower plaza slated to be finished by 2020.
Meanwhile, Chipman and his family continue their charitable ventures in the city with a number of organizations, including the True North Youth Foundation. – JARED CLINTON