Win­nipeg is hav­ing our play­off party

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - PAULA SIMONS Com­men­tary

You know that feel­ing, when your neigh­bours down the street are hav­ing a fan­tas­tic spring party, and you’re not in­vited?

And worse — you re­ally wanted to have your own party that same day, but ev­ery­one else went to the neigh­bour’s party in­stead of yours, so you’re sit­ting in your back­yard, alone with the mos­qui­toes and dan­de­lions, lis­ten­ing to the big party a few blocks away, feel­ing jeal­ous and sulky and left-out, be­cause those peo­ple are hav­ing what was sup­posed to be your fun?


As the Win­nipeg Jets face off against the Las Ve­gas Golden Knights in the NHL’s west­ern con­fer­ence fi­nals, pretty much ev­ery­one in Ed­mon­ton knows that feel­ing. Win­nipeg is hav­ing our party, the party we fig­ured we were en­ti­tled to.

But we have more to sulk about than dis­ap­pointed ego. That the Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers didn’t com­pete in a sin­gle Stanley Cup play­off game was a sig­nif­i­cant hit to the Ed­mon­ton econ­omy, es­pe­cially to restau­rants, bars and ho­tels. The hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor got a jolly big boost from last year’s play­offs, es­pe­cially in the down­town core and along Whyte Av­enue. This year? It was pretty much a shutout.

John Rose, the city’s chief econ­o­mist, says the lack of a Cup run was a par­tic­u­lar dis­ap­point­ment this year, when Ed­mon­ton ex­pe­ri­enced a “slug­gish” first quar­ter fi­nan­cially.

“Play­offs would have been a nice little sup­port for the Ed­mon­ton econ­omy,” he says.

Year over year, Rose says, the Ed­mon­ton econ­omy lost 2,000 ac­com­mo­da­tion and restau­rant jobs, and 4,000 jobs in the in­for­ma­tion, cul­tural and recre­ation sec­tors.

“It’s hard not to be jeal­ous when you look at what’s hap­pen­ing in Win­nipeg,” Ian O’Don­nell, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Down­town Busi­ness As­so­ci­a­tion, con­fessed to me.

“Last year dur­ing the play­offs, we had 18,000 peo­ple at Rogers Place and an­other 10,000 peo­ple down­town, and that’s hard to re­place. We’re miss­ing those down­town vis­i­tors and those ho­tel room night stays.”

The big­gest loser, though, has been the Oil­ers En­ter­tain­ment Group it­self. No play­off tick­ets to sell. No chance to sell (over­priced) beer or (over­priced) hot­dogs or (over­priced) jer­seys to ex­cited play­off fans.

And it wasn’t just that OEG lost play­off rev­enues; it also had to take a pass on book­ing bands and shows that might have con­flicted with those early play­off rounds. Sure, in re­cent days, Rogers Place has hosted Sha­nia Twain and the Ea­gles. But for most of April, that fancy new arena was dark: no con­certs, no games, no rev­enues.

Late last month, OEG laid off about 30 staff, from ac­coun­tants to ex­ec­u­tive as­sis­tants to dig­i­tal me­dia spe­cial­ists, Post­media learned re­cently. In a let­ter to em­ploy­ees, OEG ex­plained that it had to “right-size” its struc­ture and fo­cus on core busi­nesses that “drive rev­enue and re­sults.”

“What that also means, for the fore­see­able future, we have ceased our ef­forts re­lated to new busi­ness or global ex­pan­sion,” the let­ter read.

Tim Shipton, OEG se­nior vi­cepres­i­dent of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, says the layoffs had noth­ing to do with the Oil­ers’ play­off woes.

“Ob­vi­ously, play­offs are good for busi­ness,” said Shipton. “Our goal, full stop, is to be a play­off-com­pet­i­tive team, and to com­pete for the Stanley Cup. But I can tell you with ab­so­lute cer­tainty that our busi­ness model doesn’t hinge on a two-month win­dow ev­ery year.”

“We let 20 or 21 peo­ple go out of 1,600. That’s not un­usual in busi­ness.”

The Katz Group has many other irons in the fire. It is at least as much a prop­erty de­vel­op­ment com­pany as a sport en­ter­tain­ment busi­ness.

But the Oil­ers are the mar­quee brand.

At a time when the condo mar­ket is slug­gish, and the of­fice mar­ket is sat­u­rated, the team’s fail­ure to make the play­offs cer­tainly didn’t boost the Katz Group’s ag­gre­gate bot­tom line. Maybe the team’s sad col­lapse didn’t prompt those layoffs. But the di­min­ish­ment of the Oil­ers brand eq­uity sure didn’t help.

The truth is that hockey is a fickle, kit­tle-cat­tle en­ter­prise, and no ho­tel or bar or restau­rant or team pres­i­dent should have been bank­ing on a big play­off bump. This is the prob­lem with ex­pect­ing a hockey arena, or a star player, to be the down­town’s saviour. You shouldn’t count your play­off games be­fore they’re played.

Which leaves us in our metaphor­i­cal back­yard, en­vy­ing Win­nipeg ’s Cin­derella mo­ment in the sun, and Win­nipeg ’s chance to show off its city and its spirit to a North Amer­i­can au­di­ence. But Ed­mon­ton fans? Re­mem­ber, it could have been worse.

It could have been Calgary.


Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.