We recently looked into a few franchise relocations that appeared to be necessary for the survival of the franchise. One of the teams we looked at was the Winnipeg Jets. The moved from Atlanta after last year. The NHL season is now sufficiently developed to give us a reasonable sample size to look at to see if the relocation was successful. By all accounts the Jets have been enormously popular in Winnipeg and even have had more success on the ice than in any of their recent years in Atlanta. Attendance is up by a large margin and many games are actually sold out well in advance. For example a ticket to tonight’s Bruins game could only be purchased on the secondary market on stubhub.com for at least $199. This was unheard of in Atlanta where tickets could be had the day of the game for extremely low prices. In addition the team is in third in its division and has a realistic shot at the play-offs. In fairness this may be caused by player improvement and have nothing to do with the move from Atlanta to Winnipeg but it is also possible that the increased fan support and general positive attitude around the franchise that has been created by the move has caused some of the improvement.
The most important facet of the relocation however does not have to do with ticket sales or wins and losses. As we attempted to show in our case study about the Sonics, professional sports franchises hold a unique position. They are technically businesses but they have a stronger responsibility to their fans than the average firm has to its client base. This is because a sports team really does have a monopoly on the people in that area. Particularly with hockey in Canada, the only option is to be a fan of the team in your city. Thus the team has a greater responsibility to protect and look after the interest of these fans. The people of Winnipeg had a team ripped from them in 1996 when the Jets originally left for Phoenix. Grantland’s Chris Jones outlines what the return of the Jets meant to Winnipeg on this article, but it can be summed up in the subtitle of the article; “For one night Winnipeg was the happiest town on Earth. With apologies to hockey fans in Atlanta the team was never really appreciated there and will be a much better fit in Winnipeg. This is one example where relocation was the perfect solution.