WINNIPEG Winnipeg easily cleared an important hurdle in its effort to secure the relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers with the sale of 13,000 season tickets, the NHL said on Saturday.
One of the conditions of the sale of the cash-strapped Thrashers to True North Sports and Entertainment was that the city demonstrate a commitment to the new team.
True North set a target of 13,000 season ticket sales and Winnipeg hockey fans responded in impressive style, gobbling up the packages in less than four days.
"While I had no doubt the 'Drive to 13,000' would reach its destination, the remarkable speed at which it got there certifies the fans' hunger for NHL hockey and their commitment to True North's initiatives," said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in a statement.
All that remains to complete the sale is approval of the NHL board of governors, who will meet on June 21 in New York.
Winnipeg, which would become the NHL's smallest market, was home to the Winnipeg Jets of the World Hockey Association before the team joined the NHL in 1979.
The Jets played for 17 years in the NHL before moving to Phoenix, Arizona, in 1996 because of financial losses related to an outdated arena, spiraling NHL salaries and a weak Canadian dollar.
"We would like to take a special moment to thank all of our fans in Winnipeg, Manitoba and Canada for their support over the past week, in particular, the overwhelming response of our fans which has resulted in a successful 'Drive to 13,000' campaign," said Jim Ludlow, President and CEO, True North Sports & Entertainment.
"The success of the campaign is a key ingredient to ensuring the sustainability and long-term viability of NHL hockey in this province.
"We look forward to seeing everyone this Fall at MTS Center for opening night of regular season NHL hockey in Winnipeg."
(Writing by Steve Keating in Vancouver, Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)