Winnipeggers love hockey and were thrilled when the Jets made the playoffs. Unfortunately, during the weeks and months that Winnipeg remained a contender, it was clear that under the guise of community spirit the real spirit of True North Sports + Entertainment has been one of greed and opportunism.
Winnipeg Whiteout Street parties promised fun, attracted upwards of 20,000 fans and were arguably accessible — if you had ready access to a computer or mobile device with Internet when free tickets were made available. It is only now in the aftermath that the full cost of the event is coming to the surface. That cost was just shy of $2.2 million.
Remarkably, True North was only required to cover roughly half, while pocketing all $500,000 of beer revenue, and concurrently sticking the City of Winnipeg with a $962,000 bill it will be forced to cover with existing municipal budgets.
This bill is a despicable display of unnecessary corporate welfare.
True North’s Winnipeg Whiteout parties had a simple purpose: to generate hype and fervour for its products — namely being the Jets and Jets merchandise. With the parties’ central focus on stimulating profits for a private franchise, and not on the betterment of our city, the nearly $1 million in taxpayer funds were misused.
This brings to light a recurring phenomenon in the sports industry, and large industry in general: corporations privatizing profits, while socializing costs.
South of the border, hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds are being used to build gigantic billion-dollar stadiums for privately-owned sports teams.
In the fossil fuel industry before the introduction of a carbon tax, oil companies were making record profits yet were nowhere to be seen when their byproduct caused billions in damages in the form of drought, floods and wildfires.
Amazon announced, with a request for proposals that contained the word “incentive” 21 times, it would be looking for a new $5 billion headquarters and 238 cities entered a virtual bidding war over who could provide the most incentives.
In Winnipeg, the Whiteout parties represent only a small chunk of the corporate welfare given to True North. The company already receives about $14 million per year in kickbacks from amusement, property and business taxes, and revenues from government-owned video lottery machines in their sports bar.
When roads need repair, the city’s budget is tight, but when a sports team needs more profits, the coffers are suddenly full.
As it stands, Winnipeg’s elected officials continue to provide gigantic incentives for a corporation that does not require them.
True North has been a Winnipeg-based investment firm since its conception, with most of its investments localized to the Winnipeg metropolitan area. There is little evidence to suggest that True North would ever consider moving its franchise to another city. And while the company pockets revenue from tickets, concessions and advertising, it continues to have no issue collecting taxpayer subsidies to further feed its shareholders.
As though to insult every taxpayer, True North executives threatened to stop hosting the events asserting that if someone suggested the responsibility to pay for all the costs was theirs, Winnipeg would see an end to the Whiteout parties.
All coming from a corporation with a multi-billionaire owner of a team that made nearly US$120 million in revenue for the 2016-17 season alone.
The complaints and threats from True North have little to stand on. The $2.2 million for Whiteout parties and $14 million in incentives are merely a drop in the ocean of profits the company is making with the help of Winnipeggers.
It seems as though it is now the norm for corporations to expect these incentives that were originally intended for economic stimulus.
When taxpayer dollars make up over 10 per cent of the revenue of a franchise, it is no longer economic stimulation but corporate welfare.
Winnipeg must look into alternative ways of achieving a balanced approach of having an entertaining team the whole city can enjoy, while not allowing taxpayers to be defrauded out of millions of dollars.