A tale of two sports cities

CFL and NHL players have differing views of Winnipeg

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers shared this cryptic image on Instagram on Jan. 31, teasing the return of star quarterback Chris Streveler. - Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Supplied)

On Jan. 31, Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans were greeted by a cryptic Instagram post showing a fur coat and cowboy hat hanging on an armoire. The only word in the post was “soon.” Bomber fans knew this could only mean one thing.

Later that same day, the team announced they had signed American quarterback Chris Streveler to a one-year contract. This will be his first time back in the CFL, and with the Bombers, since he left for the NFL after winning the 2019 Grey Cup in spectacular fashion.

In an interview with Ed Tait, Streveler stressed how much he loves Winnipeg and playing for the fans here. Streveler’s view of Winnipeg stands in glaring contrast to the opinions NHL players shared in a recent survey.

On the very same day the Bombers announced Streveler’s signing, The Athletic published their anonymous survey of NHL players. While Streveler is excited to return to Winnipeg, the NHL players surveyed felt differently.

When asked which road city was their least favourite to play in, 41.24 per cent of respondents picked Winnipeg. The second least-favourite city, Ottawa, was voted the least favourite by only 11.86 per cent of respondents, a nearly 30-point margin.

When asked why, players listed the cold and lack of things to do in the city. This was also a common complaint for the second and third responses, Ottawa and Buffalo, respectively. As hockey is a winter sport, the cold issue is no surprise. Having listed Las Vegas as the favourite place to play, it is clear what these athletes want for entertainment, and Winnipeg simply cannot match up.

But there must be something about Winnipeg, the people, the culture that makes people like Streveler want to return. He’s not even the only Bomber who chose Winnipeg over other, potentially more lucrative offers. American wide receiver Kenny Lawler has chosen to restructure his contract for less money in order to stay in Winnipeg.

But this difference in opinion on Winnipeg between NHL and CFL players may be due to two things.

First, football is a summer/fall sport. Until late in the playoffs, CFL players get to enjoy beautiful Manitoba summers and autumns, while NHL players are here for the dregs of winter and the sloppy, cold spring.

Second is where the teams play. When an NHL team comes to town, they are greeted by Winnipeg’s downtown, which continues to be a sorry sight. In the winter, there is little to do and few places to go for dinner in the downtown area.

While the Bombers may play in the south end of the city on the University of Manitoba campus, they are still in a better position to enjoy the city, including downtown areas like the Exchange District, as the elements are far more welcoming to them, and those areas are more vibrant.

Winnipeg can be a wonderful place to live with a great arts and cultural scene, lovely people and beautiful skies, but our downtown is still in shambles. Downtown revitalization has been a hot topic for more than 40 years, going back to the initial development of Portage Place, but the city keeps falling short. Surveys such as this only serve as more bad press for the city.

As for the hockey players, if they are only in town for a couple of days in the winter and feel geographically locked into the downtown area around the Canada Life Centre, I can’t really blame them for not wanting to be here.

Paul Hodgert is the business manager for The Uniter and was at the 1991 Grey Cup at old Winnipeg Stadium.

Published in Volume 78, Number 17 of The Uniter (February 8, 2024)

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