Winnipeg NHL team co-owner David Thomson prevails where Asper family once reigned

Marc Weisblott
National Affairs Reporter
Daily Brew

Winnipeg was once the headquarters of the powerful Asper media empire, but now is occupied by David Thomson, the richest media baron in Canada, who helped bring the NHL back to this wind-swept Prairie city today.

Thomson, whose family owned the Winnipeg Free Press for more than two decades, is a minority shareholder in True North Sports and Entertainment, the company that signed the deal to relocate the Atlanta Thrashers.

While the 53-year-old turned down previous interview requests, Thomson sat alongside the new hockey club's chairman Mark Chipman and briefly relayed that his involvement was spawned by a deep personal attachment to the city - not to mention a shared feeling of regret the Jets left town in 1996 to become the Phoenix Coyotes.

The sentiment contrasted with previous speculation the chairman of Thomson Reuters, a passionate hockey fan with a current estimated worth around $23 billion, was primarily motivated by business interests.

Thomson's commercial real estate firm Osmington owned the land on which the team's home, the MTS Centre, replaced the space that previously housed an Eaton's department store.

Rather than accept money to build the arena in its place, a minority share in True North was accepted and efforts to bring major league hockey back to Winnipeg began.

By that time, the family was a few years removed from the local media scene. Thomson Corp. sold the Winnipeg Free Press to a pair of local entrepreneurs in 2001, along with the Brandon Sun, the last of what was once a chain of 40 newspapers.

The sale proved a fortuitously strategic one in 2001. Canwest, which the late Izzy Asper turned into a national broadcaster from humble origins in Winnipeg, had just completed its purchase of daily publications in 10 Canadian cities, along with the National Post.

But the sale kept the hometown broadsheet out of their hands.

Recently, an ownership change at The Globe and Mail, which was added by David's father Ken in 1980 to an empire his grandfather Roy started in 1934, put the national newspaper back in full control of the family.

Proceeds from an interim deal with BCE were used to buy the global news agency Reuters.

Now, along with influence in the information business, David has been able to help bring the NHL back to the town where Canwest once reigned.

Meanwhile, the chief executive of the Winnipeg company through its dying days in 2009, has opted for an entirely different approach to combat sports. David Asper recently resurfaced at the helm of The Fight Network.

Watch the announcement in the video below:

(Reuters Photo)