NOW PLAYING: The view from suite level to the ice at the new PlayNow Lounge at Canada Life Centre in Winnipeg. (Courtesy True North Sports & Entertainment).

True North Sports & Entertainment has changed the hospitality game at Canada Life Centre with $13 million renovations and reimagined premium options for concert and hockey fans in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

True North, which owns and operates the 15,000-capacity Canada Life Centre and NHL Winnipeg Jets, unveiled the renovations and expanded food and beverage offerings at the Jets’ 2023-2024 season opener vs. Miami’s Florida Panthers on Oct. 14 (4-6 Jets).

Norva Riddell, True North Sports & Entertainment senior vice president of sales and chief revenue officer, said they had been watching industry trends regarding all-inclusive options and noticed that hosting habits have been changing since 2020.

“We want to ensure that at the suite level, on the suite concourse, that we have options available for all our customers,” Riddell said. “We still have great suites that our customers really enjoy, but this is a different option to accommodate the changes we are seeing in the industry.”

Located on the Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Premium Suite Concourse, three 20-person suites have been converted into the new PlayNow Lounge, a contemporary space to experience live entertainment from hockey to a full slate of concerts and events. The PlayNow Lounge features 88 theater-style seats, a private bar, in-seat service and inclusive food and non-alcoholic beverages.

“It was something we thought was interesting that would be convenient for the customer,” Riddell said. “We also tried to look at spaces that could accommodate not only Winnipeg Jets hockey but then all that’s held at Canada Life Centre.”

Norva Riddell, True North Sports & Entertainment senior vice president of sales and chief revenue officer.

Construction costs for the Lounge were roughly $1.3 million of the total renovations budget. Seats are sold for the whole season including regular season Jets games and all concerts and events. Seats are available in bundles of four for $118,800 for one year or $108,000 for a three-year term. At the start of the season, only four seats remained unsold.

Riddell said that with in-seat service and a changing menu for each game, food is the most convenient component of the PlayNow Lounge.

“We’ve had a great time this off-season planning menus around the new concepts and for the newly renovated premium spaces like the PlayNow Lounge,” said Sodexo Live! executive chef Richard Duncan. “We wanted the menu in the lounge to feel approachable but with a creative, more premium array of options.”

“From a planning standpoint you know that you don’t have to fuss about taking somebody out for dinner in advance,” Riddell explained. “You can come to the game and enjoy the gameday experience, eat in the lounge and have that all-inclusive, one-stop shop.”

Riddell said the PlayNow Lounge has been well received, but there are still solid reasons to keep the traditional suite model. The venue, which opened in November 2004, has 49 suites that hold 12 or 20 patrons each (932 total seats). Suite prices vary based on sightlines, location and capacity.

“If you are someone that really enjoys the privacy of a suite and you have 20 seats within that suite, that is an experience our customers still really enjoy and that’s needed,” Riddell offered. “The other side is for customers that are maybe a small or medium business that are looking for networking opportunities but don’t have the capability to host a full suite, this gives them the flexibility with four seats to have the same experience.”

Renovations started in late June and included expanding and remodeling the premium club, which is now the Ticketmaster Lounge, with exclusive access for premium members and ticketholders with an expanded private bar, enhanced food and beverage options and in-seat service. The Ticketmaster Lounge provides direct access to the new Scotia Wealth Management Club on the floor level with elevated amenities and food and beverage selections before and during games.

The north concourse of the 16,300-cap arena has been extended out to the Portage Avenue sidewalk to increase customer flow. A complete venue-wide WiFi upgrade was made to optimize wireless service for all in-venue technology and guest use.

New concession concepts include Burrito 204, featuring burritos, gourmet nachos and churros; Hot or Not Chicken where the sizzle of chicken fingers and sandwiches can be customized with a side of house-made kettle chips seasoned with chef Duncan’s signature True North spice blend; and YWG Burger, with an all-new burger menu.

On the beverage side, the new Crown Royal Whisky Hangar on the 300 level offers new signature Crown cocktails for the regular season and Canada Life Centre will continue its partnership with Labatt Breweries, as well as welcoming local craft breweries for the 2023-24 season. In partnership with Andrew Peller Limited, the venue will offer its most expansive wine selection ever including 20 new offering for the premium spaces, new single serve bottles available at hawking and Grab N Go locations and new by-the-glass pours at select concessions.

“People have been so impressed,” Riddell said after the season opener. “Not only the Lounge, but in general how we as an organization have tried to elevate the premium experience within our venue and provide options, more choices and fill the various needs of our customers.”