Mark Chipman, '85 Receives UND's Highest Honor
Mark Chipman, '83, Law '85, was awarded the Sioux Award on Thursday, October 11, 2012 at the annual Sioux Award Banquet hosted by the University of North Dakota Alumni Association and Foundation. The Sioux Award is the highest award given by the University, and it is given in recognition of those UND alumni who have distinguished themselves through professional achievements, participation in community service and loyalty to UND.
In addition, Chipman was recently named Executive of the Year by Sports Media Canada during their annual awards ceremony.
Chipman is a successful attorney and businessman, but he'll always be known in his hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba, as the man who brought professional hockey home.
In 2011, his company, True North Sports and Entertainment, bought the National Hockey League's Atlanta Thrashers and moved the team to Winnipeg, bringing the sport back to a hockey-crazed community that was devastated when the original Winnipeg Jets left for Phoenix in 1996.
In high school, Chipman's dad encouraged him to play football instead of hockey. In 1979, he walked on UND Coach Gene Murphy's squad. While Chipman says he was a "very average" football player, he says being on the team and attending UND might have been the "best decision I ever made in my life."
"I grew up at UND. I went down there as an 18-year-old and was blessed to be a part of a great football program and got a world-class education in the process," Chipman said. "The education, the football experience, law school and ultimately meeting my wife (Patti (Schlenker), '85) and the friendships I established there are many of the most important friendships in my life today."
After getting his law degree, Chipman moved to Florida, where he worked as a prosecutor and in private practice before returning to Winnipeg to work in his family's car dealership business.
In the mid-'90s when it became apparent that the Winnipeg Jets franchise was in danger of moving, Chipman found himself on a committee of local businesspeople who fought to save the franchise. While the loss of the team was deeply disappointing, Chipman says it made him resolve to create an atmosphere that might someday bring hockey back to Winnipeg. His first move was to buy a minor league team, the Minnesota Moose, and move it to town in order to "keep the market alive and vibrant."
His next step would be the most important. He worked with the city and investor David Thomson to build the 15,000-seat MTS Centre for $133.5 million. The arena opened in 2004, and yet it would be seven more years before Chipman's quiet, behind-the-scenes campaign would bear fruit. The first effort to land a team failed, but Chipman says he and his partners gained valuable understanding of how the National Hockey League was working. That insight helped True North when the Atlanta Thrashers needed saving. The new Winnipeg Jets played their first season last winter.
"If someone had told me back then at UND that 25 years later, you'll be running an NHL team, I would have thought they were crazy."
Mark and Patti have three daughters: Sarah, Anne and Mary.