An analysis: Could NHL’s other owners save the Thrashers?

While the Atlanta Spirit is looking to sell the Thrashers – with relocation a possibility – could the other NHL owners play a part in keeping the franchise in Atlanta?

It is possible.

Currently, there has not been a potential buyer – willing and/or able – that has taken more than the preliminary step to purchase the franchise with the intention of keeping the Thrashers in Atlanta. The search continues with ownership making several pleas for interested parties to step forward. True North Sports and Entertainment has the money and the arena in place to bring the NHL back to Winnipeg. The group first wanted to bring the Coyotes, a team owned by the league, back to Manitoba. When the City of Glendale voted to pay $25 million to keep the team it appeared that situation was settled. The Thrashers, very moveable, were next on the target list with an ownership group willing to sell.

However, is the Coyotes situation really settled? The NHL owners, who have already footed a large bill to keep the team in Phoenix, may not be satisfied with that outcome. Their opposition could delay – or stop – the league from giving the Atlanta Spirit permission to open official negotiations with True North for relocation.

The Coyotes reportedly lost more than $36 million last year and figure to do so again next season. The $25 million payment won’t cover all the cost. The league owners will have to pay more money to keep the team – while attempts to sell the franchise continue. There is only one current prospective buyer for the Coyotes and the deal is complicated, tenuous and faces litigation from a local watchdog group.

If the Coyotes can fetch upwards of $170 million from True North all of that money could go to repay the owners. If the Thrashers fetch that sale price only an estimated $60 million relocation fee would go to the NHL. The Thrashers would be gone and the league would still own the Coyotes and their financial burden – although substantially less.

Even if the Atlanta Spirit and True North reach an agreement, it would have to be approved by the NHL’s Board of Govenors.

In one analysis of the situation, here is what it all could mean:

1. If no league permission to negotiate is granted – or it is delayed much longer – the Thrashers could be safe in Atlanta for at least another season.

2. The Atlanta Spirit’s search for a buyer would continue.

3. Both the Thrashers and Coyotes would remain for another season with speculation on their future ongoing until owners are found.

4. Winnipeg would remain a waiting destination for another year – or longer.

199 comments Add your comment

Ox Baker

May 16th, 2011
9:19 am

I think first might be appropriate…

Smoothie

May 16th, 2011
9:19 am

So now a sale to TNSE is hinging on league permission to even negotiate? Then how do you come up with a 95% chance that the Thrashers are leaving town? Sounds specious and sensational at best?

But thank you for this rational and well-conceived analysis!

Ox Baker

May 16th, 2011
9:23 am

Double entendre.

East Point Bob

May 16th, 2011
9:27 am

Get your stories right beat writer, I can never believe what you say from day to day and week to week.

Alan R.

May 16th, 2011
9:29 am

Thank you for a fair and even-handed piece on the matter. As Smoothie stated above, the “95%” figure from AM590 doesn’t seem to coincide with this piece, but I’ll take this anyway.

Thrashers

May 16th, 2011
9:34 am

DB

May 16th, 2011
9:35 am

Just a suggestion but please qualify the “no potential buyer” to “no potential buyer as stated by the ASG.”

schmeckdawg

May 16th, 2011
9:37 am

I hope not, they suck! 11 years 1 playoff appearance and got swept in that one.

Chris Vivlamore

May 16th, 2011
9:38 am

Smoothe, Alan R.: It is true that I said I thought there was a 95 percent chance the Thrashers would leave. I’m not going to hide from that because at the time that is what my reporting indicated. Later in the day, and through the weekend, I have continued reporting and thinking about the situation. This is one possible delay for the league telling the Spirit to talk to True North. If you are going to sell and relocate a franchise, you certainly need the league’s blessing.
This has long been a complicated issue. I have said on many radio stations (none locally because I have never been asked for those wondering) that my opinion on whether the Thrashers will move varies from day to day. I get asked my opinion quite frequently and try to answer as honestly as I can. I always say it varies as I go through the process of reporting this story.

East Point Bob: Keep reading buddy!

chief of smoke

May 16th, 2011
9:38 am

I am sensing things are beginning to change in our favor. The Article by Kevin Allen and Jeff Schultz were very helpful. All Fans need to e mail NHL commisioner Gary Bettman (e mail gbettman@nhl.com)and explain to him ASG Is the issue not the popularity of NHL Hockey in Atlanta.

Chris Vivlamore

May 16th, 2011
9:39 am

DB: I stand by that point of fact.

Sam

May 16th, 2011
9:40 am

Gee DB, isn’t that the only kind that counts?… the one who actually contacts the ASG?

Anyway, thanks Chris, for this alternate, and somewhat hopeful, outcome. A glimmer of hope is infinitely better than a lot of gloom, doom and rumors.

Alan R.

May 16th, 2011
9:48 am

Again, thank you Chris. I’m looking forward to seeing more on the issue until its resolution.

Thrashers27

May 16th, 2011
9:50 am

C-Viv:

I gotta say that I am disappointed to learn that you did say “95% chance the team is moving”. I hadn’t heard it myself, so I had formed no official opinion unitl now.

While you may have insight into the team and its operations through your reporting, I think it’s pretty irresponsible for you, as a journalist to throw around tidbits like that. You’re a journalist and your opinion matters not…Just the facts, man. Don’t feed the fervor!

Uncle Milty

May 16th, 2011
9:52 am

The NHL own the Coyotes. They do not own the Thrashers. There is not a city council in play for the NHL to have cover the team losses in Atlanta. The BOG will not stand in the way of a partner extricating themselves from a difficult position by blocking a sale. Many NHL teams are in financial difficulty. Why would they force a partner to continue to suffer losses when they themselves could be the next forced into the same predicament? Thrashers owners do not wish to foot the bills for losses anymore. This article is a stretch.

AtlFlamesFan

May 16th, 2011
9:56 am

I believe that the 95% figure that Chris has stated is probably pretty accurate. A True North/ASG deal could be done very quickly. The price seems to be already settled, so there really is no negotiations necessary.

I also agree with Chris that the owners are now the key. One angle is what Chris mentioned; that the owners may prefer to sell the Coyotes rather than take the $60M Thrasher relocation fee. In fact, the Goldwater Institute has now questioned the legality of the $25 subsidy that Glendale is paying, and has threatened to sue. If they do, the NHL could be in for another $50 hit for this coming year and last year’s subsidy.

I also see another angle with the owners. Pressure needs to be put on them that sacrificing Atlanta in order to recoup the league’s losses in Phoenix is unacceptable. I believe that the best pressure would be political. We need to go back to Mayor Reed, not asking for an unrealistic Glendale-style subsidy, but instead, a strong statement. Mayor Reed should question the NHL on their conflict-of-interest in sacrificing Atlanta to cover their Phoenix losses. He should demand that the NHL explain why only a few months ago, Gary Bettman was speaking of the “covenant with the fans” of Atlanta; that they would exert the effort for Atlanta that they have done for other NHL cities, including Phoenix, and yet in this short amount of time, seem to be announcing that they are ready to give up on Atlanta. Mayor Reed should ask what would cause such a change in the NHL’s position in such a short time, if it is not the fact that the Coyote sale has fallen apart.

The same should be done by Governor Deal, demanding an explanation from the NHL.

And finally, our congressmen should get involved. Can you imagine what impact it would have on the league if Congressman John Lewis was to publicly question the NHL about their motivation for abandoning Atlanta? A joint statement from him and the Republican Representatives of the northern suburbs, whose have constituents concerned about the loss of the team would be tremendous. The northern suburbs also have an economic stake in this issue. In 1980, after the Flames left for Calgary, EVERY ICE HOCKEY RINK IN METRO ATLANTA SHUT THEIR DOORS! Would we see the closure of IceForum Duluth, IceForum Kennesaw, The Marietta Ice Center (the MIC), The Cooler in Alpharetta, and the newly constructed The Ice in Cumming? The local Chambers of Commerce should be active, encouraging our Representatives to publicly question the NHL about their motivation.

If you are a hockey fan in metro Atlanta, please contact your Representative and local Chamber of Commerce.

Seriously!

Alan R.

May 16th, 2011
9:57 am

T27, I trust Chris when he says his figure is based solely on what the reporting indicated at the time.

What’s important for us to remember, is that this whole thing is going to take time. Very likely, more time than this “3 weeks” timetable that was postulated about on HNIC on Saturday evening.

This story is a fluid one. Always moving, always changing. It’s inevitable conclusion is something we don’t have the answers to quite yet. No one in Atlanta or Winnipeg knows anything, despite what they may or may not have been told. We just need to watch the official sources and be wary. This story can change, one way or another, at any given moment.

Guffman

May 16th, 2011
9:57 am

It’s kinda silly to let both situations fester on the whim of Glendale deciding to throw another $25M to keep the team for another year. What if they don’t find an owner next year and decide to float another $25M?

If the NHL was going to force ASG to run the team for 2011-2012, I don’t think Daly and Bettman would say, “Nope, I can’t guarantee the Trashers will be playing in Atlanta in four months.”

Chris, it’s an interesting angle you bring up, but if that angle would be pursued, the NHL would already be out supporting Atlanta publicly instead of shrugging their shoulders.

chad

May 16th, 2011
9:57 am

One thing – TNSE never “wanted” the Coyotes rather were “willing” to take them and do as a favor for the NHL. Thrashers were always their first choice…

Smoothie

May 16th, 2011
9:59 am

Thanks Chris. As you know this situation is as “fluid” as they come.

Eww, bad wording.

No matter what folks think about the “ease” of a deal with the Devil, um I mean WPG’s TNSE, the ASG owners have far more control of the process at this point. NHL doesn’t own the team like in PHX. However, Board of Governors (i.e. NHL owners) still have ultimate say. And PHX is FAR FROM SETTLED…just like Mr. Vivlamore astutely points out.

TheReportingInATLStinks

May 16th, 2011
10:00 am

I agree with Thrashers27. C-viv your whirlwind Canadian media tour was pretty disappointing to me and others. It seems that you are only fueling the negative fires instead of sticking to reporting the facts.

Mike

May 16th, 2011
10:01 am

Chris V., you’re an idiot! You don’t report anything! You’re a poor excuse for a reporter! Why don’t you go ahead and move to WPG and meet the team there. That’s what you want! Just stop writing… enough is enough.

EA

May 16th, 2011
10:02 am

Thanks C Viv for clarifying the 95 perecent comment that was reported in so many Canadien papers. Hope springs eternal. Keep those e-mails going to gbettman@nhl.com.

Richard Hallson

May 16th, 2011
10:03 am

The pain of losing an NHL team (Winnipeg Jets) for a hockey fan is horrible. It hurts big time. Those of us who live in Winnipeg understand what fans in Atlanta and Phoenix are going through. There’s a lot we don’t know about what might be going on behind closed doors. Winnipeggers want their team back. No doubt. We have solid ownership (AHL’s Manitoba Moose), a beautiful arena, a much better economy than in 1996, a Canadian dollar valued at $1.04 against the US greenback, and rabid hockey fans. However this ends, I wish it could be a win-win for everyone.

CarpetBaggerVance

May 16th, 2011
10:04 am

Bravo ATLFlames Fan…couldn’t have said it better myself.

Chris Vivlamore

May 16th, 2011
10:04 am

TheReporting: As I said many times, I get a great deal of requests from Canadian media to talk about the story. Those requests don’t come locally. That’s fine. Rest assured, I only answer the questions posed with the facts.

Mike: I will be staying in Atlanta should the Thrashers relocate.

Who Cares?

May 16th, 2011
10:05 am

Again I ask, “Who cares?”

[...] Journal Constitution:  Could NHL”s other owners save the Thrashers?  If #4, the revolt in the Peg would be on.  Of course #2 doesn’t seem that likely [...]

Mike

May 16th, 2011
10:15 am

Chris V., lucky us! Maybe you’ll find something you’re good at. Maybe writing for a gossip column???

EA

May 16th, 2011
10:16 am

If you don’t care-skip the articles under Thrashers. Obviously by the amount of comments over the weekend, there are plenty of us that do care. Geez.

Brian

May 16th, 2011
10:16 am

@Mike, i hear they got him righting the classified after this

AtlFlamesFan

May 16th, 2011
10:18 am

GUYS! WAKE UP! THE SITUATION IS DESPERATE!!

These attacks on CViv are pointless, off track, and a waste of valuable energy that should be devoted to trying to save the team.

We are on life support. Our only hope is pressure on the Board of Govs. The Ken Allen USA TODAY article ( http://blogs.forbes.com/mikeozanian/2011/05/09/nhl-should-let-coyotes-go-to-winnipeg-and-keep-thrashers-in-atlanta/ ) and from Mike Ozanian of Forbes ( http://blogs.forbes.com/mikeozanian/2011/05/09/nhl-should-let-coyotes-go-to-winnipeg-and-keep-thrashers-in-atlanta/ ) are a good start.

What about CNN? They are right next door to Philips! Does anyone know anyone there can put this conflict-of-interest story onto the national spotlight? We need some people with some pull.

Brian

May 16th, 2011
10:18 am

wow horrible spelling, writing :-p

Chris Vivlamore

May 16th, 2011
10:21 am

AtlFlamesFan: Thanks for the kinds words. They are appreciated. Like I’ve said before, I understand the frustration of Thrashers fans. If I am the only outlet …

Chris Vivlamore

May 16th, 2011
10:23 am

Brian: And I was going to let you slide on that abuse of the language!

AtlFlamesFan

May 16th, 2011
10:23 am

The idea is to stop the train wreck before it happens. Once it happens, the passengers cannot be brought back to life.

By sounding the alarms, CViv and Jeff Shultz may be the ones who save hockey in Atlanta. And the sad thing is, if the team does stay, no one will know how much of the credit goes to the two of them.

William Satterwhite

May 16th, 2011
10:28 am

Jeff Schultz raised the exact same issue regarding Phoenix/Glendale on the same radio station that you gave your “95 percent” prediction- is their actually smoke here or are both you guys just speculating?

Either way, something to consider regarding the Phoenix/Glendale situation is could the NHL relocate that franchise themselves? If the NHL is able to and willing to move that team to a city like Kansas City if they needed to and foot the bills themselves for a year until a deal with a local buyer is finalized (something similar to what MLB did with the Nationals), this could all be moot.

DawgDad

May 16th, 2011
10:28 am

At some point you have to ask yourself if the Thrashers are worth keeping in Atlanta. Another year or more of lame-duck ownership, with no savior on the horizon? Well, I’d rather watch a competitive Winnipeg team on TV.

Mike

May 16th, 2011
10:32 am

AtlFlamesFan must be Chris V’s, second account. Credit huh!

Rusty

May 16th, 2011
10:35 am

AtlantaFlamesFan….Mayor Reed could give a rats ass about the Thrashers leaving the city. Now, if we were speaking of the Hawks, this would be an entirely different situation. The city of Atlanta’s political and civic leaders would be up in arms. Race plays a role in EVERYTHING.

As for you Mr. Vivlamore, 680 won’t speak to you because of Kincade, and 790 could care less about hockey. But you haven’t exactly set yourself apart on this story. Seems like you’ve been behind the curve IMHO. Schultzie’s most recent column — along with the updated interview with NHL #2 — has borne out more info than anything you’ve provided. Maybe time for you to worry less about producing “5 questions with…..” pieces and concentrate more on the ownership situation like this piece you’ve written.

Michael

May 16th, 2011
10:36 am

Ya, ya, ya – True North and Atlanta’s owners need ‘permission to negotiate’ – what a load of crap. If you think that’s is going to prevent the sale of the Thrashers give your head a shake.

The only permission Atlanta needs is from the BOG to MOVE. Which they haven’t gotten yet. As soon as the Atlanta owners hang up the phone after Bettman gives the go ahead, the Atlanta owners make one call a second later and say to True North ‘We’ll take your 170 million’. A bank transfer for 170 million takes place and a press conference happens an hour later. That would be the extent of the negotiations. Hopefully the sooner the better.

schmeckdawg

May 16th, 2011
10:36 am

@DawgDad

Asked and answered………NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

AtlFlamesFan

May 16th, 2011
10:44 am

@Mike
Um, no.

Pat

May 16th, 2011
10:45 am

I’m not going to renew my season tickets until the ownership situation is resolved. I won’t renew if they are staying another year but may move in the 2012-2013 season. If others do this then the current owners should have to lower their price. This may make the team more attractive for potential local buyers here in Atlanta. Chris’ report makes sense in regard to Phoenix and makes me think that they’ll wind up in Winnipeg. I think we have a great fan base here and with good owners we’ll have everything we need to fill the Arena because I like everything else about the team.

Thrashers27

May 16th, 2011
10:50 am

Chris:

I’m not here to hammer on you just strictly because I’m POd about the Thrashers’ situation. As I’ve mentioned to you before, I myself am a journalist, so I know what it’s like to do your job and you are being hammered by a lot of people here who are just wanting to “shoot the messenger.” In that regard, I say “give ‘em a break, people.”

However, I will say that being interviewed and offering information and facts to Canadian media is one thing. Offering up “95%” is purely speculation on your part and not professionally responsible.

Chainshaw

May 16th, 2011
10:52 am

“One thing – TNSE never “wanted” the Coyotes rather were “willing” to take them and do as a favor for the NHL. Thrashers were always their first choice…”

Chad – You could not be further from the truth. TNSE especially wants Phoenix, because it vindicates the city of Winnipeg and allows them to bring back their “Jets”. They have been very vocal about that.

AtlFlamesFan

May 16th, 2011
10:55 am

@Rusty

You are probably correct; Mayor Reed probably does not care right now. However, he is a politician, and politicians can be made to care.

Some people have tried to make this Reed/Hawks/Thrashers into a black/white issue. I think that the mayor has been pretty savvy in the past about trying to bridge these gaps. His initial remarks to this issue have been in response to the calls for a subsidy, which I think all of us this side of Glendale would agree is out of the question.

However, now that questions have arisen about the NHL’s conflict of interest in abandoning Atlanta in order to recover their losses in Phoenix, I would think that he would welcome the opportunity to speak out on the issue. BUT ONLY IF HE HAS CONSTITUANTS WHO PUSH HIM ON THE ISSUE, whether they be black or white.

Ducky

May 16th, 2011
10:55 am

Let us not forget ASG has fulfilled the 7 year commitment to th Atl market. Hockey in Georgia and Arizona makes about as much sense as Beach volleyball in Alaska!

Sean

May 16th, 2011
11:01 am

I think we’re good…John Kincade says today, we’re gonna get a picture of The Balkan’s other foot. So now we will have seen both of his feet, so he will be identified and will buy the team as a result. Uhh…

tonyb

May 16th, 2011
11:04 am

Chris, I too have been critical of you in the past. But I must say, I do understand why you might wavier. This story is crazy, and the fan base is on a roller coaster of emotion right now. I do think you are right on this one. Phoenix is not settled, and if ATL goes to WPG, there’s no safe harbor for the NHL.