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.