Waddell still confident in Atlanta as a hockey market

 

I'm not sure but I think the Thrashers lost this game. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com.)

I'm not sure but I think the Thrashers lost this game. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com.)

Did you know Tom Glavine used to play hockey?

(Sorry. That was just for the Glavine bashers.)

But speaking of hockey: I sat down with a Thrashers general manager (still!) Don Waddell Monday afternoon. We had an entertaining 35-minute discussion about all sorts of things, one of which was how he’s been able to keep his job (he was hired in 1998) despite only one playoff berth in nine seasons and no playoff wins.

Don took the hardball questions in good humor. As much as people have always assumed he and I hate each other, given I used to cover the team, I actually like the guy personally. We almost always have great conversations and I think only twice have actually reached for weapons. This was no exception. (The conversation part).

The reason for our talk is the Stanley Cup finals could end tonight (much to the chagrin of my wife, the Penguins fan). So it officially will signal the beginning of everybody’s off-season rebuilding program. The draft is June 26-27 and NHL free agency begins shortly thereafter.

I know I won’t be able to squeeze everything into the column, which will be posted later today. So here’s one thing I thought might fall between the cracks.

I asked Don about his concern about the several losing seasons turning off fans (and potential fans) and hurting Atlanta as a hockey market.

His response: “Certainly not being able to sustain [success] the year after we went to the playoffs is the most disappointing thing. That hurt us.

“For us to prove we’re a viable NHL market, we’re going to have to be consistent and have back-to-back winning seasons. And when I say winning seasons, that’s going to the playoffs and everything. That’s the only way we’re going to be able to test this market. Is this market a hockey market or not? I still believe it truly is? But I probably look at it from a different point of view than most people.”

He estimated the “hard core” number of fans at 11,000, and acknowledged that has to grow.

I’ll check back in later.

51 comments Add your comment

MiltonDawg

June 9th, 2009
12:15 pm

This can be a great hockey town with all of the transients moving to ATL. If Carolina & Tampa Bay can have great teams and winning seasons, what’s stopping the Thrashers (aside from the morons at Atlanta Spirit)? It’s a great game to watch and even better to see in person. I would agree to having a team that is comparable to the Braves of the 80’s or Hawks of the 90’s doesn’t help our situation. Ticket prices may be turning a few people off as well. We need to keep Kovy!!

Thrasher of Schultz

June 9th, 2009
12:26 pm

Jeff,

You sissy coward. I hope Don slugs you in your girlie mouth. I find it HIGHLY dubious that you would ever say the stuff you type on hear with you false, hide-behind-my-keyboard bravado.

The THRASHERS are the greatest sports franchise in Atlanta, even though they are (currently) owned by buffoons.

By the way, your “domestic partner” is Penguins fan. No doubt, he wears the pants in YOUR household.

Terence Moore down, Jeff Schultz to go!

Yankee Flatball

June 9th, 2009
12:33 pm

Dear JS:

Does Mr. Waddell remind you of your uncle who used to always get “accidentally” locked in the basement with you or something?

Let it go, Dude.

Darkhorse

June 9th, 2009
12:36 pm

I really think the formula for success in Atlanta for the Thrashers is the same as the other teams here. Win consistantly, win big(or at least try to), and have a promotable superstar or two. If they would have had at least some success in the 2007 playoffs(1st round series win maybe) and found a way to add better pieces in that offseason and carried it over to ‘07/08, then we would probably be talking about a more positive story here.

But it still starts up top with the owners. If they cared more about this team’s success, there would be better results and better GM’s here.

Art Vandelay

June 9th, 2009
12:36 pm

Nothing like a good hockey column to bring out the crazies. Thrasher of Schultz, et al: what’s crawled up your collective butts? It doesn’t take a genius to see that the Thrashers are on seriously thin ice in this town (pun intended, and quite clever if I do say so myself). Discussions about moving the team to Hamilton, ON were happening for a reason — the franchise is a disaster, and not likely to survive here unless something major changes. The fact that Waddell still has a job is stunning to me, and I’m convinced that the only reason he’s still employed is that the ASG is too busy fighting with itself to remember that it still owns a hockey team.

And as for all the transplants here, what makes you think they’re just going to abandon their loyalties and become Thrashers fans? Rangers fans who move here aren’t changing their team colors. Neither are fans of the Penguins, Bruins, Hurricanes, etc. Fact is, when a team stinks as badly as the Thrashers do, and for such an extended period of time, they eventually run out of options and need to be either euthanized or relocated. We’ve been down this road before with the Flames. They were actually a pretty good team, and still couldn’t generate enough support to survive here. Atlanta isn’t a hockey town, plain and simple.

Atticus

June 9th, 2009
12:36 pm

It’s a joke but it really goes back to ownership. This is a HUGE hockey town but the way this franchise has been managed is pathetic. I had Flames season tickets and I had Thrashers for a number of years but dropped them. I will NEVER support this team until they have new ownership. I like the players and wish them well but rewarding mediocrity is just plain idiotic.

wxwax

June 9th, 2009
12:37 pm

Schulzie must be pretty small to hide behind a keyboard. :-)

I had season tix for the Thrasher’s first season. Now, I can’t bring myself to care about the team, because it’s obvious the owners do not. It’s too painful to open your heart to a team that has no hope.

With cheap owners and incompetent management, I don’t see a happy ending here. Bummer.

alsim

June 9th, 2009
12:43 pm

Hockey can be viable in Atlanta if they’d just give us a good product. The Flames were entertaining but only once made it out of the first round of the playoffs. Add in bad ownership and bad marketing and the team went packing. Sound familiar?

Most people in Atlanta had/have no idea that the 2008 All-Star game was held in Atlanta. This is because most of the advertising was on Atlanta’s #1 radio station: V-103. Nice research, guys.

If you don’t believe that Atlanta has hardcore fans, go to a game and listen to the National Anthem. When they sing “…gave proof through the night…” many fans still yell out “KNIGHTS” instead of “night”. This is in honor of the minor league Atlanta Knights that left 13 YEARS AGO.

You have to spend money to make money. Do whatever it takes to sign Kovy for the next 10 years and get him some linemates.

P.S. DW deserves bashing.

Huh?

June 9th, 2009
12:44 pm

The Atlanta Trashers, brought to you by Bad Idea Jeans.

Da Boomer

June 9th, 2009
12:47 pm

I didn’t know that the job of writers is to “slug it out” with sports figures. It is a shame that duels are out. (Maybe Glavin should just slug it out with Wren.) As an old Flames fan, I think Atlanta can be a hockey town–just not with Waddell.

scott

June 9th, 2009
12:47 pm

why should DW be immune to criticism???

the joke is that he’s still employed, after 9 YEARS AND 0 PLAYOFF WINS!

i’ll care when we get a new GM. until then, i can’t waste my time on this crap

Chris

June 9th, 2009
12:49 pm

Fire Waddell, someone else buy the Thrashers, and I’ll go see a hockey game again.

Chris

June 9th, 2009
12:57 pm

New caption for the picture, after this conversation:

‘Damn, we suck. Who put this team together, anyhow?’

‘What? Who’s behind me?’

Darren Elliot

June 9th, 2009
1:10 pm

I have salt and pepper hair….

Jimbo

June 9th, 2009
1:11 pm

Schultz- Give us a break. You exposed yourself as a hockey “fraud” long ago and all you ever do is bash, bash, bash. Good to see the signing of Reasoner. There are more than enough transplanted northern hockey fans to fill Phillips to overflowing if we ever get a good, solid, NHL quality product to watch.

Canada Rules

June 9th, 2009
1:12 pm

Atlanta is not a hockey town and never will be—most fans at the games don’t even know the rules and sit around and drink beer the whole time. These bozo atlanta owners should sell this team and move it to Canada, where they understand the game. Georgia is a football state, nothing more.

David

June 9th, 2009
1:13 pm

Waddell needs to be fired. He has drafted European players that can’t play rough NHL style of play. He has been GM for almost 10 years with no playoff wins for ATL. Unfortunately, until the current owners nothing is going to change.

JT

June 9th, 2009
1:15 pm

I’m a novice Hockey fan but someone who would absolutely go to Thrasher games again. I have even followed them on TV during the couple years they were relevant. They aren’t even close to being relevant and for a fanbase that didn’t grow up on Hockey – you must be somewhat relevant on a consistent basis to succeed. Don Waddell may be a good Hockey man but he’s not the right guy anymore for the Thrashers. If for no other reason than a fresh beginning he must go. I would like to send an S.O.S to anyone with the ability to buy the Hawks and Thrashers. Please help us Atlanta fans! Please get rid of the bumbling non-spirit group. Spirit Group – you are a disgrace. Individually I’m sure you all are fine men but collectively you have made a mockery out of our sports scene and it’s time for you to go. Take Waddell and Mike Woodson with you. Don’t waste any more of our time or our court systems time with your nonsense. It’s downright shamefull how all of this has carried on for this long.

Greg

June 9th, 2009
1:15 pm

I think you would see a lot more support for the local team if the owners supported the fans. This franchise has been mediocre for its entire existence because it is run by a bunch of people who have no idea what they are doing.

Im sure waddell is a nice guy, but he is an awful GM and needs to go. EVERY YEAR except the division championship (which more and more seems like it was a fluke) has been a “rebuilding year”. Get someone in here who knows what they’re doing and maybe people in this city will take interest. This isnt a city full of loyal sports fans as it is a transplant city. Give the fans a reason to take a liking to the team. It has worked for the other teams in this city of late.

Jeff Schultz

June 9th, 2009
1:34 pm

MiltonDawg: Agreed. But Kovy’s only staying if team gets better.

Thrasher of Schultz: Speaking of being a big-talker behind a key board, I think you win the prize. I suggest you send Don an email and ask him what I say to his face. He’ll be honest. But I’m guessing confrontation isn’t your style, right?

Art Vandelay: Go easy on Thrasher of Schultz. Took a slapper off the head.

Wxwax: You caught me. I’m a Keebler Elf.

Alsim: It is amusing that people still scream “Knights.” If it was that well supported, the IHL never would have folded.

Darren: Sweet!

Jimbo: Define fraud. What are you talking about. Tell me what it is I don’t know because I’ll go head to head with you any day of the week, Sunshine.

Canada Rules: Atlanta supports winners. If the Thrashers win, they will be supported. I firmly believe that. But damage has to be undone.

Greg: Agreed. And payroll translates into the support you’re talking about, and that just isn’t there. It will be addressed in the column.

Jeff Schultz

June 9th, 2009
1:36 pm

And as always, gotta say that the passion level of the posts speaks to the passion level of the hockey fans in this town (or any town).

theriddler

June 9th, 2009
1:54 pm

Season ticket holder first three years. Thought we had potential but I could see the poor management hitting its stride then. I will not support ($$) this team until professional ownership/management prevails. Been a hockey fan for forty years and I can’t even watch this team anymore, pitiful.

Brendan

June 9th, 2009
1:55 pm

I have no doubt Atlanta can be a wonderful hockey city. But ownership has to give them a reason to be at Philips Arena. I run into this sort of conversation all the time, “Oh yeah, Brendan. I love hockey. But I won’t go see the Thrashers until they start to run the team better.” I nod, and be polite as I can, while they bereate Don Waddell, blaming him for everything just short of the weather and position of the moon in the sky. Sometimes, even their flat tire is attributed to Don Waddell.

I happen to think Waddell does, indeed, shoulder much of the blame. He cannot hide from the results, trades, and signings that he’s made. But, at the same time, Atlanta hasn’t ever really had what I’d consider to be GOOD OWNERSHIP. And because of that, I doubt even Scotty Bowman could have put a cup at Center Ice with the budgets Waddell has endured. Now, I hear ya. Give Waddell a maxed cap, and he’ll go sign Sundin and Selanne. D’oh! Allright, Waddell probably deserves that.

But at the same time, Waddell has been able to spot a bargain bin player on a shoestring budget. (Metropolit, Reasoner, Jon Sim, Eric Perrin, Todd White, etc.) Which is probably why the Spirit, LLC retains him. He adheres to tight budgets and tries the best he can … to get WHAT HE CAN … for the money he’s afforded. But the truth I believe is this one: Waddell is just a mediocre GM. Every year, Waddell is presented with a budget. More often than not, it’s a budget that a reasonable person would project into a lottery draft finish. Well, is it any wonder that the team is headed into its sixth lottery draft in nine (6/9) seasons?

Yeah, you GET what you PAY FOR. And I don’t think it’s right to ask a mediocre GM to be Anne Sullivan. (Anne Sullivan was the “Miracle Worker.” Think of Helen Keller as J.P. Vigier.) If the ownership doesn’t address accountability, soon, they very well may lose those 11,000 “die hards.” I remember when Atlanta’s population was only 4 million, and the number of “hardcore” hockey fans was more like 40,000. “7 of 9″ isn’t just a Star Trek reference. It’s the number of times the Thrashes have finished in the bottom third of the Eastern Conference during the “Waddell Administration.” And, at times, I’m reminded by the political junkies that even a PRESIDENT has to leave office after 10 years.

Jeff

June 9th, 2009
1:59 pm

I have had season tickets since Year 1. The oprative word is “had”. I have given them up as I can’t give my tickets to friends anymore. I don’t watch them on TV nearly as often as before. Frankly, I just do not see enough encouraging signs to justify the price of full season tickets. I will still go to some games, but I will not continue to throw good money after bad!

Aaron

June 9th, 2009
2:01 pm

Art – I’m a converted former Ranger fan, and hockey fans will take the game wherever they can get it. Even if a transplant doesn’t completely switch loyalties, the Thrashers could very easily become a “second-favorite” team, and the transplants could bring in their uninitiated friends even when their “first-favorite” team wasn’t playing. A good team translates into money, no matter what. Jeff, if you did directly ask Don why he should still be employed, big ups man. Can’t wait to see his response. It’s a question he should’ve been asked directly many more times before now. It’s the job of individual members of the press to keep these guys accountable to the fans. On the other hand, Donnie’s not exactly been given free reign when it comes to this team. Ownership pressures have been pretty much a constant from the start – not a defense, just a fact. Plenty of GMs have done more with less (Brian Burke immediately springs to mind). It just seems to me that if the “haters” (to use an ATL phrase) spent half as much time supporting something as they did spewing uninformed garbage on message boards and comment forms, Atlanta would be a much better sports town.

Glovesave29

June 9th, 2009
2:04 pm

So explain this to me Mr. Canada Rules – since when is drinking beer and watching a game mutually exclusive?

Hockey is popular here – there are in excess of 100 men’s league teams here at 4 different rinks. People are just tired of NHL prices for AHL quality hockey. No different than the Red Wings and Maple Leafs of the 1970’s playing to empty seats at the Olympia and MLG.

Brent

June 9th, 2009
2:05 pm

Atlanta isn’t a bad hockey town..it’s a bad SPORTS town, which is the sports media’s way of saying that Atlanta sports fans do not unconditionally support a team that loses consistently. It happens with the Thrashers, but it also happens with the Falcons (when they go 3-13), the Braves (who weren’t even selling out playoff games when it became obvious that they weren’t built to go deep into the postseason in the early 2000’s), and of course the Hawks.

Don’t try to say that the failure of hockey in this town is because we don’t care about the sport. Those who follow it care every bit as much as Falcons fansand Braves fans, and the common demoninator amongst all sports fans in this market is that we will not throw good money after bad and reward an inept ownership for marketing a shabby product. True story.

Jeff Schultz

June 9th, 2009
2:07 pm

Brendan: spot on as usual.

Jeff: And people like you are the big problem. I mean, you’re not the problem. But if the hard-core fan and devout season ticket holder like you is turned off, that’s a big problem.

Aaron: Asked him. got the usual answers. But you are correct that ownership is a HUGE issue right now, regardless of how much Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon want to claim that as well in the organization. Just look at the payroll.

Jeff Schultz

June 9th, 2009
2:10 pm

Brent — Good post. Actually, I think Atlanta is a smart sports town because it WON’T support an inferior product. And the number of cities that support mediocre teams is in the minority now, especially with the economy.

scott

June 9th, 2009
2:44 pm

6 lottery spots in 9 years, why the hell do they not have good players…oh, yeah, the GM picks the players. Hockey is a great game, maybe the greatest, wish it was played to a respectable level in the ATL.

Andrew

June 9th, 2009
2:53 pm

I think about it this way, Jeff:
-We’re a city that is an unnatural market for hockey
-Coming in, most hockey fans here had other allegiances
-The team has done nothing to CREATE hockey fans

With hockey being a sport most people in the south don’t naturally know about, there needs to be a reason for them to consistently watch their team. The Thrashers haven’t done that. We will not know if Atlanta can support a team until they win.

Smoothie

June 9th, 2009
2:58 pm

An increased investment from the owners would certainly help in improving this franchise’s chances of success. However, throwing money at the problem Obama style isn’t always the answer (see the Rangers for over the last decade). I would prefer to see the ASG ramp up their investment in marketing, PR and TV advertising. Hockey in HD is a lot better than standard def and it might help attract an additional 5,000 or so fans if they knew they could count on seeing more than 15 games broadcast in HD. There is no reason for the majority of games to not be televised after football season ends at the least.

Dejay

June 9th, 2009
3:12 pm

Jeff, do we have to go down this road AGAIN? I’ve stated this for years. Atlanta isn’t a bad sports town AT ALL; it’s one of the SMARTEST sports towns in the world. We don’t blindly spend hard-earned $$$ on 3-10 Falcon squads and 30-47 Hawk teams who’ve already set up vacation cruises and tee times for the offseason when there are 10.5 months of good weather and a million other things to do. There isn’t a franshise here who has the cache of consecutive winning seasons (see Falcons), winning games in October that matter (see Braves), or getting to the Eastern finals (see Hawks) to merit earning the benefit of the doubt like other cities have with their teams. We certainly aren’t going to go out of our way to support one who haven’t won a playoff game in its 10-year existence.

Atlantans can tell the real McCoy from a pretender from a mile away. Simply making the playoffs to get slapped around in the first round may warm the masses in one-sport towns like Salt Lake City and Portland but it doesn’t cut the mustard here, as the Braves will surely attest.

BTW, what is soooo wrong with demanding value for our entertainment/sports $$$? When I go to a restaurant, I demand top-quality service and top-quality food, no matter how much/little I pay for it or how long they’ve been there that day. If they can’t provide that, I don’t return until they can. Why are we so obligated to throw good $$$ at lousy products? Lousy (along with a few other choice words you wouldn’t want me to type) is exactly what the Thrashers have been and the fault goes directly to the ownership for hiring then RETAINING the GM who’s made it so.

If you want to find a group of folks who support mediocrity, join the lemmings in Chicago who pack Wrigley every year despite winning nary a world title in over a century. We’re many things but stupid isn’t one of them.

Hockey can work in Atlanta. The Flames didn’t leave because of lack of fan support; it set attendance records in the Omni until Nique and the gang got it going long after they left. They moved because of a bankrupt owner who sold out to Canadian businessmen before Turner and Co. caught the scent. If this ownership can find a person competent enough to run the team. But that also means that ownership has to also be willing to do more than pinch pennies and cry broke.

Jeff Schultz

June 9th, 2009
3:13 pm

Andrew — Agreed. But we’ve seen enough examples of hockey in “unnatural market” as you put it succeeding when the team wins. Dallas, Tampa, Florida, Carolina, L.A., Anaheim.

Smoothie — the best marketing, PR and advertising is winning. I’m not sure more can’t be done in those areas — particularly in the community and with grassroots programs, etc. But the team has to win or it doesn’t matter.

Jeff Schultz

June 9th, 2009
3:15 pm

DeJay– Not sure if you misinterpreted my earlier comment. I agree with you. But if product doesn’t improve, we’re never really going to see hockey supported here. Even Waddell acknowledges that.

Andrew

June 9th, 2009
3:20 pm

Jeff,
I truly believe Atlanta will support the Thrashers if they win, much like your examples. Finally there’s a foundation in place for long term success, so we’ll see what happens.

Dejay

June 9th, 2009
3:27 pm

I didn’t misinterpret your comments, I agree EVERYTHING. A competent and functional ownership would’ve set Waddell out to sea YEARS ago. The only reason he’s still here is because they can’t afford to pay him to go home AND someone else to clean up the Chernobyl-like mess he created.

Speaking of marketing, you can put together the slickest ad campaigns and billboard signs on the planet but you won’t draw folks to the arena until the team starts winning when it MATTERS. Going on a run long after you’ve been eliminated from playoff contention in ebonic terms, ain’t goin get it. That’s similar to a few years ago when Bobby Sura played out of his mind to get another contract and got the Hawks to winning meaningless ballgames when they were 931 games behind the 8th seed. It only cost them a shot at Dwight Howard….

Bob

June 9th, 2009
3:29 pm

Waddell is not a good GM and should have been gone long ago. Yes, there are ownership issues, but we can’t fire the owners and this club will continue to struggle until Waddell is gone and a competent GM is brought in. Waddell is a nice guy, but he just can’t get the job done.

I was a season ticket holder from Year 1, until last year. I’m holding out until Waddell is gone, then I’ll be back.

This can be a hockey town. There are tons of hockey fans here, but since the Thrashers’ have been so badly mismanaged, most of us have returned to our hometown allegiances and support our clubs we grew up with. But if this club gets on the right track, Philips will be full again, it will take a couple of years, but they’ll be back. Hockey is a great sport and this is a smart sports town.

Ted Striker

June 9th, 2009
3:46 pm

Hey, Jeff — Did you ask Waddell whether he’d been in touch with Glavine about reviving his hockey career? (He seems to have some free time, for some odd reason)

But seriously…know who I miss in Atlanta during hockey season? Scott Ferrall. The dude was a trip and he knew some hockey. Speaking of hockey, I recall being in a Detroit bar once when the Red Wings were in the playoffs. There was a fire that broke out — you could see stuff going up in flames — but nobody would evacuate because the game was still in progress on the big screen TVs.

The Grinch

June 9th, 2009
3:48 pm

The question shouldn’t be whether Waddell considers Atlanta a viable hockey market, it should be whether the Atlanta hockey market considers Waddell a viable General Manager. I predict the answer to be a resounding “NO.” The same goes for ownership. I’ve been to a number of Thrasher games, and the fans are totally hardcore. But you’ve got to give them SOMETHING.

Bill

June 9th, 2009
3:56 pm

The common thread of Waddell’s teams here…WAY too easy to play against.

Has any opponent once in 10 years thought “uh oh, we’ve got to go to Atlanta tomorrow night”. It’s an easy game relatively speaking. There’s one or two big guns to shut down. You by and large won’t face sustained pressure and will probably be able to cycle the puck in the Thrashers end at will.

I imagine this is the perception around the league of a Don Waddell team. No offense to the players themselves, who are often stretched or put into roles that really don’t well suit them.

I can’t wait until the season starts so we can again get outshot 75% of the time and play our best hockey when the season has effectively been over for 3 months.

Stat Man

June 9th, 2009
4:01 pm

Out of the 11,000 “hard core” fans, how many of them scream “Knights” during the National Anthem.

Any number larger than ZERO and you can reduce your number of “hard core” fans.

Seriously, that makes my stomach turn every time it happens. Sends a great message to the team too!

I’ve lived my whole life in Atlanta and am very proud of the city and it’s sports heritage despite it’s lack of trophies, but I truly wonder what those idiots really think they are accomplishing when they do that?

Impressing whoever they are with? Pretty shallow friends if that’s so
Being one of the crowd? Nothing like a low life follower, and as Judge Smails said “the world needs ditch diggers too”
Devotion to a long since dead franchise? I doubt a quarter of the morons that scream “Knights” ever went to a Knights game.

Matt

June 9th, 2009
4:02 pm

My two cents.

The support is there for hockey in this town. Is the support there for this current ownership? I doubt it.

ASG has mishandled this franchise from day one. I’m sure Waddell is a nice guy, but has done nothing to deserve his continuation as GM. Look at Minnesota, in the league later than ATL and with arguably much greater success and they are looking for a new coach and new GM. (Admit that Lemaire retired, but GM let go).

I love hockey, I just don’t feel like the ASG is giving this franchise the support they need to become winners and hopefully Cup champs.

That being said, subpar hockey is better than no NHL hockey and I’ll keep watching and going to games, though not as often as I would like.

Brendan

June 9th, 2009
4:09 pm

I very much agree with everyone who has said “Atlanta is a ’smart’ sports town.” Throwing unconditional, blind financial support and fan attendance behind a team has led the Toronto Maple Leafs to exactly ZERO Stanley Cup Finals since 1967. So, what effects “change” in Toronto? Answer: The media. Toronto’s media is, perhaps, the most influential in the NHL, in terms of causing a Head Coach or GM to be fired. Montreal might argue with that statement. But I digress.

Now, I don’t blame the AJC for Waddell still being here. I think we hockey fans have a firm understanding of the fact that we are smack dab in the middle of the college football and pro football grid iron territory, here in Georgia. And if the AJC ran 4-5 hockey articles a day, its sports section would soon be in trouble. But it doesn’t take 4-5 articles on hockey, in the sports pages, or online, to generate enough hockey interest to fill an 18,545 seat arena. All it takes, as Bob points out, is competent management, which would be presummably installed by capable and intelligent and committed OWNERSHIP.

And then, as Jeff Schultz points out, all it takes it winning to be your PR campaign. Win. Winning sells. But “winning takes commitment.” Ask anyone. In fact, several pro teams have such things written on their lockerroom walls. If the Atlanta Spirit, LLC, would “man up” and fire Waddell, which they find unpalatable, I bet that action, ALONE, would signal a rush of ticket sales.

Why? Because it means that Spirit has experienced an epiphany.” And that “sudden, realization of great truth” is that it cannot continue to STAY THE COURSE and remain viable. The hockey fans in this town want change. They do. They’re out there. Right now. Reading this post. Nodding. They’ll come back, once the ownership (1) admits there’s a problem with their business model and (2) admits that there’s a problem at the GM position, and (3) endeavors to make an exhaustive search for a serious candidate to create a winning climate here, and GIVE THE TEAM AN IDENTITY. What? Okay. Tell me, then, “What’s Thrashers hockey?” Define it for me. If you can’t, then the team, after a DECADE, still doesn’t have one. Under whose auspices does “team identity” chiefly reside? Answer: The GM, who is responsible for oversight of the team. Really, this isn’t rocket science. Our GM may be a lovely man, who is a PRINCE to work for, but he’s had his chance. But if the ownership doesn’t enable the next GM to succeed, it won’t matter who the GM is. GM candidates are going to ask this question first, “What kind of budget am I going to work with?” And if the answer isn’t, “You’ll always be within $3 million of the cap limit on ‘Opening Night,’” then you’re just not going to get an established GM to come here.

Jeff Schultz, have you ever tried explaining the Thrashers situation to hockey fans across the country and up in Canada? What do they say when you tell them Waddell is still the GM, after a decade, with no berths in the Conference Finals? Or even a trip to the CSF. And if we MUST go there, that the team doesn’t have a playoff win to their credit, with eight picks in the Top 10 overall, from which to build the club? (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2008, before we count 2009.)

Smoothie

June 9th, 2009
4:09 pm

Jeff, no doubt that winning begets increased fan interest and higher attendance. There is always going to be that element to consider when a franchise becomes successful. However, you still need to “grow” fan interest among the younger demographic. If I were a 10 y/o again and couldn’t get my favorite local team in glorious HD, then I would easily choose something else to watch that is broadcast in HD. Some of our Georgia markets don’t even get reliable access to SportSouth. Perhaps a contract with the CW network or WATL would make more sense as it is available in more homes.

Also, go to any other major league city and you’ll see a lot more evidence of marketing by the local teams than you see here in ATL. And I don’t really count the lame Air Tran ads that can’t even afford to pay the NHL licensing fee that comes with a uniform-clad player on a billboard. Hell, there aren’t even that many ads for Thrashers tkts on the ajc.com website. I know this is a bandwagon town and college football will always rule (because it is an easier monetary and time commitment), but until the team gets serious about promoting the game within its own city, how else will the unfamiliar masses get better acquainted with the idea of going to a game?

Investing more in advertising and marketing goes hand in hand with spending money to make money. The ASG needs to either buy out Belkin ASAP so they can find a replacement or sell the darn franchise to someone with the resources to run it correctly. If that were to happen, you’d eliminate two problems at once as Waddell would be sure to get dismissed with new ownership (clean slate principle.)

gcs

June 9th, 2009
4:54 pm

I don’t know how anyone can call a city that attracts 10,000 people for Beach Volleyball a bad sports town. B^)

Another example of how Atlanta can be a good hockey town is the 2008 NHL All-Star game. I was one of several hundred that volunteered to do menial jobs for no pay just to be a part of the experience.

Jeff, instead of you interviewing Don Waddell consider having him interview us – the fans and potential fans. Ask him to put together some questions for us and post them here. I would bet it would open some eyes down on Marietta Street.

.

Jeff Schultz

June 9th, 2009
4:57 pm

DeJay — gotcha.

Striker — Waddell and Glavine have something in common. Both were draft picks of the L.A. Kings. On Ferrall. I liked him personally. Traveled with him. He was a nut. But he was COMPLETELY miscast as a hockey radio play-by-play guy.

Grinch — I think we agree — and I’ve written it before — if hockey fails here, it will be about the product (Thrashers), not the sport itself.

Jeff Schultz

June 9th, 2009
5:01 pm

**** ATTENTION ALL ****
GCS: I think all the questions have been asked. But I’ll tell you what, if there’s enough interest, you and others can either post questions here or email me at jschultz@ajc.com. If I get enough of them, I’ll make sure they get answered.
Thanks
JS

Steve

June 9th, 2009
5:06 pm

Jeff – your comment regarding a smart sports town is dead on. Tickets are extremely expensive for all sports. Why spend hard earned money on a poor product. Spirit does not seem to have the desire and/or money to put a winning team on the ice. They will lose Kovy after next year and interest will hit bottom.

Atlanta has proven that they will support hockey. The building was packed and ready to explode during the playoffs. The Hawks were worse off and look what happened once they became competitive. Just give us a little hope and we will be there.

Mr. Obvious

June 9th, 2009
5:15 pm

Don Waddell is the “Jeff Schultz” of NHL General Managers.

Jeff Schultz is the “Don Waddell” of journalists.