They told you they cared. They lied.
They told you their biggest concern was putting out the best product for you, the fans. They lied.
They told you not to pay attention to any of those rumors of the Thrashers being for sale, although they eventually admitted begrudgingly that, yes, they were looking for “investors.” They lied.
The Atlanta Spirit is not looking for investors. They’re looking to sell the Thrashers. They’ve been looking to sell them for — ready for this? –six years.
Six . . . years.
Those are the caretakers of your franchise. Those are the ones who’ve pleaded with you since 2005 to support a mostly inferior product — and now they can’t figure out how they’ve burned so many bridges in this town why fans still feel too angry or worn down to show up for a pretty decent team. Reality never has been their strong suit.
Team Pinocchio (a.k.a. the Atlanta Spirit) has filed a $200 million malpractice suit against their former attorneys at King & Spalding. Within that suit, the often dysfunctional ownership group discloses it has been looking to sell the Thrashers since 2005.
The remaining seven heads of Team Pinocchio (Michael Gearon, Bruce Levenson, et al.) are suing King & Spalding for their perceived shoddy work in the original ownership agreement, which led to the protracted litigation and settlement between former partner Steve Belkin and the non-Belkins. Team Pinocchio members are trying to recoup some of the claimed nine-digit losses they say they incurred as a result of the litigation.
The problem with making such claims is you’ve got to make a case. Part of Team Pinocchio’s case is that it “incurred over $130 million in out-of-pocket losses” while operating the Thrashers, which it intended to sell. If that’s not clear enough, here are four bullet points from the 20-page, 75-point complaint:
♦ Point 53: “Plaintiffs’ inability to buy out Belkin’s interest in a timely manner and the resulting cloud on their title created by the Maryland litigation interfered with operation of the franchises and specifically prevented Plaintiffs from selling the Atlanta Thrashers.”
♦ Point 54: “Because of a dispute with the players, the National Hockey League suspended the 2004-2005 season. It was widely anticipated that the league would enter into a new labor contract that would inure to the financial benefit of smaller market franchises such as the Thrashers and thus increase their value. Plaintiffs expected that once the new labor agreement was finalized there would be substantial interest from potential buyers and that they would be able to sell the franchise.”
♦ Point 56: “Potential buyers talked with Plaintiffs about acquiring the Atlanta Thrashers. However, because they had been unable to acquire Belkin’s interest and were entangled in the Maryland litigation, Plaintiffs could not convey free and clear title to the franchise and thus were not in a position to sell. Indeed, during the period from June 2006, when the Maryland trial court entered summary judgment for Belkin, until the judgment was reversed on appeal in September, 2007, Plaintiffs were subject to a judicial decree specifying that Belkin, in fact, was entitled to buy out SSG and LPF.”
♦ Point 58: “In addition, the Thrashers have steadily lost money, requiring Plaintiffs to fund operations from their own pockets. Plaintiffs have incurred more than $130 million in out-of-pocket losses operating the franchise over this time period. Plaintiffs would not have incurred these losses if they had had free and clear title to the Thrashers and thus had the ability to sell or otherwise dispose of the franchise.”
Dispose of the franchise? They make it sound like it week-old lo-mein.
Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it?
Team Pinocchio has shot down sell or sell-and-move rumors every time they’ve popped up. Sometimes, they put out statements. Sometimes, they scoffed and said a report didn’t dignify a response. Sometimes, as was the case in March 2010 after a New York Times story suggested both the Thrashers and Hawks were for sale, they didn’t even return reporters’ phone calls or emails to issue a denial.
In 2009, Thrashers president and former general manager Don Waddell — who has assumed the unenviable position of Team Pinocchio mouthpiece — stated: “In countless meetings with ownership, never once have we expressed any interest in selling the Thrashers or moving the Thrashers.”
He must’ve been out for coffee whenever the topic came up. I’ve heard better lies from “Baghdad Bob.”
I’ve stated this before but it bears repeating: If Atlanta loses its second NHL franchise, it won’t be because the sport failed here. It will be because ownership and management failed.
And right now, I wouldn’t even buy a hot dog to put a buck in these guys’ pockets.
By Jeff Schultz