Atlanta Spirit lied to us about Thrashers? Go figure

Three of the Thrashers' caretakers (left to right): Ed Peskowitz, Michael Gearon and Bruce Levenson. (Curtis Compton)

Three of the Thrashers' caretakers (left to right): Ed Peskowitz, Michael Gearon and Bruce Levenson. (Curtis Compton)

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

Previous posts:

NCAA has lost sight of mission, needs to end ‘oversigning’

Part I: A word about ‘oversigning’ (and revisiting Saban’s dance)

Time to mock! Kiper, McShay say Falcons take . . .

Stacy Searels leaving Georgia? Can I offer him a lift?

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

342 comments Add your comment

Hillbilly Deluxe

January 22nd, 2011
4:57 pm

Is anybody really surprised by this?

Conway

January 22nd, 2011
5:15 pm

Hockey will never make it in Atlanta no matter how many Yankees move to Atlanta!

Ted Striker

January 22nd, 2011
5:24 pm

1) I’d rather be owed money by King & Spalding than ASG. K&S has more $$$ than Carter has liver pills.

2) Seydel’s wife is a hottie.

Jeff Sutter

January 22nd, 2011
5:33 pm

Michael Gearon has always done his business this way. His approach is to try to suspend your disbelief. Maybe he will leave town with the team.

Paddy

January 22nd, 2011
5:41 pm

Conway…..you don’t have to be a Yankee to enjoy hockey. The game sells its self if given the opportunity. I became a fan in the 60’s after watching just one Dayton Gems game. Loved it so much I spent 7 years working in pro hockey. But not in Atl.

Flagstaff

January 22nd, 2011
5:45 pm

I’m a native Georgian and I love hockey! This isn’t 1861.

Delbert D.

January 22nd, 2011
5:59 pm

Where’s a Russian billionaire when you need one?

Smitty

January 22nd, 2011
6:37 pm

Jeff,

Great article. I would like to see a comment from Gary Bettman. I met Bettman just before the All Star game here in Atlanta. I am from Western NY and I thanked him for his commttment in helping to keep the Sabres in Buffalo after their owner went into bankruptcy. You would hope after what has happened in Phoenix, he would show the same committment here.

Freddie's Falcon

January 22nd, 2011
6:56 pm

I would think the lawyers at King & Spaulding, who defend cases in front of the US Supreme Court, know what they are doing.

Rand Stewart

January 22nd, 2011
7:17 pm

The bottom line is that none of these idiots have any business owning any kind of sports team, professional or otherwise. The Atlanta Spirit Group is nothing but a bunch of spoiled brats playing with daddy’s money. Sell the teams to someone who cares and has some intelligence. Further proof that money can’t buy class.

Retired STH

January 22nd, 2011
8:15 pm

sounds to me like the Atlanta thrasher fan club may know something we dont?

> From: Atl Thrashers Fan Club
> Date: January 22, 2011 2:37:04 PM EST
> To: Atlanta Thrashers
> Subject: AJC Story & Table Location
>
> Hi All,
>
> We have seen the story that broke in the AJC yesterday. Please hold off on believing everything that is in that story, it is not at all what you have been lead to believe. We will address the story in a separate email tomorrow.
>
> The fan club table will be located under the Omni scoreboard tonight which is located just to the left when you enter through the main arena entrance. This is your last chance to purchase tickets for the Carolina road trip. If you plan to go and have not purchased your tickets come to the table tonight. We will be there until the end of 2nd intermission. Members who have not picked up membership items, please stop by and pick them up.
>
>
>
> —
> Lisa Lewis
> President/Founder
> Atlanta Thrashers Fan Club
> http://www.atlantathrashersfans.org

Wally

January 22nd, 2011
10:14 pm

And Jeff, you must really be Happy. You have been trying to run this club out of town for years. You must be Proud.

CrazyDiamond

January 22nd, 2011
10:26 pm

We are so screwed!

This may be the nail in the coffin for NHL in Atlanta. Unless ASG just gives the team away for a song and a promise to stay in Atlanta at Philips Arena.

NHL should sue ASG LLC.

stendek

January 22nd, 2011
10:44 pm

The corrupt owners are doing local hockey fans a favor Jeff! The Thrashers are a heartless uncaring group of prideless quitters. The sooner they are the Hell out of Atlanta the better. The Hawk fate is immaterial to me. Basketball bores me to tears! Teams with fight like the Knights and Flames are sorely missed. The Thrashers will be a quickly forgotten afterthought. No one likes to see home losses all the time. That is pretty much what these Thrashers deliver at Philips Arena. Let em go lose in Hamilton or wherever. I really respect Coach Craig Ramsey. As for the players my friend Fletcher from Outlaw Josey Wales summed it up nicely. Hell is waiting. Yep. That sums it up. Best. STENDEK

stendek

January 22nd, 2011
10:52 pm

Jeff since I am still mad as Hell after yet another home Trasher choke job to an overrated untalented New York team I provide the following for your approval…

http://stendek77.wordpress.com/2011/01/23/thrashers-fail-to-hold-home-leads-in-so-loss-to-weak-rangers/

Brendan

January 23rd, 2011
1:21 am

Incommunicado for the past few days, I am happy to see this story being reported, but not surprised by the behavior of the ownership. Jeff, wasn’t it Bruce Levenson who said, “This lawsuit has had NO IMPACT on the operations of our teams.” Well, we knew that was an absurd LIE from the intial utterance. But now, how does Bruce spin this one?

Truthfully, I’ve always wanted to be rid of this ownership. I hope they successfully sell the team. All I ask … is that the team remain in Atlanta and be owned by someone, preferably a sole person and not a group of people or a corporate entity, who will care for it properly. And treat the “lifeblood” of their business, the paying fan, with the respect they richly deserve.

insider

January 23rd, 2011
7:58 am

Spoiled rich kids? Gearon turned $3000 start-up money (his own) into an international cell tower business valued in the billions. Levenson and Peskowitz started a successful publishing company from an attic above a liquor store. At least get the facts straight.

Eon Rodeo

January 23rd, 2011
9:08 am

Gatorman

January 23rd, 2011
9:27 am

Schultz: They lied to us, ummmh! Come on now, don’t act surprised.

Dogham

January 23rd, 2011
9:52 am

Goodbye Atlanta, Hello Seattle!

Heather

January 23rd, 2011
9:54 am

I am disappointed with the ownership, but I LOVE the Thrashers. We live in Athens and drive over to as many games as we can. We all have jerseys (the expensive sewn on kind) and my son has a second jersey (because he wanted Kane on his back, instead of Hossa). We buy hats, flags, clocks, and plenty of concessions. When we can’t get to a game, we have Center Ice to watch. We are a hockey loving family and enjoy having a home town team to support. We will continue to support the THRASHERS even if it inadvertently supports the ownership. I would hope that the ownership would consider us lowly fans in their decisions. I realize that they only care about putting money in their pockets and don’t give a hoot about this team, and that is sad. *I* care about this team. *I* want to be able to drive an hour and a half, spend a boatload on parking and tickets and concessions, and take my family to watch their favorite team. I sure hope that the owners won’t take that away from us.

LAC

January 23rd, 2011
11:23 am

wally you are a COMPLETE IDIOT, Jeff has NEVER wanted or implied the team to move.

He has made Excellent points about the CRAP owners and IF you cannot see that, then you are proving that you. like you comment, are STUPID AS HELL !!!!!!!!!

Excellent Jeff, You speak the facts and exposed these little liars for what they really are. And lisa of the fan club is just their tool, nothing more.

hockeyman3944

January 23rd, 2011
12:55 pm

Now THAT would be a coup…Arthur Blank buying the? OK I’ll get off my cloud…BUT? Think if he did..Stability, willingness to ice a great product, make the city proud, market the team in a non-traditional market, be the talk of the town for a change and actually have people get on the bandwagon…POOF!! I just woke up and cursed the day the ASG and their sleaze ball owners ever brought the franchise here to end up breaking fans hearts! J***K Offs!

Southern Hockey Fan

January 23rd, 2011
4:09 pm

Canceling SportsSouth and emailing Gary Bettman right now. I urge everyone to do the same. Love the team and what Duds and Ramsay have done, but I’ve had enough: I’m out.

Mr. Tony Geinzer

January 23rd, 2011
4:41 pm

I hate to call a spade a spade, but, I wonder if the Thrashers and Hawks would have been better off with Ted Turner? Sadly, the Flames misfired and the Knights where a quantified success until the owners went to Quebec. I wish Hockey and Atlanta would have beared a Stanley Cup, but the lies are adding up about ASG and the truth is barrelling out in a hurry.

Freddie's Falcon

January 23rd, 2011
5:27 pm

insider: these guys are in over their heads, you get it straight.

BBOBB

January 23rd, 2011
6:24 pm

where have you been jeff – the asg has always done the opposite of whatever they deny.

DMR

January 23rd, 2011
6:28 pm

One Title in 149 Professional Seasons (Mark Bradley). Schultz is writing about how inept and what liars and hypocrites the ASG has been. See the correlation? Ownership and management in this town, with a few recent past exceptions….Blank/Dimitroff, Schuerholtz/Cox, have been the reasons for the lack of professional sports success in this town. There has been turns in the recent past, but the majority of the lack of success falls on the shoulders of groups like ASG. Go figure!

The Red Panty Pirate

January 23rd, 2011
6:36 pm

Jeff Schultz will never be happy until he personally runs the Thrashers out of Atlanta.

Pretty pitiful for someone who CLAIMS to be a hockey fan, but doesn’t even go to Thrasher games.

Why do I even subscribe to this freakin fishwrap anyway?

Only a LOSER columnist constantly bashes and attacks the hometown teams in print.

His name in this town is Jeff Schultz…..

[...] Nation bemoaning in great disgust what is starting to look like another season lost. And with the recent news of the ownership’s intent to sell the Thrashers all along, the already downtrodden and alienated fan-base is now swimming in a morass of negativity and [...]

stendek

January 23rd, 2011
9:08 pm

The owners would be doing all true local ice hockey fans a favor if they shipped these losers to Hamilton or Quebec. Since Bill and Chris have decided to ban criticism of Trashers my truthful posts follow each debacle on Yahoo Sports. This is latest:

A giveup job to end all giveup jobs by Trashers! What untalented pu$$ies these scumball oxygen wastes truly are. Even the staunchest apologists would struggle to finding anything of value in that fiasco! Hell! Losers did not even bother going through motions. Just flat out gave up! Wah wah wah. Excuses excuses excuses. What bullshet! No player with NHL caliber talent. No offense. No defense. No defense. Hearts have bewen AWOL since early in season. Playoffs? Playoffs my a$$! Cellar space better be vacant. Trashers on way!

Just send me fumigation bill Jeff. Know odor was foul. :( :( :( :( STENDEK

stendek

January 23rd, 2011
9:16 pm

PaulM

January 23rd, 2011
9:23 pm

Ted Turner got us into this mess by getting AOL to give the club to his drinking buddies, son, and son-in-law. Since his name is on the baseball stadium, he owes it to Atlanta to clean up this mess by stepping in and buying out the bums. I’m sure the ASG can own a sports bar in Cumming together – much more their speed.

Brendan

January 23rd, 2011
10:37 pm

DMR, I’m not sure I understand your post. Are you saying Jeff Schultz said the AS, LLC is responsible for the losses by the Braves and Falcons, too? Even if he said that, (and I don’t think he did,) how could the AS,LLC be responsible for anything but what they’ve owned? I can see blaming the AS, LLC for the years of mismanagement of the Hawks by Billy Knight. I can see blaming the AS, LLC for the years of mismanagement by Don Waddel of the Thrashers, and the AS, LLC’s utter disregard of the Thrashers, in general. For that, yes … the AS, LLC can be blamed. They owned those teams. They ran them. The decisions and inactions of the owners of the Hawks and Thrashers reside with them. But, the AS,LLC only has to answer of the years in which they owned the Hawks and Thrashers. No one can pin the losses and failed seasons of the Hawks and Thrashers on the AS, LLC that occured prior to the AS,LLC assuming control of those teams. That’d be absurd. That’d be like blaming Ronald McDonald if you got a bad cheeseburger.

It’d be sad, if the AS,LLC refused to acknowledge responsibility for what has happened on their watch. And not everything that has happened has been bad. The Hawks had a fabulous 7-game series with the World Champion Boston Celtics, a few years back. They’ve won several playoff series. That’s some success that has occured during their Administration. The Thrashers made the playoffs in 2007. That’s, technically, a success, even though the Thrashers got swept, and gave away the farm in a series of regrettable trade deadline moves that year, that ultimately left the franchise with no 1st round pick in 2007 and no 2nd round pick in 2008. The 2nd round pick they lost in 2007 wasn’t part of a trade deadline move. They had earlier coughed up that pick to get D-man Vitaly Vishnevsky, (from the Anaheim Ducks, who couldn’t sign Vishnevsky prior to arbitration–the Ducks balked at the arbitrator’s award, and traded his rights to Atlanta for a 2nd round pick in 2007) whom the Thrashers did move at the deadline … for … you know it. Say it with me … Center Eric Belanger. Belanger’s agent wouldn’t give the Thrashers the time of day in offseason contract negotiations, when Belanger would become an unrestricted free agent, ultimately signing with the Minnesota Wild.

The Joker

January 24th, 2011
8:37 am

I would like to break the other fingers of the guy sitting in the middle….These guys look like a bunch of *you know what* wonder what goes on behind close doors???? And no, I’m not talking about hockey or basketball, I’m talking about who’s on top and who’s on bottom…if you catch my drift…..

JR

January 24th, 2011
3:29 pm

Want to bring in the fans? Spend money, get some better players. There is a viscious cycle here. Ownership doesn’t want tpo spend until the attendence at games gets better. Fans don’t want to attend the games untl the team gets better. Someone has to make the first move. It is unlikely that the fans will given that most fans act independently of others. Management needs to spend money to break the impasse. At that point, when winning starts, “they will come”.

DawgDad

January 24th, 2011
5:10 pm

Stop with the blaming the fans nonsense. Attendance here matters not one whit; these owners were interested in buying low and selling high, not in establishing and maintaining a relevant NHL franchise in Atlanta. They’ve played Atlanta hockey fans for pure fools for years.

They will sell, the questions are to whom and is there any hope at all of keeping the franchise here in Atlanta? For now, our interests are served by them having botched things up so badly they may be stuck running this mess of a team in Atlanta while the court cases play out. Even if a local owner does step up these ASG-holes may botch up the team so bad it will take years to build a playoff roster. Let me ask you, if you were Dustin Byfuglien or Andrew Ladd would YOU sign here under these conditions? You’d have to be a complete fool, like me, the typical fan loyally following this mess for a decade.

DD

January 24th, 2011
6:23 pm

Go to all the Thrashers games you can go to this year because they may not be in Atlanta next season. The road trip to Atlanta is bad enough. I cannot do the road trip to Winnipeg.

[...] Atlanta Spirit lied to us about Thrashers? Go figure – Atlanta Journal ConstitutionUnfortunate truths are coming out of Atlanta – the ownership and management of the Thrashers have been flat-out lying to the sports fans in that city for years. [...]

[...] a member abruptly rises from his seat and shouts…”THEY LIE”! [...]

big bob

January 26th, 2011
10:17 am

what kind of self respecting man would put the “thug” loser game of pro basketball above the true team sport of hockey ,, bunch white dude black wanna bees.. LYING LOSERS…. DON WADDELL BUTT PIRATE WHY IS HE HERE .. IF THEY WANT TO SAVESOME $$$$$ MAKE HIM CLEAN THE URINALS AT THE NBA GAMES

[...] the Atlanta Spirit once again busy litigating and lying, I thought this would be a good time for the rest of us to actually focus on their [...]