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

Matt

January 21st, 2011
2:57 pm

ASG=complete and total scumbags.

I may be going to my last game tomorrow night. What a crying shame, because I love hockey and desperately want it to succeed in this town.

MLH

January 21st, 2011
2:57 pm

Nickz

January 21st, 2011
2:57 pm

1st…the Atlanta Spirit sucks

Nickz

January 21st, 2011
2:58 pm

3rd…and the Atlanta Spirit still sucks

Benjamin

January 21st, 2011
2:59 pm

Benjamin

January 21st, 2011
2:59 pm

Samsonite! I was WAY off!

Yeah, that’s pretty shady of the Spirit folk. Hope the Thrashers stay around…

JB

January 21st, 2011
3:00 pm

I would comment with my opinion of these new revelations as a die-hard thrashers fan but surely nothing I would or even could construct would make it through the filter.

Twisted Wrister

January 21st, 2011
3:00 pm

Waddell lied again…BIG SURPRISE

Matt

January 21st, 2011
3:00 pm

I’ve got a big middle finger for the ASG. That about sums up my feelings.

JB

January 21st, 2011
3:03 pm

…oh, and I’m sure this news will do wonders for attendance! We could win every single game until the Cup Finals begin and (former) fans will stay away.

Brett

January 21st, 2011
3:03 pm

What a slap in the face to all of the hardworking fans who’ve supported the Thrashers!!!! We’ve been lied to all this time!! What a bunch of A$$ CLOWNS!!!

Gwinnett Fred

January 21st, 2011
3:04 pm

Jeff,

You had a great article until your last sentence.

YOU don’t buy tickets – we fans do.
YOU don’t buy concessions – we fans do.

So please don’t tell the fans what YOU wouldn’t buy – you are just as big of a liar as the ASG scumbags – because you haven’t bought any to start with!!

P.S. – That’s the trouble with “journalists” and “columnists” – you have no real perseption of what we REAL FANS think, feel & anguish over rooting for our teams.

Mr. Heat Miser

January 21st, 2011
3:05 pm

Fire Waddell?

Kevin

January 21st, 2011
3:05 pm

Thrashers have finally hired a good coach and quality GM and are competing for a playoff spot with the second lowest payroll in the NHL. It is obvious they are still in need of 1-2 players to boost the squad if they are to make a run, will it happen? I doubt it!

If you have ever been to a season ticket holders town hall and heard one of the owners speak, you leave the meeting feeling violated. They have always been dishonest and continue to be.

Coleslaw

January 21st, 2011
3:05 pm

I agree Jeff. Pisses me off about the whole thing. I wish we could just start over from scratch. What a bunch of pricks!

Mark C.

January 21st, 2011
3:05 pm

Can’t wait for the defense to use all those ‘the team isn’t for sale’ quotes as exhibit A, B, C, D…

Coach Cool

January 21st, 2011
3:05 pm

There goes NHL in the ATL…

You’ll be sorely missed… AGAIN.

Way to read, Jeff

January 21st, 2011
3:05 pm

In your haste to get an article up, you neglected to see that the law firm is King & Spalding not Spaulding. They don’t make basketballs there, they’re kinda a big deal in the legal world. It’s not like you had to do any research, just read the article Kristi wrote. Keep up the hasty work!

Bluestreak

January 21st, 2011
3:05 pm

Maybe Blank can buy them bargain-basement and do them like he did the Falcons, but that won’t happen.

Maybe Thrasher fans can do like the Packer fans did, and buy the team ourselves.

I just hope we don’t lose them now that the cat is out of the bag…

Tim

January 21st, 2011
3:07 pm

F THE ATLANTA SPIRIT! THEY RUINED THE THRASHERS!!

Brett

January 21st, 2011
3:07 pm

Here we go with the relocation talk again. After these revelations the Thrashers may be even closer to relocating. I can’t image that this can be good for attendance! I’m a former STH who officially attended my last game last night! F off ASG!

Everybody

January 21st, 2011
3:10 pm

Please sell the Hawks and the Thrashers. Give them to someone who wants to build a winner and is willing to invest. Just do it and be done with it.

Way to read, Jeff

January 21st, 2011
3:10 pm

Man, I guess I was in a haste too was in a haste to bash you up. I neglected to catch the gem on ‘$130,000 million’ Wouldn’t that be 130 million? Because the number you just wrote would be 130,000,000,000.

Michael

January 21st, 2011
3:11 pm

Did they really misspell the law firm’s name? Dear god…

Iron League 13

January 21st, 2011
3:13 pm

First of all…well, I like my posting priveledges here on AJC, so all I’ll say is that there’s at least two obscenely gesturing hands over here meant for the ASG.

So there is no second of all, I’ll keep the kiddie gloves on, nothing nice to say about this group.

Rich T

January 21st, 2011
3:13 pm

I don’t know which is worse; the fact that they lied about intent to sell, or the fact that there are no buyers.

Actually, I hope they sell them, but hope they haven’t ruined things so badly that it wil be impossible to keep them in Atlanta.

TheDorkBaller

January 21st, 2011
3:14 pm

You people are seriously just gonna sit back and let the Thrashers move?
This time, more than ever, is the time us fans need to come together and put butts in those seats.
Do NOT support the ASG. I won’t. Support the team on the ice. If we don’t, we will lose them.

Alan R.

January 21st, 2011
3:14 pm

I would surmise a reason the ownership lost so much money is based solely off the perception they don’t care about the team. What this story tells me is it wasn’t just a perception, but a reality.

Now more than ever do we need a local buyer to pick up the team. The NHL can work in Atlanta, but we need an owner who believes in the product. These owners obviously do not.

MannyT

January 21st, 2011
3:15 pm

I love the Team Pinocchio reference. Hard for them to make team profitable once the public no longer trusts you. I guess the next best source of funds is a lawsuit.

Smoothie

January 21st, 2011
3:15 pm

At least we know that most all of the money we’ve spent on Thrashers tkts has gone directly to the players in the form of their salary as they owners surely haven’t profited one iota from their misguided attempts to “run” this franchise. Perhaps the hockey fans should start a fund-raising drive to buy the team and then sell shares like the Green Bay Packers did how many years ago? Let’s turn the tables and take control of our hometown team!! Oh wait, most of the folks who like hockey aren’t even from this town! ;-)

Iron League 13

January 21st, 2011
3:16 pm

priveleges rather

Coach Cool

January 21st, 2011
3:17 pm

Owner suggestion (he’s got a really PHAT wallet): David McDavid.

D’OH!!

lanier

January 21st, 2011
3:17 pm

loved La Flame as Boomer called then. they went to Calgary because their moron owner couldn”t afford them.
I was excited when the Thrashers came to town. So excited I wasted 42 grand on 4 tix for 4 lousy seasons. After the 3nd season I couldn:t get anybody to go. These fools let their best player Donald Audett go for a lousy million bucks. They refused to spend initally because they though the new enthusiam would continue to sell tix no matter what.
They are now stuck with a DOG which is 100% their responsibility.
The hell with them and their team.

Matt

January 21st, 2011
3:17 pm

Burn in Hell ASG!!

Herschel Talker

January 21st, 2011
3:18 pm

FIRE MARK RICHT

Iron League 13

January 21st, 2011
3:18 pm

I do believe Bettman when he says he intends for Atlanta to be part of the NHL market. Look no further than Phoenix.

Jason

January 21st, 2011
3:19 pm

My former STH rep told me she doesn’t trust the AJC. I told her I hope she doesn’t trust her own team’s court filings then either….

Darren

January 21st, 2011
3:19 pm

You’re totally correct Alan. Committed local ownership is the only way out of this mess.

PMC

January 21st, 2011
3:19 pm

This is the worst ownership group in the history of sports.

It’s not close.

Jeff Schultz

January 21st, 2011
3:20 pm

Gwinnett Fred — I don’t pay for media credentials. I have on occasion purchased tickets for self, family or friends. Secondly, I also on occasion do buy food at concessions. … Make you feel any better, or were you just looking to take a shot? … By the way, you spelled “perseption” wrong.

Iron League 13

January 21st, 2011
3:20 pm

Don Waddell should be given a break from here on out. Can any of us imagine working for these gianormous d-bags? I’d imagine there’s lots we’ll never know.

[...] Columnist Jeff Schultz also weighed in on the matter. READ IT HERE. [...]

Jeff Schultz

January 21st, 2011
3:21 pm

Kevin — Agree, it’s a shame to have all this as a backdrop when the team FINALLY is making good personnel decisions and is being coached well.

Atl teams= Playoff chokers

January 21st, 2011
3:21 pm

Cant the NHL do something? Many people want to support the Thrashers, but they dont do it cause of the ASG. Maybe the NHL can buy the team kind of like how the NBA bought the Hornets.

GPCooper

January 21st, 2011
3:22 pm

Every year we are given these fairy tales that the ASG are trying to make the Thrashers a top team for the Cup. Yet every year they put out a bad product and raise the price of tickets. I’m not sure what they learned at Corporate Wonk School, but people pay for wins in the sports world, not promises of wins. They seem to be shocked that Atlanta fans are not as stupid as they are.

Jeff Schultz

January 21st, 2011
3:22 pm

Way to read, Jeff — Yeah, fixed that shortly after posting. And I love you, too.

Iron League 13

January 21st, 2011
3:24 pm

Mr. Schultz, thank you for brining out some hard evidence to back up our vibes about this travesty called The Atlanta Spirit group. What an ironic name, regardless of what it implies I’ve always thought it was a bleep name.

Dana Blankenhorn

January 21st, 2011
3:24 pm

Devil’s advocate. (Not from New Jersey.) What they’re saying in order to get money out of their lawyers and anyone else is that they’ve been losing money for years and could have put the team into stronger hands if their legal hands had not been tied.

All true. The ancillary revenue brought in by a hockey team is bupkis next to that from other sports.

Now you can be angry all you want, but I think the facts back these guys up. You really think you would have been better off with David McDavid when the auto industry crashed? I don’t. Steve Belkin would have sold you down the river in a heartbeat.

What this news means is that the team is officially, now, for sale. Anyone here want to step up to the plate? Remember, they claim to be losing $20m a year, without a gigantic salary structure, with good crowds.

Any buyers? Y’all want to complain, fine. But howsa bout someone putting some money with their mouth is?

The real question Jeff Schultz and everyone else ought to be asking is whether there is anyone else in this town that might want to buy the team, and is there any way it can turn a profit.

Jeff Schultz

January 21st, 2011
3:24 pm

Way to read, Jeff — That also was quickly fixed. You want a job?

Iron League 13

January 21st, 2011
3:25 pm

Group rather. No, Mr. Schultz isn’t the only one with typos.