It’s shameful to blame fans if Thrashers move to Winnipeg

The Atlanta Spirit pie chart never worked. The Thrashers' failures are not the fault of fans.

The Atlanta Spirit pie chart never worked. The Thrashers' failures are not the fault of fans.

(Updated: 2 p.m.)

Like warped kismet, the Thrashers were scheduled to face the Phoenix Coyotes Thursday night, the same week one of the Atlanta Spirit’s captains of disaster declared a relative state of emergency.

There should have been viewing parties in Winnipeg for this, because there’s a very good chance one of these teams is ending up in Manitoba. These rumors have been circulating for months, and not just from the usual Canadian chamber-of-commerce-type knuckleheads who have a vested interest. The rumors are like dominoes, and they fall like this:

♦ 1) The NHL has assured Winnipeg it is getting a team back.

♦ 2) The Coyotes, who’ve had financial issues since moving from Winnipeg in 1996, went into bankruptcy and now are operated by the league, would move back to Winnipeg if current arena refinancing issues can’t be resolved.

♦ 3) Should Phoenix resolve its problems and not relocate, the Thrashers will move to Winnipeg.

I wish I had a dollar for every time somebody used the term “done deal” with me over the last two months.

Michael Gearon was right about one thing: There is a “sense of urgency.” He just misplaces the blame. For him to suddenly put the onus on the fan base – “The reality is we need fans showing up and we need investors or a primary investor” – for hockey’s lifeline in Atlanta is disingenuous and shameful.

Fans showed up when the product was new and fresh. Fans showed up when the Thrashers won and made the playoffs. But since 1999, the team mostly has been mismanaged and run on the cheap.

Atlanta gets knocked for being “a bad sports town.” Fact is, Atlanta sports fans are smart and discerning consumers because they mandate a reason to spend their money. After being dumped on for most of 11 years since 1999, are Thrashers fans supposed to run through walls for a few good months? Scars take longer to heal.

Gearon, Bruce Levenson, and the rest don’t care. In the past, ownership suggested the $10 million annual Philips Arena naming rights deal was tied to having two tenants. It was a fallback soundbite every time a rumored move came up. Now, Thrashers president Don Waddell claims that’s not the case. If the Thrashers leave, he said, the Spirit merely receives a reduced pro-rated amount. (The Spirit denies an earlier version of the blog that said the naming rights deal was renegotiated six months ago.)

Over a year ago, when the Thrashers sat down to attempt to negotiate a new contract with Ilya Kovalchuk, ownership was apoplectic that Kovalchuk and his agent addressed potential new ownership and the team’s uncertain future in negotiations. Some wanted to cast the failed negotiations as the pro sports cliché of an athlete just asking for too much money. The fact was that Kovalchuk didn’t want to wake up in two years and find out he was moving to . . . Winnipeg.

When he couldn’t get assurances the team would stay in  Atlanta, he played his only bargaining chip: He asked for the moon.

This situation is tearing up the insides of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. He doesn’t want to be the guy who allowed Atlanta to lose an NHL franchise for the second time. But he knows it’s a horrible situation created by horrible ownership, which he has called on the carpet before. There is no incentive for an outsider to purchase only the hockey team and keep it in Atlanta. There also is no market right now for the Spirit to sell both teams and the arena rights, even though both have been on the market for at least two years.

The Spirit admits in a current complaint against their former attorneys that they’ve been seeking to sell the Thrashers almost since closing the deal to buy them. How can somebody claim to be putting out the best possible product and at the same time be looking to dump it?

There’s a word for that: fraud.

I’m not sure there’s a way out of this. Even if the Coyotes move back to Winnipeg, the Thrashers will be in the same situation, waiting for a financial archangel the way you and I wait for a winning lottery ticket. It wasn’t right in 1980 when Tom Cousins had to sell the Flame to support his real estate ventures, and it’s not right now.

Gearon said this is an urgent matter. Neglect will do that. But this was years in the making. Don’t throw that into the laps of fans.

By Jeff Schultz

Earlier:

NCAA investigating Auburn again (not Cam Newton this time)

Dreaming of Albert Pujols as a Brave

Roger Goodell should be negotiating, not Tweeting for clicks

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

223 comments Add your comment

Casey

February 17th, 2011
11:32 am

Casey

February 17th, 2011
11:32 am

It’s easy to be first on a hockey blog..

Casey

February 17th, 2011
11:32 am

Keep The Thrashers Fan Website

February 17th, 2011
11:33 am

Jeff: 100% on the money – fans are not to blame – we need to rally the troops and find some NEW OWNERS to keep the team in Atlanta. We are migrating to a “Keep The Thrashers” campaign and away from Arthur Blank. We should have the new domain http://www.keepthethrashers.com set up soon. Please help fight the good fight:

http://www.arthurblankbuythethrashers.com/

Najeh Davenpoop

February 17th, 2011
11:36 am

ASG is at the centre of this. And Im first and its aboot time.

juvenal

February 17th, 2011
11:38 am

only Mark cares if you are 1st……

Cp8

February 17th, 2011
11:38 am

The team was doomed when ted turner picked that awful name….. They could have done so much better…

Pete

February 17th, 2011
11:39 am

You can’t blame the fans, but you can blame the city. The Thrashers have their fans, but just not enough of them to make it a viable franchise. The games that I’ve been to have been incredible, but the stands are not even half full. It’s a shame really, but Gwinnett’s Gladiators get a better attendance as a minor league team than the Thrashers do as an NHL franchise.

Dawglasville

February 17th, 2011
11:42 am

Having your teams owned by these ownership groups blows. I told people when the Falcons were at their lowest, during the Petrino / Vick fiasco, that the Falcons would win a championship before any of the Atlanta sports teams because of Arthur Blank. Where is Ted when we need him? These people are only in it to harvest our money.

Jeff Schultz

February 17th, 2011
11:43 am

Keep The Thrashers Website — Thanks. Good luck with your site.

Ryno

February 17th, 2011
11:44 am

Give us a crappy product for much of the Thrashers history and you can’t expect us to show. I go because I do love this team in spite of how p*** poorly it’s been managed.
If you want more people to show up, have promotional nights where everyone in attendance gets to take a swing at a member of these rocket surgeons in the ASG. Seems fair for the slap in the face they’ve given us for 10+ years.

Jeff Schultz

February 17th, 2011
11:45 am

Cp8 — Honestly, I was never thrilled with name either. But the name doesn’t amount to much in the end. The “Mighty Ducks” won a Stanley Cup.

vince

February 17th, 2011
11:45 am

Thanks Jeff for putting out the truth. Yesterday’s “news story” was an entended plug for Gearon, pere et fils, who have been mismanaging teams and sucking Atlanta fans dry for generations.

PMC

February 17th, 2011
11:47 am

Well, if they leave, another team will come along shortly and we can hope for better management once again. There is no reason whatsoever that this would not be a 4 team town in regards to pro sports.

What’s unfortunate is that after so much time they are finally putting a good solid team together. They are finally fixing some of the big issues.

I don’t feel it’s a lost cause just yet.

The fan bases of teams from this city have supported every team exceptionally well when it was warranted.

We’ve seen enough losing to know when teams can’t compete with the best in the league. We are knowledgeable and we can see glaring inadequacies even if some of us myself included bought in to a Falcons team way too soon…over looking clear issues because our hearts were in it.

If they leave… they leave, but it will not be because Atlanta failed…. it will be because the management of the Thrashers failed to field a competitive team despite being given everything they needed to succeed.

Jason

February 17th, 2011
11:49 am

Where have you gone Ted Turner, a fanbase turns its lonely eyes to you….

Oh well, maybe Tyler Perry has some money he’s willing to invest. Plus, the Thrashers do have the highest percentage of minority players in the league, if I’m not mistaken….

Bill

February 17th, 2011
11:51 am

The games I’ve seen have been lame. Fake fights on the ice are no better than fake wrestling. When the refs don’t even bother you know it’s fake, oh yeah the advertising drops down to let you know there’s nothing really to watch on the ice. How about real skating and actual excitement then maybe the fans would be there.

Chaz

February 17th, 2011
11:53 am

Lower ticket prices. Who would consider paying $40 for an upper level seat? Are they insane? Clearly somebody needs to do a ticket revenue breakeven analysis to maximize the profits. A 1/3rd full stadium doesn’t help anything.

Mo Money

February 17th, 2011
11:53 am

Arthur Blank s the new owner wouldn’t exactly make me want to go out and buy season tickets, personally he just doesn’t look like a hockey man. But even if Blank isn’t a hockey kind of guy, I’d atleast figure he care about the team enough to keep them in Atlanta and not try and screw people over every way imaginable like ASG has done for the last 11 years.

Matt

February 17th, 2011
11:56 am

The Atlanta Thrashers had a team with Marc Savard, Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk…

They let Savard walk for nothing.

The next year proved that Kovalchuk desperately needed a center for his line…

ASG’s solution? Steve Rucchin.

da' boomer

February 17th, 2011
11:56 am

where’s david mcdavid when you need him? probably still counting the $$$$ he won from that drunken buffoon ted turner. anyone else curious that he chose to sell it to the asg group that just happened to include dim-witted son-in-law rutherford?

Ryno

February 17th, 2011
11:57 am

Could we just take the $150 million Bon Jovi wants to spend on the Falcons and get him to buy the Thrashers instead? Or could Mr. Blank reinvest the $150M when he gets it into buying a lightly used professional hockey team here in town? Could I still take a swing at the jerks in the ASG?

Alan R.

February 17th, 2011
11:57 am

Our owners have proven they’re shameless, so this doesn’t really bother them much.

Right now, I’d settle for anyone to own the team. Blank would be nice, because we know he wouldn’t screw around. He’d be able to attract additional investors, as opposed to the Seven Clowns running this show.

It’s not the market, people, it’s the morons running this team into the ground.

Gordon

February 17th, 2011
11:59 am

Keep the Thrashers in Atlanta. Winnipeg hockey fans want the Coyotes, because it would poetic justice to have that team return to it’s city of origin. It doesn’t appear that will happen, but there is a sense of morbid glee in watching the Phoenix Coyotes/City of Glendale/Matt Hulsizer situation sink to rock bottom. My hope is that if the Coyotes never return to Winnipeg, that they continue to languish in the desert and eventually the NHL will have to disband the franchise. That would prove what a genius Gary Bettman is.

GD

February 17th, 2011
11:59 am

I think we should enlist Charlie Sheen and Tom Berenger…it worked for the 1989 Cleveland Indians!

Yard

February 17th, 2011
12:01 pm

Pete, I respectfully disagree with you. The blame does not lie with city or the fans. There are more than enough fans to support this team, both native converts and transplants from traditional hockey markets. Jeff rightly places the blame squarely on ownership. They have systematically alienated scores of season ticket holders over the last few years. Who in their right mind would want to be business partners with the ASG? Their plea for investors will likely fail and selling the team will be the only alternative. Hopefully, the NHL can help, but it looks like their efforts in Phoenix have exhausted all resources.

Tosh.No

February 17th, 2011
12:04 pm

Yeah, when Heatley was sent out of town, I was still behind the team, but then when they got rid of Kovey, I was done watching that crap. My brother had tickets to a game this year that went un-used, because I refused to go watch them play and spend any money at the stadium, even if I had free tickets. Who do we have now? No one thats going to get us to the play offs. So there is no reason for me to go watch that crap. At least in the 80s when the braves were always finishing in last place, people grew up loving that sport so it was still fun to go to, but I grew up in GA and I have never once had to opportunity to play hockey, so I could care even less about it.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Keith Dowler, Lee Devereaux, Chris Telford, Jeff Schultz, Chad Recksiedler and others. Chad Recksiedler said: It’s shameful to blame fans if Thrashers move to Winnipeg | Jeff Schultz http://t.co/oqZiTUN [...]

Smoove Criminal

February 17th, 2011
12:06 pm

Where have you gone Ted Turner, a fanbase turns its lonely eyes to you….

Oh well, maybe Tyler Perry has some money he’s willing to invest. Plus, the Thrashers do have the highest percentage of minority players in the league, if I’m not mistaken….
——————————————————-
I actually heard at a Thrashers game ironically enough this season that they are 2nd behind the Chicago Blackhawks in terms of minority players.
That aside, I kinda in agreement with Ryno. Try and sway Jon Bon Jovi’s interest to the Thrashers or even get Blank as the owner.

Theron Sapp

February 17th, 2011
12:06 pm

“Disingenuous and shameful” is a pretty good summation of these guys’ tenure with the Thrashers.

I think PMC is wrong, though’ once the Thrashers are gone, another team isn’t going to “come along shortly.” I doubt we’ll see another NHL team for decades, if ever. Articles like Jeff’s, explaining the inept ownership, will be forgotten, and we’ll just hear “Atlanta never supported hockey.”

BLUELANDbeliever

February 17th, 2011
12:07 pm

A: Bill, ur a troll. GTFO!

B: Ryno, its not about the product, its about being a fan. If you love the team you will show reguardless of the product. Why do you think the Leafs still are a team even though they cant make the playoffs to save their lives? Because people care and ill be damned if my team gets packed up and shipped off to a city that doesnt deserve a team.

Matt from MN

February 17th, 2011
12:13 pm

Has there EVER been a NHL fan base that’s been lied to more, or screwed over more, than Thrasher fans?

Winnipeg fans- be careful what you wish for, because if this team moves with the same ownership group to your City, it will be more of the same.

Keep The Thrashers Fan Website

February 17th, 2011
12:14 pm

@ Jeff Schultz – Appreciate the encouragement – we will continue to fight the good fight. I hope fans realize odds are very good the ASG will be out even if the Thrashers stay in Atlanta – which means, as fans, our focus should be on Atlanta’s NHL franchise, not the current ownership group. If we give the NHL a reason to give Atlanta some time, they may do just that. However, if the remaining home games are poorly attended and Atlanta leaders do not step up and protect our economic asset, the team will move, jobs will be lost, and many fans will be heartbroken. We need to look at the long-term, and big picture, which is saving hockey in Atlanta. We just bought the new domain name (see above) – we should have it live sometime today.

Buckeye

February 17th, 2011
12:19 pm

Hey Schultz,

Unbelievable your guy just sweep the Vandy loss under the rug. Hype for days then the headline today gets pushed down to the curb.

DawgFan

February 17th, 2011
12:19 pm

It does all boil down to the ASG. For years they told the fans “Here’s a pile of crap, give us your money.” They’ve not tried to make a decent product, they’ve not tried to bring in the best players, and they care more about naming rights than fielding a winning team. Even as a fan of this team, there is only so much you can take. If you want to call that a fair weather fan, then go ahead. The ASG has abused their customers. If you keep doing that, then eventually your customers will leave.

R. Stroz

February 17th, 2011
12:22 pm

The ASG is CHEAP, CHEAP, CHEAP.

Gearon used a specious point in his interview with Kincade yesterday, a single season example, to show the ASG isn’t cheap, so here’s the whole truth, something an ASG owner wouldn’t understand. Gearon stated that the Hawks payroll THIS SEASON is one of the highest in the NBA. We’ll assume this a true statement being that they re-signed Joe Johnson, Al Horford, and Mike Bibby. HOWEVER, ONCE AGAIN, AN ASG OWNER FAILED TO TELL THE WHOLE TRUTH.

Over the last few NBA seasons, not including the present one, the Atlanta Hawks have been at or near the bottom of the NBA in payroll since the Spirit Clowns purchased the Hawks, Thrashers, and Philips Arena.

Notice in the list below that the Hawks payroll NEVER exceeds the 50th percentile of the 30 NBA teams. Only in the 2008-2009 season, when the Hawks brought in Mike Bibby at the trade deadline, did the Hawks payroll exceed the 30th percentile.

2005-06 $36,632,449 28th (29 teams)
2006-07 $47,812,036 25th (29 teams)
2007-08 $58,531,493 22nd (29 teams)
2008-09 $68,607,953 17th (30 teams)
2009-10 $70,198,210 23rd (30 teams)

So since the ASG took over the Hawks, the team payroll ranked 28th, 25th, 22nd, 17th, and 23rd relative to the other 30 NBA teams.

LOOKS CHEAP TO ME. LOOKS LIKE THE ASG CAN’T PLAY AT THE BIG BOYS TABLE.

NOTE TO MICHAEL GEARON, YOU SHOULD STUDY THE TERM SAMPLING ERROR. YOU CAN FIND THIS TERM IN ANY STATISTICS BOOK.

The Thrashers, other than 2005-2006 season, have had a team payroll that has ranked in the bottom 20th percentile every season. The Thrashers payroll, since the 2005-2006 season, has ranked 24th, 26th, 29th, 28th, and currently 29th relative to the other 30 NHL teams.

LOOKS CHEAP TO ME. LOOKS LIKE THE ASG CAN’T PLAY AT THE BIG BOYS TABLE.

Mr. Gearon, those are the real facts, all of them, not just a specious anomaly.

So, what is the problem all of a sudden? Gearon told you: the Hawks now have a real payroll THIS SEASON. Yes, the ASG boys blew all their money on their Johnson, or the Hawks, whichever you prefer. Now, they don’t have enough dough for the Thrashers.

Once again, Gearon stated the problem today, alluding to the difficulty of MAINTAINING A PAYROLL FOR TWO TEAMS. And once again we reach the real conclusion, the ASG NEVER WANTED TWO TEAMS JUST ONE.

The ASG doesn’t have enough dough to run two franchises, something they should have thought of when they bought them, something that’s obvious with a little payroll analysis: BIG OOPS!

So instead of the ASG being merely CHEAP, CHEAP, CHEAP…we should add POOR, POOR, POOR.

The only way the Thrashers remain in Atlanta is simple:

1) A local buyer purchases the team.

2) The new buyer rents Philips Arena from the Spirit Clowns for a couple of years until

3) A NEW ARENA is built on the north side of town, which Ted Turner stopped from happening back in the 1990s.

4) Because no one can deal with the Spirit Clowns

steeldawg

February 17th, 2011
12:22 pm

Jeff,
Thanks for being one of the local journalists that actually pays attention to the Thrashers. Alot of blame for hockey not growing falls on the TV media both national and local. In alot of major cities the sports stories isnt the last 30 seconds of the news telecast like Atlanta. You are lucky if they mention the Thrashers score. National media/ESPN would rather give you WNBA highlights beacuse they televise some of those unwatchable games. Hockey and Soccer is pushed out of Sportcenter almost all together. Those are two sports that are a thousand percent better in person than on television so they get put on the back burner. Thanks again and I hope you are still talking about the Thrashers for years to come. JUST UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT. GOOD THING THEY INVESTED IN JOE JOHNSON TO STAY IN ATLANTA, BUT WILL LET A WHOLE HOCKEY FRANCHISE LEAVE!!!! Where is Bruce Levenson when you need him?. I always knew he was the one with any sense.

Paul in RDU

February 17th, 2011
12:27 pm

This is a shame what is happening to the hockey fans in Atlanta. It just shows the importance of having a reliable owner. We have a small ownership issue with the Hurricanes up here in the Triangle (Karmanos is an absentee owner looking for local investors) but the committment of the owner (singular – not plural like the ASG) has been to the franchise and to the fans and there is going to be a successful resolution.

Joe Friday

February 17th, 2011
12:28 pm

Schultz, can you try to get a response from Bettman or Daly about Gearon’s threat yesterday to move the club? Where are they? Their silence is deafening, try to get them on the record about keeping the Thrashers here . . .

Feel free to copy and paste this text and send it to the Mayor, Governor, and tailor it for the NHL front office:

email to: mayorreed@atlantaga.gov
fill out form for Gov: http://gov.georgia.gov/00/gov/contact_us/0,2657,165937316_166563415,00.html#
fill out form for NHL: http://www.nhl.com/ice/feedback.htm

Dear Mr. Mayor,

You are probably hearing from fans and media about the problems with the Atlanta Thrashers. The ownership group in control
knows little about hockey and has been losing money, and has mismanaged the team.

This has caused low attendance due to fans being turned off by the ownership group, a group who met with the fans and told
them to “deal with it!” if they didn’t like how the team was being run. Imagine if you said that during your campaign, the voters
would deal with it, by NOT voting for you. Fans have voted NO against the Thrashers’ owners by staying away.

But there’s fans in this town and I’m afraid that if you and other local politicians don’t use your bully pulpit to try to save the team,
that we’ll lose them. You may not be a hockey fan, and you may not care about them, but I’m sure they provide a good tax revenue
base for the city, and it will be lost if these current owners don’t find a new local buyer to buy the team.

Please look into this, I’m free to speak with you or your staff to answer questions, but please step in.

Sincerely,

Joe Friday

Sage of Bluesland

February 17th, 2011
12:28 pm

Outstanding article, Jeff–you hit all the necessary points.

This abomination of an organization has been a shame from day-one….from Kasten, the little dictator, getting another entity to be “President” of…to the selection of Don Waddell as GM…to uncaring ownership (among different entities)…Day-one, the causes for chaos have been present.

It’s such a shame. It’s such an insult to intelligence. I’m so fed up with everything they have shoveled for so long.

Ted Striker

February 17th, 2011
12:31 pm

No way anyone could ever blame the fans for any of this. Thrasher fans are awesome. Haven’t suffered like Cubs fans but they’ve had plenty of misery crammed into their compact existence.

That said, Strike ain’t gonna say AS committed fraud. AS is only guilty of investing the money, taking the risk. And having a fractured ownership base by committee.

Ownership by committee only works for the Packers and my harem (as far as they know).

Pazzo

February 17th, 2011
12:32 pm

Unfortunately, creative marketing does have a place in the success of franchise. Team ownership has failed to build an attractive aura around the Hawks and Thrashers. Compare it to “Braves country” and “Rise Up!”. I need a bit more than an announcer screaming “Evander Kane” no matter how cool it sounds. Maybe David McDavid will consider buying them again.

tonyb

February 17th, 2011
12:34 pm

This does look bleak. Why would Bettman roll over on this? He has said time and time again he would help to prevent franchise relocation. Why would he not help Atlanta?

Sunshine36616

February 17th, 2011
12:39 pm

Thanks for this. It’s nice to see the fans get mentioned in a possitive light for a change.

Hillbilly Deluxe

February 17th, 2011
12:40 pm

After being dumped on for most of 11 years since 1999, are Thrashers fans supposed to run through walls for a few good months? Scars take longer to heal.

The fans supported this team a whole lot better than the Atlanta Spirit clowns ever did. Things are looking just about like they did when the Flames left. Is there some way the NHL could take the team over like they did in Phoenix?

[...] I will let our folks who get paid for their opinion – Jeff Schultz, Mark Bradley and even Rawhide (hey, wait do we pay him?) – weigh in on who is at fault for [...]

Jack P

February 17th, 2011
12:48 pm

Bye! Bye! Don’t let the door hit you in the arse as you leave.

Sage of Bluesland

February 17th, 2011
12:48 pm

“…Gearon, Bruce Levenson, et. all — they’ve been planning for this. Several months ago, they quietly renegotiated the $10 million annual Philips Arena naming rights deal. Now if the Thrashers leave, it won’t null and void the entire contract, but merely decrease it. Funny, they never announced that….”

This speaks extreme volumes.

This has been a fraud, nearly from day-one.

It’s past time to end the incompetence.

Hip Czech

February 17th, 2011
12:49 pm

Can we sue the ASG?

BG33Brown

February 17th, 2011
12:50 pm

Keep the Thrashers-keep up the good work. We need to find one place to put all of our efforts. Well done sir.

Najeh Davenpoop

February 17th, 2011
12:51 pm

“Atlanta gets knocked for being “a bad sports town.” Fact is, Atlanta sports fans are smart and discerning consumers because they mandate a reason to spend their money. ”

Exactly.

I don’t know anything about hockey, but please cut and paste this sentence any time someone knocks Atlanta sports fans for not showing out to see the area’s other sports teams.