Hello/goodbye? Byfuglien stays, but the Thrashers could leave

That wouldn't be a wave of farewell, would it? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

You make the call: A salute to fans or a gesture of farewell? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

On Tuesday we witnessed that rarity: A big-time hockey player who actually wants to stay a Thrasher. Unlike Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk, Dustin Byfuglien was willing to re-up with the local hockey club. But now we ask: How much longer will the local hockey club be local?

The Thrashers’ corporate brother is having a a lousy year at the box office: The Hawks are 24th among 30 NBA teams in average attendance, down nearly 2,000 paying customers a game over last season. And still that beats the Thrashers, who until lately were positioned to make the playoffs for only the second time in their existence; they’re 28th in the 30-team NHL in attendance.

As if on cue, co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. told esteemed colleague Chris Vivlamore on Tuesday night that the Thrashers could indeed sold and moved if the Spirit doesn’t find additional investors/cash soon. “A sense of urgency,” was Gearon’s phrase, and when you hear that from ownership … well, that’s pretty close to “see you later,” is it not?

And there you had it, just another addled day in the life of the Spirit: Hours after Byfuglien re-signs for $26 million over five seasons, Gearon says his group needs money in the worst way. And we imagine, not for the first time, just how it must feel to be a Thrashers fan. The team finally upgrades at general manager and coach and finds a star willing to stick around, and then, from Gearon …

“The reality is we need fans showing up and we need investors, or a primary investor.”

The wonder isn’t that this club draws so few fans but that it still has so many. The wonder is that 13,056 folks (on average) keep supporting this forlorn franchise. Bless their soon-to-be-broken hearts.

By Mark Bradley

136 comments Add your comment

Hillbilly Deluxe

February 16th, 2011
11:04 am

Is there anymore pitiful ownership anwhere in professional sports? It’s a shame.

Hillbilly Deluxe

February 16th, 2011
11:05 am

BG33Brown

February 16th, 2011
11:05 am

Man, it is frusterating to be a fan of this team. In fact its almost impossible to deal with the owners incompetence.

BG33Brown

February 16th, 2011
11:07 am

AND TO ALL THE HATERS OF HOCKEY AND THE THRASHERS. This isn’t a competition of UGA vs Auburn or Tech vs UGA. If you don’t like hockey-fine. I’d assume you haven’t been to a game BUT having a hockey team is important to Atlantans. Support this team and support your city.

Mark Bradley

February 16th, 2011
11:09 am

I hear you, BG33.

sugarpikegang

February 16th, 2011
11:11 am

gcs

February 16th, 2011
11:12 am

If the Thrashers leave town, the owners better leave too.
I am going to have to get my pitchfork and torch out of storage

.

polskidawg

February 16th, 2011
11:16 am

Completely and shamefully the biggest group of incompetent, disingenuous, lying b*stards in the history of Atlanta sports ownership. That’s saying something in a city that has previous seen the Smith family as owners.

DMR

February 16th, 2011
11:17 am

Michael Gearon is begging for a life raft. This is the same man who scolded fans just a while back, when complaints arose about how the Hawks were being run, and to that his response was…”Fans don’t understand!”

Seven owners…seven egos…and not one of them gave a damn about this franchise in their initial purchase. Now they are begging someone to hop on board and save them. Gearon is babbling…”Support this team…support this franchise!”

Fans are CONSUMERS. Give a consumer a good product at a fair price and you will be rewarded for doing so. Ownership has provided a lot of empty promises, high cost, and low quality. That is the recipe for disaster in any business.

I wish the SPIRIT luck selling the team. Truth is, until they are out of the sports business, I personally won’t give them a dime of my hard earned money.

Fish Bisch

February 16th, 2011
11:18 am

I would support them but I live too far away to attend games frequently.

Rogie

February 16th, 2011
11:19 am

The best set of owners are single-party with local roots. This group is absolutely none of the above. The majority of the group cares about basketball with a minority having an interest in hockey. I would imagine that the group would have grown to love hockey if they had been successful in the first years of their ownership. But no, with too many cooks (rather egos), the group splintered and their money became tied up in legal proceedings, allowing the Thrashers to wither away in product in their interest. Now, they have another law suit to recoup “damages” against their own law firm that includes a complaint complete with court required honesty — they fully intended to sell the hockey team despite telling the fans otherwise. Now, they beg the fans to show up to help “save” hockey in Atlanta as if the fans have ever been part of the problem. Seems like they are laying the groundwork to show that hockey “can’t survive in Atlanta.” — as if it’s the fans that are the problem, laying no blame to their dysfunctional selves. What chutzpa….

The best thing that could happen is a someone (or at best two) with local roots rescues this team. It can survive and can thrive with the right care and passion.

Paul H

February 16th, 2011
11:28 am

12th. Dannng it.

Bluelander

February 16th, 2011
11:28 am

Classic…blame the fans for your own incompetence. They never wanted any part of the hockey team and it showed, didn’t it. Sad because with the right set up there would be enough support in this town for hockey. They leave and I predict all the leagues around town will die off as well. Happened when the Flames left town also. But for the NBA’s TV deal and other sources of revenue the Hawks would be in big time trouble as well. That arena is just as empty for their games this year and the fanbase is even more apathetic.

ylojkt

February 16th, 2011
11:32 am

I truly love the Thrashers and hope they stay here forever. That being said, this economy is bad and it’s hard for people to go to games. I have now been without full-time work for almost two years, and have not been able to attend a game in person this year. In previous years, I have attended at least 10 games a season and wish I could do so now, but reality is that I just can’t afford it. My kids love to go, my daughter who is six still remembers the father daughter nights that we took to the Thrashers two years ago, often telling me while we watch on TV about the hot dog and ice cream I bought her and the big bird (Thrash) who she got to hug. My screensaver is me and my oldest son sitting on the glass behind the Thrashers bench.
What does all this mean? I guess it just means that I hope we can all pull through this tough economy and come out on the other side together again. I can’t stand that the ownership is so foolish, but I also can’t stand the thought of not being able to attend any more NHL games in Atlanta.

Matt

February 16th, 2011
11:35 am

They can’t get rid of the Hawks, that would be considered racist.

JeJe

February 16th, 2011
11:36 am

S'paw_99

February 16th, 2011
11:37 am

I’m a native Atlantan, that actually likes Hockey, but I’ll admit I haven’t gotten back into it since the lockout. And I truly believe that the Thrashers owners just DON’T want to Win. They only care about the freakin bottom line.

I truly believe that Hockey can succeed in Atlanta, this is on the owners & Management. U have to field a decent product in order to get fan support, 1 playoff berth in 10 yrs does not CUT It.

The Real Thrash

February 16th, 2011
11:38 am

Are the owners lips moving?Then we know what goes.
They’ve been trying to sell the team for years and now they blame the fans for their
bad management.

WHO CARES

February 16th, 2011
11:40 am

Move the Thrashers to Canada and take the Hawks too.

steve brown

February 16th, 2011
11:40 am

Boycott until death do us part. The owners & management have achieved nothing to earn a single fan’s support.

[...] AJC sports blogger Mark Bradley just filed his reaction to the [...]

Paging Arthur

February 16th, 2011
11:41 am

How about it Mr. Blank?… I know you have bigger issues at hand (namely an outdoor stadium), but if you want to be an even BIGGER hero in this town, how about using your spare change to help us Thrashers fans out… Don’t let these birds fly the coop.

Remarkable

February 16th, 2011
11:54 am

You’re in Georgia! We don’t play hockey here. There are no ice skating rinks in the burbs for hockey. We see hockey on TV. You play a whole game and the score is 3-1. You wait for the fight to break out and that’s the entertainment. There’s no base hits or home runs, no dunks or 3 pointers, no touchdown runs or 40 yard field goals. If it’s not being supported it because 1.) It’s a bad product (Win and we get on the band wagon.), 2.) The area doesn’t care enough (Meaning not enough yankees have move here yet.), or 3.) the cost is to high.
We don’t support MLS either. If they can’t make a go of it. I’ve got other things I want to see more. The Falcons, Hawks, Braves and UGA (Football, basketball,..) come a lot higher on my list. I’d rather go see the UGA Hockey team play than the Thrashers and I bet most reading this didn’t even know that UGA and GT played hockey.

Hockey Fan

February 16th, 2011
11:54 am

Take “Who Cares” and all of the other morons who think that a major metropolitan city needs only one sport-football and move them to Canada. It is so embarassing to live in a city with these kind of idiots.

AtlFlamesFan

February 16th, 2011
11:55 am

Wow! Finally some truth from this group of perennial lying bastards.

Our only hope has never been with them, but instead, Gary Bettmen. Hopefully he will resist their overtures to move the team and make them go financially belly-up. Then once they are into bankruptcy the NHL can rescue us like it did in Phoenix.

ASG makes me sick.

AtlFlamesFan

February 16th, 2011
11:57 am

Wow! Finally some truth from this group of perennial lying b*stards.

Our only hope has never been with them, but instead, Gary Bettmen. Hopefully he will resist their overtures to move the team and make them go financially belly-up. Then once they are into bankruptcy the NHL can rescue us like it did in Phoenix.

ASG makes me sick.

Phil Esposito

February 16th, 2011
11:57 am

Your ‘Primary Investor’ lives in Quebec where they are building a new arena looking for a team! Brush up on your francais!! Didn’t the Knights make the same move to the same place? Hey Spirit of Losing…. WINNING is important if you want to make money!!!

The OMNI

February 16th, 2011
11:58 am

The Atlanta Flames were a much better product.

Thrashers Fan

February 16th, 2011
11:58 am

We don’t play hockey in Georgia—please stop the redneck madness! Not enough yankees. Are you kidding me? Have you ever noticed how many yankees show up at Thrashers game wearing their home team jersey. If we had commited ownership and a winning product, those same fans would be attending the games wearing Thrashers jerseys.

elroy

February 16th, 2011
11:59 am

keep the thrashers & get rid of the ajc columnists.

Chris

February 16th, 2011
12:00 pm

The fact is it is a vicious cycle. Atlanta is not a hockey town. So in order to get butts in the seats the team will have win on a consistent basis. To do that they will have to spend more money to bring better players here. To do that they have to find more investors. Investors won’t touch a product that isn’t profitable. Thus the cycle starts again.

I actually don’t like hockey (yes I’ve been to several Thrashers games to see it live and it still does nothign for me) so this doesn’t really affect me. However, I do feel for those who do care about the Thrashers and want them to succeed here in Atlanta. It’s tough when ownership doesn’t care as much as the fans. Just look at Arthur Blank and the Falcons. You have an owner that cares who wants to put the best product on the field. He surrounds himself with others who care just as much. Thus the results have been great the last few years. I don’t see The Thrashers, or Hawks for that matter, ever becoming that type of franchise as long as they are ownde by the Spirit.

Section 119

February 16th, 2011
12:02 pm

There are only so many failed “5 year plans”, missed playoffs, bad trades, and departure of stars (e.g., Hossa, Kovy) a fan can tolerate. And then you throw the miserable ASG saga on top of that. The on-ice product appears to finally be headed in the right direction, and the Buff signing is big, but the ASG has run the Thrashers like they are the KC Royals or Pitt Pirates of hockey. And people wonder why attendance is bad? You’re right, it IS incredible that attendance is still over 10,000 a game.

Thrasherfan93

February 16th, 2011
12:02 pm

Remarkable… do some research… Atlanta has the second largest member ran adult amateur ice hockey league, the AAHL. Second only to Boston. There are 4 rinks in the burbs: Marietta, Alpharetta, Duluth and Cumming. The Cumming one opened just this year, and the junior teams, made up of kids born and raised here, are winning Canadian tournaments. UGA and GT play club hockey… which is the equivalent of watching a travelling flag football team. Do me a favor, don’t act knowledgeable about something you picked up in a 5 second blurb.

5150 UOAD

February 16th, 2011
12:03 pm

And 500 people care. Leave! Please leave. OK really maybe 5000 people really care about the Trashers.

Boom Boom

February 16th, 2011
12:04 pm

The Spirit are a bunch of greedy crooks.

Joe Friday

February 16th, 2011
12:05 pm

There must be a deal already in place to move them at the end of this year and this is Gearon saying “last chance before they’re going, going gone . . .” Gearon’s comment of not willing to stomach another $20m loss, means just that, they’re losing $20m per year and they must have an offer on the table to move the team to another city at the end of this year.

Just. Damn.

MaxKare

February 16th, 2011
12:07 pm

Hockey Fan: As they say: Delta is Ready When You Are. Would you spend money to go to a crappy movie, or a concert where the singer couldn’t carry a tune? To financially support a bad team, tells the owners that they do not need to put a good product together. Let the Thrashers move and good riddance. The popularity of pro hockey is just above pro soccer. They should get down to about 6 to 8 teams. Atlanta is first and foremost a college football town, then pro football, then baseball. Deal with it!

5150 UOAD

February 16th, 2011
12:08 pm

Thrasherfan93
Then if there is all the Lil League Hockey why don’t the Thrashers sell out every night? When I was a kid my dad and his buddies had 4 tickets to the FLAMES and I loved going. I couldn’t care a thing about hocky now. I loved basketball when I was young and I played, but now? I only watch SOME college basketball. The NBA is a joke. Baseball season is too damn long and the MLB puts out too much product. The NFL is going to screw-up a good thing by playing more game too.
Hockey and basketball can go away in Atlanta and NOBODY would really care.

Mike Jay

February 16th, 2011
12:09 pm

Let’s see. Can’t keep the ’stars’ that a mediocre hockey town needs to put butts in seats, have shown no commitment to building a winner or even really putting a compelling product on display, expensive tickets, lot’s of other interesting things to do, backhanded comment blaming fans for having to sell the team, lying for 5 years about trying to sell the team, plus bad economy = nobody goes to games.

Wow. Is anyone really surprised at how this is shaking out? Shame on the NHL for lettting this deal go down in the first place, ditto the NBA. Both should have seen this disastour coming a mile away but both were blinded by short term gains.

TheAntiMe

February 16th, 2011
12:14 pm

If these ASG clowns don’t give a puck about their own hockey team why would the expect that anyone else would? There were plenty of fans supporting the Thrashers before these liars kidnapped the franchise. All ASG members should be put on trial for the attempted murder of our NHL franchise.

Matt

February 16th, 2011
12:14 pm

So little league hockey is popular so what?? Most of those kids will play other sports by the time they get to high school. Traveling flag football teams? Wahoo. Soccer is pretty popular around the burbs too with Sunday soccer leagues, doesn’t mean a pro soccer team here wouldn’t flop just as much as the Thrashers.

Just because you enjoy hockey doesn’t mean the vast majority of adults are willing to fight Atlanta traffic to support it.

Tim

February 16th, 2011
12:16 pm

If the owners don’t put any money into the team they’ll get none back from the fan. The Buff extension was the first time that a star ever wanted to stay in Atlanta.

I really hope someone comes and buys this team. Hockey can be successful in Atlanta, we just need a good team to watch

Yurtle_the_turtle

February 16th, 2011
12:16 pm

I love hockey but cannot afford tickets. Heck, I’m working two jobs just to keep afloat and so can’t justify spending $50 a piece for tickets when we’re living month to month. That being said, it would be extremely disappointing to lose this team. The Spirit Group has been a incompetent group of idiots since the first day they owned these franchises. Hard to believe that any of these guys were smart enough to have the coin to buy the Hawks/Thrashers. I have an MBA and think I’m more capable of running these two franchises than these guys. There is a successful business model that works for this city. The Spirit Group isn’t smart enough to figure it out.

Mike Jay

February 16th, 2011
12:16 pm

Yea, youth and rec league popularity does not trranslate to professional franchise popularity. If that were true MLS would be bigger then the NFL.

Matt

February 16th, 2011
12:17 pm

Only reason the Hawks are still here is because Atlanta is the hip-hop capital. Make no mistake, people go to a Hawks game to see Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Lebron and others come to town.

da' boomer

February 16th, 2011
12:19 pm

As hardcore ex-Flames and Thrashers fan I really hate these ASG guys..I hope there is a special place in hell for all of these lying b—–ds. Maybe they can save a seat for Tom Cousins and that drunken buffoon Ted Turner who sold them to these gaggle of retards that just happened to his half-witted son-in-law…anyone else find that fishy????

[...] is seriously tough being a Thrashers fan. I mean, here we are celebrating the great news that Dustin Byfuglien has just signed a contract extension to remain with the team for five additional years and then…this [...]

The Joker

February 16th, 2011
12:22 pm

I will admit that I don’t attend the Thrashers games like I should,but it isn’t becase I don’t care for them, its because I refuse to pay outrageous ticket prices to support an ASG owned team. Had went to a game a few years ago and had a great time; frankly, I like the Thrashers and Hawks and would support them every change I get, but in reality, as long as ASG owns this team, it will continue to cause individuals who really want to attend games to bypass them because it would only put money in ASG’s pockets and in return we will only receive mediocre talent or lack of heart(in the Hawks case)….

Atlanta Fanatic

February 16th, 2011
12:23 pm

We were so close, so close to becoming a contender. I really believe that. There are fans in this town who were ready, given a two or three years of patience, we might have done something. Another tragedy in Atlanta Sports and another broken heart for me.

Chris

February 16th, 2011
12:27 pm

Two or three years of patience? It’s been 11 years dude. In that time even the Red Sox were able to break their curse to win two championships.