According to esteemed colleague Tim Tucker, the Atlanta Spirit — corporate motto: Everything Must Go! — has entered into an exclusive negotiating agreement with outgoing San Diego Padres owners John Moores to buy the Hawks and Philips Arena. This is major news. But here we offer a couple of caveats:
• Exclusive negotiating agreements aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, especially when it concerns the Hawks, the Thrashers and Philips Arena. the Texas car dealer David McDavid had one of those with Time Warner in April 2003, and you see what it got him. (Actually, it got him $281 million from Time Warner after the conglomerate sold the teams and the building to the Spirit instead.)
• That the Spirit has entered into a negotiating agreement with someone who would agree to keep the Hawks in Atlanta — and it’d be pretty hard to uproot Philips Arena and move it to Manitoba — shouldn’t be taken as a sign that the Thrashers’ apparently imminent departure is any less imminent. On the contrary.
The Spirit has now taken the corporate step of separating its teams. So far as we know, there’s no exclusive negotiating agreement in place for anyone regarding the Thrashers. The issue of Atlanta’s hockey club remains as it was 24 hours ago: With no credible buyer willing to take the team and keep it here, the Spirit has begun discussions with True North Sports and Entertainment, which has an arena sitting open in Winnipeg.
The Hawks, as Tucker notes, were never going anywhere: The bonds floated when the arena was being built maintain that the Hawks have to play their home games in Philips until the bonds are paid off — in 2028. There’s no such legal constraint holding the Thrashers here.
Regarding this complicated tale — by now, we should know that anything involving the Spirit will have permutations by the boatload — here’s where we are: The Hawks are staying, though possibly under different ownership, while the Thrashers inch ever closer toward the door.
By Mark Bradley