Amid Thrashers talk, we ask: Is Atlanta a lousy sports city?

Corporate synergy: Basketball mascot dances at hockey rally! (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Corporate synergy: Basketball mascot dances at hockey rally! (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Should the Thrashers leave for Manitoba, ours would become the first American city to lose two NHL franchises. Word of the pending sale has  spawned yet another round of Atlanta-is-a-lousy-sports-town boilerplate harrumphing, and again I pause to ask: Are we a lousy sports town?

The Thrashers were 28th among 30 NHL teams in attendance last season. The Hawks were 22nd among 30 NBA clubs. The 2010 Braves made the playoffs for the first time since 2005, and their attendance ticked upward from 15th to 13th among the 30 baseball teams. (The average Turner Field crowd grew by 1,685 year over year.)

Of note: The 2010 Falcons, who had the NFL’s second-best record, were 15th among 32 teams in attendance and 19th in capacity at 95.3 per cent. But the Falcons’ average gate was 67,850. Put it this way: Over their last full seasons, the average Braves, Hawks and Thrashers crowds together still fell 6,000 below the Falcons’ yield.

That’s instructive. Since 2004, Hawks and Thrashers fans have faced a shared dilemma: Do I buy tickets and support the team even if it means endorsing the maladroit Atlanta Spirit? Since 2007, the Braves have been owned by faceless Liberty Media of faraway Colorado. (Last week Liberty Media offered $1 billion to buy Barnes & Noble; the Braves’ payroll remains under $90 million.)

My point: The only local pro sports owner who inspires any confidence is Arthur Blank. We’re more inclined to support the Falcons because we believe they’re well run. About the other teams, it can be tough to know. Example: Frank Wren signed Derek Lowe to a four-year contract paying $60 million in January 2009 and was trying to dump him 10 months later. Another: The Hawks paid $120 million to keep Joe Johnson in the same summer they promoted Larry Drew to head coach at a cut-rate price.

My question: If we have qualms about a team’s management, are we wrong for keeping our money in our wallets? Isn’t that essentially what Americans do every election — vote our pocketbooks?

Addressing Thrashers fans, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said on a radio show Thursday: “I understand that there may be dissatisfaction [with ownership] there, but demonstrating your dissatisfaction by not going to games is an interesting strategy. It’s your absolute right. But if it becomes a turnoff for anybody who might want to buy the franchise, the long-term consequences could be severe.”

So Bettman’s recommendation would be to spend money on a bad product just so somebody else might come along and snap it up? In what solar system is he living?

News flash: Money’s tighter than it was in 2005, or in 2000, or in 1995. For a family of four, a game at Philips Arena can run more than $200. (A trip to Turner Field can be done for less.) At a time of lower income and higher prices, the issue becomes: Do we need to go watch this team play in person? For many Atlantans, the teams that meet that criterion tend to be based on college campuses.

Whenever I’m hit with the Atlanta-is-a-lousy-sports-town line, that’s my rebuttal: We might not be the best pro sports city, but we’re the absolute best for college football. All you need do is drive around the Perimeter on an autumn Saturday morning and you’ll see the festooned cars bearing Fulton and DeKalb and Cobb and Gwinnett plates headed for Athens and Auburn and Knoxville and Tuscaloosa and Clemson and Columbia and Tallahassee and Gainesville. (And yes, for North Avenue, too.)

If you consider college football, is Atlanta a bad sports city?

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In our love for college football, we’re different from Boston or Philadelphia or New York or Miami or L.A. (Among big cities, Dallas would be the closest to us, but it’s not really close.) Our sporting priorities are those autumn Saturdays. As Gary Stokan, the president of the Chick-fil-A Bowl, says: “Our two biggest pro teams are Georgia and Georgia Tech.”

Last year I asked Michael Adams, Georgia’s president, how Sanford Stadium kept playing to capacity crowds in an uncertain economy. “For our folks,” he said, “[football tickets] are second to the mortgage.”

It would be nice if a pro team grabbed us by the lapels and made us care — the Braves did it in 1991, and the Falcons did it with Michael Vick — but that’s the job of the team. It’s not on us.

That more folks haven’t turned up to see the Thrashers lose doesn’t make us lousy civic stewards. Gary Bettman might not be happy with us, but he has to admit we’re savvy shoppers.

By Mark Bradley

353 comments Add your comment

[...] Journal Constitution:  Is Atlanta a lousy sports city?  Having never been I cannot say.  What do readers think of Atlanta as a sports [...]


May 22nd, 2011
12:05 pm

Bettman is living in a world where he makes a ton of money, so _he_ never has bad seats, and Maple Leafs fans show up for every game no matter how bad the team is because there are no useful alternatives.

Does it make them better fans? Yes. Does it make them smart consumers and businessmen? Not even close. Unfortunately, Atlanta is a business-oriented city, so we have smart consumers and businessmen, not fans.

Sage of Bluesland

May 22nd, 2011
12:09 pm

…It’s nice to see Mark Bradley match his total coverage of the Thrashers of the past decade with the past week (about two articles). At least, as opposed to his previous “contributions”, he isn’t sucking up to Don Waddell with these past two articles….

It’s a shame the media coverage is so lacking, as well, in this city. I look no further than the esteemed Bradley and his ramblings on that score…

Najeh Davenpoop

May 22nd, 2011
12:10 pm

Do you get paid extra every time you have a colon in the headline? Just wondering.

jd elomo

May 22nd, 2011
12:11 pm

first and falcons and braves are the best!!!!!!!!!


May 22nd, 2011
12:11 pm

No, it is a fine sports city.

Braves set the NL all-time mark for attendance in 1992-3, drew 3M years efore the Yankees, have averaged over 2.5M over the past 10 years despite average teams and a poor economy, and local tv and radio ratings are typically among the highest in MLB.

Falcons, despite their history, gain strong and vocal support when competitive and have TV local TV ratings comparable to NY, Miami, SF, and other non-rust belst cities.

Probably not the best NBA town, yet, but just signing a star center could change that.

Super Bowls, World Series, Final Fours, All Star Games, PGA, and BIG TIME College Football.

Atlanta is a superior sports city with a lot of history – it is a shame the AJC takes shots when the Braves do not sell out a Sunday night or Tuesday afternoon playoff game. Many cities’ papers sports writers actually encourage and promote their fan bases.

Najeh Davenpoop

May 22nd, 2011
12:12 pm

No, Atlanta is not a bad pro sports city. If the teams here had the level of sustained success and the number of superstars that supposedly “better” sports cities do, the teams here would have just as big of a following. Give us a good product and we will come.

Greene Hornet

May 22nd, 2011
12:14 pm

I agree. Just because we like college football and other fans around the country argue we aren’t good fans in baseball, nfl football, etc is stupid. We can point to the northeast and other northern cities who have half full small football stadiums on a Saturday and say the same thing, but we dont. We don’t care about what they do, but for some reason folks point fingers at the south. We are good fans and passionate fans in all sports. If we don’t fill Turner Field or the Dome every game, oh well. It doesn’t mean we don’t support our teams. They probably make more money off of me in shopping trip to the mall when I buy sports gear than any fan going to a game. When I lived in SW Georgia and Oregon, I couldn’t go to games because I was so far away- does that make me a bad fan? No. You can’t base a fan base attendance alone.

I’m tired of hearing this arguement. We are about lose the Thrashers, but I recall a few northern and Canadian teams losing teams ten years or more ago too. Sometimes cities don’t lose teams because of the fan base, it’s because of other things like lousy corporate ownership.

william cranman

May 22nd, 2011
12:16 pm

Great column Mark. Well said.


May 22nd, 2011
12:17 pm

have I been banned? Oh well.


May 22nd, 2011
12:18 pm

I wholeheartedly agree that better ownership would result in greater attendance for the Braves, Hawks and Thrashers. My dad cancelled his Thrashers season tickets after 8 years because he simply would no longer financially support ASG. And this is a man who has had Falcons season tickets since Day 1, 1966 (and Tech football tix since 1980), so he gives a looooot of leeway when it comes to his sports teams. I really wish Tom Glavine could’ve found a way to purchase the Thrashers. He’s the type of face, and has the winning attitude, that this team needs and which this town will support.

The Hawks, well…no thanks.

Atlanta loves the Braves, but I eagerly await the day Liberty Media sells the team to a passionate owner who care about winning, providing an excellent experience for the fans and creating a positive atmosphere for the Atlanta community to get excited about. Adding a little bit to the payroll, and at least attempting to go after the big-name stars (like AGon and Crawford this year and Tex a couple seasons back) would help this team exponentially.

[...] Story brought to you by Atlanta GA Sports – Bing News [...]

Todd Galucki

May 22nd, 2011
12:26 pm

As a diehard hockey and Thrasher fan, and as a season ticket holder, I would love to be absolved of any guilt on this. And Don Waddell/ASG certainly didn’t help their causes. But the reality is, passionate sports towns do not allow this to happen. Northern cities (I’m from Buffalo) have the distinct ability to hold their teams accountable from top to bottom. And the local sports media plays a huge role in this. I’ve never felt Atlanta fans and media are good at holding people accountable. We’re way too soft. There’s absolutely no way a guy like Don Waddell keeps his job longer than 5 years in a city with accountability, and certainly no way he gets promoted to Team President.


May 22nd, 2011
12:29 pm

mark, one championship since 1966 among 4 major league sports franchises says it all. it is not the fan that wins championships but players and owners. fandom does tend to get stronger and weaker according to the ability of the team to compete no matter where you are. even the chi town black hawks had a down time until they won again as did the bulls during their twin towers era. the new jersey hockey franchise is similarly under supported even though it is in one of the greatest populated areas of the world. not sure why the fans, some of who just got here from another city, should have to be responsible for the mediocrity of the product.


May 22nd, 2011
12:31 pm

I will talk for myself. I am a HUGE Falcons, Thrashers, and Braves fan. However, I cannot afford to have season tickets for all three. So I have season tickets for the Falcons win or lose, I buy tickets for about 10 Thrashers games win or lose, and go to a couple Braves games a year. Purchasing a pair of season tickets for all three would put me over $10,000 easily with 44 homes games of the Thrashers and 90 Braves home games when the best seat is on my couch. Does that make me a bad fan? Then I guess I am. I still love my teams.

Mega Man 2

May 22nd, 2011
12:32 pm

The thing that erks me about Atlanta sports, is the transient nature of fans from all over the place who obviously feel like Atlanta is a better place to live, with better opportunities than wherever they are from, but constantly talk down on us like we are a pathetic place and existence.

I don’t thin you should be allowed to talk bad about a sports team or their fan base as long as you are choosing to live amongst them.

Puck Like A Porn Star

May 22nd, 2011
12:33 pm

Spot on, Bradley. Fan support is earned, and 1 title in 40+ years, amid cartoonish failures along the way, is hardly enough.

Sports owners are only entitled to the opportunity to win my hard-earned dollar, and if they blow it, it’s their fault and their loss.

For the record, college sports will always be second place to pro sports in my household. I like watching sports in a city instead of flocking to small provincial towns. Pro sports owners in this town should realize that there are many fans like me that are a huge untapped market. Give us something to believe in, because to us college sports = minor league.


May 22nd, 2011
12:36 pm

1 Championship in over 40 years of professional sports in Atlanta…

I believe the more telling and appropriate question should be:

Why have Atlanta sports teams historically had such lousy management?

Mark Bradley

May 22nd, 2011
12:41 pm

I imagine he’d want you to pay for the gas, Mat”T”.


May 22nd, 2011
12:43 pm

Mark, Can you ask Clark Howard if he can drive me to Nashville in his Hybrid to a Predators game next season?


May 22nd, 2011
12:44 pm

I’m the type of fan that is for my team no matter what–win or lose I’ll be there, and I have been there for the Thrashers all this time. Sadly it’s the (awful, selfish, hockey-ignorant) rich men who make the decisions in pro sports and we got the worst of them, and no one can force them to do what they don’t want to do. We can express our displeasure and disappointment with words, but the owners just feel justified for not investing more in the team when fans don’t show up. They don’t care about the fans, what we think, or how we feel. They care about the profits. No profits=no team.


May 22nd, 2011
12:45 pm

Todd Galucki-Great Point!


May 22nd, 2011
12:46 pm

As far as NBA goes, Atlanta always get a top 8 tv raiting on the national broadcast. Does that mean we aren’t NBA fans for Hawks fans


May 22nd, 2011
12:49 pm


May 22nd, 2011
12:50 pm

Bad Sports City? Because of the Worst Ownership in the Country? You have got to be kidding me. The Spirit are a Joke and should be Tared and Feathered.


May 22nd, 2011
12:50 pm

Mark…………..No, any thoughtful person will close their walet to a mismanaged team. But we are fans. We will gladly spend our $ on a team that is well run and the players make an honest effort. The ASG has not fooled the buying public as both you and Jeff have pointed out over the last couple years. Being “slick’ may work with 8 yr olds. It does not work with adults using their hard earned cash.


May 22nd, 2011
12:54 pm

moriler – you can not conceive of how wrong you are.

From a real Leaf fan in Toronto.

[...] Amid Thrashers talk, we ask: Is Atlanta a lousy sports city?Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Word of the pending sale has spawned yet another round of Atlanta-is-a-lousy-sports-town boilerplate harrumphing, and again I pause to ask: Are we a lousy sports town? The Thrashers were 28th among 30 NHL teams in attendance last season. …Thrashers fans rally, buy tickets as Winnipeg sale talks continueYahoo! Sports (blog)Thrashers fans rally during Select-A-Seat event, burn Winnipeg Jets bannermsnbc.comAtlanta in midst of another hockey death watchUSA TodayWinnipeg Free Press -Globe and Mailall 1,593 news articles » [...]


May 22nd, 2011
1:00 pm

I think you asked the wrong question. First you need to define what makes a GREAT sports city. If you look at the numbers and PERCEPTION over the years in pro sports the answer may be NO. If you look at the facts you may get a different answer. I am in Phoenix and we share the same dilema. Many of our population are from somewhere else. The loyalties in your area are with the temas that are in the blood of your citizens, the college teams. That didnt happen over night. In todays world, sports are entertainment. Why should we be judged when we are to smart to pay for bad entertainment just because the team is “there”. Both of our cities have had some of the worst ownership of all time. We are being judged for the actions of people we have no control over. Thats not fair. To say we should “pay” just because the NHL put a team here is stupid. To compare the teams in the south or southwest to markets that have had teams for 60-100 years is not a fair thing to judge our cities on. Just because we dont have the history that many of the other cities have doesn’t make our cities bad sports towns.


May 22nd, 2011
1:03 pm

No matter what the sport, uncaring owners = uncompetitive team. The one thing the Atlanta Thrashers are Number One in for consecutive years is having the Worst Owners Ever. Which results in nothing but WOE.


May 22nd, 2011
1:04 pm

The only thing i can say i don’t like going to the SLUMS to watch football and baseball!

Josh (not Smith)

May 22nd, 2011
1:12 pm

Atlanta may be a mediocre pro sports city, but they’re hardly lousy. Phoenix and LA are AWFUL pro sports cities–so what if Atlanta lost two NHL franchises? LA lost two NFL franchises!!!!

As long as out-of-state owners buy teams, as long as owners mismanage their products, etc., teams have moved and will continue to move. But let’s not pretend like this is something unique to Atlanta.


May 22nd, 2011
1:18 pm

you either love hockey or you don’t–Atlanta is a terrible pro sports team–if we lose the Thrashers, we probably won’t get a third chance at an NHL team–You can not blame it strictly on performance–the Hawks had a really good season, but yet ranked 19th in capacity? .I am not saying people should pay for a bad product, what I am saying is, if you are a true hockey fan, you are in the seats no matter what. If you are a discerning consumer, then you are not a true hockey fan. Nothing wrong with either case in my mind. I just think you are confusing the issues.

David F

May 22nd, 2011
1:19 pm

I am quite sure Atlanta is a great sports town, but just not for hockey. No doubt, you have some excellent fans there, there simply are not enough of you to make hockey viable there. When only 250 people showed up yesterday to the Thrasher rally, this speaks volumes. In a city of 6 million people you get only 250, yet in 1995, Winnipeg, a city of jut 750,000, got 35-40,000 to one rally alone. Do you see the difference?

Dawg Tired

May 22nd, 2011
1:21 pm

Hockey belongs in Canada, or, at least, above the Mason-Dixon Line. Folks in those locations actually know the rules, most have actually participated as a player growing up, many while being outdoors on the neighborhood pond or lake in subfreezing temperatures. They can really ice skate, etc. Hockey in those locales makes sense. It really makes no sense in places like Phoenix or Atlanta. As for transplants who understandably love the game, moving south means you need a TV to see the sport you love. Sort of like being a college football fan living in Burlington, Vt. I wouldn’t be upset because the folks in Burlington don’t embrace my sport, and I don’t think they should be upset because I don’t care about their sport. We simply have different interests. That’s perfectly ok.


May 22nd, 2011
1:25 pm

I was unaware that there were 32 MLB teams. Who are the two new ones?


May 22nd, 2011
1:25 pm

I just read Mat T’s comment–you are still going to games.

It made me think and I wanted to clarify my thoughts. I don’t think you have to go to every game to be a true fan. In fact, there are some people that don’t go to any games because they can’t afford them. My comments are, if you have the money, and choose not to go because of lack of performance, you are not a true fan. There is nothing wrong with not being a true fan. I don’t think Atlanta has enough true fans to support an NHL franchise. As the numbers speak for themselves at where the other teams rank in terms of filling their venues. The Hawks went to the play-offs the last two years and still can’t hardly get a sell-out unless LeBron or someone is in town. The Thrashers only get huge crowds if the Red Wings or Penguins are in town.

It is just the way it is. It is the way it will always be. I don’t want to see them go, but I think the best thing for the Thrashers is to go somewhere where else.

Braves & Thrashers Season Ticket Holder

May 22nd, 2011
1:26 pm

Yes, we are a lousy sports city, but that is due to all the unwanted, rude yankee transplants currently squatting here.

Braves & Thrashers Season Ticket Holder

May 22nd, 2011
1:27 pm

Yes, I am also referring to Bruce Levenson when I say “unwanted, rude yankees.”

No Thrashers Supporter

May 22nd, 2011
1:31 pm

You put a mediocre product out there you get a sorry result……Nobody in South gives a ding dong about some guys skating around on the ice trying to hit a puck……Go Away Thrashers – we don’t want not do we need you……and we don’t need another NHL franchise.


May 22nd, 2011
1:36 pm

I have to agree with Mark.

I do not go to Hawks or and only one Thrashers game because I find it difficult to support teams that are run by people that have no place being in ownership. Ownership that you only hear about when they are suing each other.

The Braves are another matter. I find it heartbreaking that MLB let Liberty buy the Braves as a tax write off and those lousy scumbags didn’t even show up for Bobby Cox’s farewell. As much as I loathe The Atlanta Spirit, I absolutely HATE Liberty Media and by proxy I only watch Braves games from the comfort of my home. My ticket money will not get the Braves a new left fielder. Liberty only lowers payroll.

To think of the dynasty we had in the making when Ted was at the helm, I have to believe that if ANYONE other than Liberty Media gets control and the Braves could’ve produced an even more impressive record during that 90’s 2000’s stretch.

Again, just like everything else in our society, rich scum ruin something special in the name of increased profit.


May 22nd, 2011
1:39 pm

Todd G I pretty much agree with that. But, I believe those other places that do demand accountability have had a lot more time, emotion, and money invested in their teams (just like the South’s college football teams). One of the saddest things about the Thrashers situation is that they have only had 11 years to build that interest and accountability. They have always been and still are a young franchise. Original 6 markets have had generations to get through the growing pains. The greatest crime in all of this is the ASG, NHL, and Commissioner not giving hockey and the still very young team a chance to succeed and grow just like those other “traditional” markets have had over numerous decades and not just the 1 that the Thrashers had. I believe that not only did the team never put together a good product that people believed in, the people believed that they were young and would eventually get there. As a result, they were not as demanding.

I know numerous people in the South East who are not huge hockey fans but are interested in and enjoy the game. They are the casual fans who the NHL has been trying to reach and grow the game. Right now, they have no clue what is going on with this behind the scenes fraud that is taking place with the Thrashers. They are not the only ones. I guarantee you there are huge hockey fans in big market NHL cities that are going to wake up the morning after the Atlanta Thrashers move to the Peg and go WTF!? By then, to the relief of ASG and NHL, it will be too late to demand anything. Kiss the growth of the game goodbye.


May 22nd, 2011
1:40 pm

Only city i’ve been too where the girls care more about college football than alot of guys lol

Elaine Scruggs

May 22nd, 2011
1:43 pm

Yes Atlanta is a lousy city, not just a lousy sports city. You people could learn quite a bit from how we do things out here in Arizona

It Ain't Rocket Science

May 22nd, 2011
1:45 pm

I can’t get too enthused about a sport played on an ice rink. When fall is here, football is in my veins. I will watch basketball but only if the reruns of NCIS are ones I have already seen. I just don’t see that many bodies of water frozen over that remind me that a hockey game is on. It is mainly a northern sport and the south is mainly a football area. I am sure there are a lot of braves fans, and even a fair amount of Hawks fans, but football is still what it is all about in the South. I am sure a lot of the transplants will dispute this, but it is true.
I can’t say whether Atlanta is a bad sports town, because I live 75 miles away and I try to avoid the congestion and therefore, Atlanta isn’t for me. I am a faithful college football supporter and can not envision myself, fighting the traffic or paying the price to go to a professional sport. Being retired, my money is better spent, watching most of the college season and all of the Pro. sports on my nice flat screen TV. I might get to go to one UGA game a year, and if it weren’t for the traffic, I might want to see UGA play tech. on North Ave. Usually, I would rather travel the greater distance to Athens, and enjoy the atmosphere of a real college setting. I can’t think of any instance where I would want to go a Thrashers game, and not much hope for me to be going to watch the Hawks play. I might venture to a Falcons game, if the tickets were a better price.

"Chef" Tim Dix

May 22nd, 2011
1:47 pm


Atlanta is prudent sports city EXCEPT for college football.

Greatest college football town in the land.


May 22nd, 2011
1:52 pm

Thrashers? Isn’t that the name of a bird?


May 22nd, 2011
2:00 pm

The ones who don’t want hockey in Atlanta are either ignorant Southerners who don’t want anything from the North in the South or ignorant Canadians who don’t want “their game” south of any state that does not boarder their country. Lots of ignorance in the South and Canada. It appears to be the one thing the two places have in common.


May 22nd, 2011
2:05 pm

Perhaps when hockey leaves the South I should sell off my gear and hang out instead with the surf “boarders”.

The Truth

May 22nd, 2011
2:07 pm

Atlanta sports suffer from Atlanta heritage. The best place for Atlanta’s stadiums and arenas would be in North Atlanta, not on the south side of the city. Most of the wealth in Atlanta is concentrated in Cobb and North Fulton, but crony Atlanta politicians insist on having our venues in the south part of downtown. Nobody really wants to touch the issue for fear of being branded a racist. Atlanta would be a great sports town if it weren’t for our tacit subsidization of race-driven city politics.

The AJC is the other problem. Towns that consistently win championships demand success, and it starts with the local newspaper. But our town rag is more interested in playing nice. Right now, Mark Bradley and the rest of the half-breed Atlanta sports writers should publish the name of every Liberty Executive everyday until they invest in our baseball team. Shame them. But Cox just won’t let it happen, so we are stuck with mediocrity.

And despite all these barriers, our four major sports teams all went to the playoffs last year. Atlanta sports are fine, but its owners in baseball, basketball, and hockey need to go! Lead the charge AJC!