Atlanta Thrashers are no more

May 31, 2011 11:41 am

by Jason · 17 comments

After a few weeks of speculation, the deal to move the Thrashers to Winnipeg is finally completed. Atlanta hockey fans are no doubt depressed that the city’s second NHL franchise (the Atlanta Flames became the Calgary Flames in 1980) is heading north.

It’s clear the NHL didn’t give hockey in Atlanta a fair shake. Yes, attendance has been down; but that’s because the Atlanta Spirit, which owns both the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and Thrashers, hasn’t been committed to putting the talent on the ice necessary to make the team a contender.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman seemed to scoff at the idea of fans didn’t show up when the team isn’t playing well. Now there’s a shocking headline, “BREAKING: Teams plays poorly, seats empty.” Anyone that lived through the atrocious Atlanta Braves teams of the 80’s knows that this isn’t rocket science. If a sports franchise isn’t playing well, why should fans be expected to show up?

The reason for the Thrashers moving is not because hockey can’t be successful in the South; other cities, Nashville and Raleigh, have showed that it can be. In fact, I remember going to Atlanta Knights games as a teenager and seeing regularly packed houses; and this was a minor league hockey team. They brought some excitement to the city by appearing the the post-season in each of the four seasons they were in Atlanta, even winning the IHL championship in 1994. Unfortunately, the team moved to Quebec in 1996 due to the demolition of the Omni and the desire to bring the NHL back to the city.

Sadly, the Thrashers were probably Atlanta’s last shot at a NHL team. And despite what the NHL will say, it is not any fault of the fans.

Well, we still have the Gwinnett Gladiators.

Buzz Brockway May 31, 2011 at 12:19 pm

You’re right Jason, winning is the key. The Thrashers made the playoffs exactly once IIRC.

The Gwinnett Gladiators missed the playoffs for the first time last season since their arrival in Duluth in 2003. In 2006 they played for the ECHL championship. Last season they averaged 5,128 fans per game, good for 5th in the league.

NHL hockey could have worked in Atlanta.

Jace Walden May 31, 2011 at 12:42 pm

The year the Thrashers made it to the playoffs, the franchise still lost $20 Million in revenue.

That’s what you call a bad investment.

There is a reason hockey works in places like Nashville and Raleigh: Lack of Professional/Collegiate Sports Teams that are worth a crap.

Nashville has what? The Titans and Vandy? Yeah, I’d be a hockey fan too. Raleigh has the Carolina Panthers? Give me some hockey!

The Atlanta sports market is oversaturated: Braves, Falcons, Hawks, Georgia Bulldogs, Georgia Tech (and that’s just the Georgia teams that compete for market space). You also have teams/universities from out of state with large contigents of fans in the Empire City of the South.

In a recession, there’s only so much time/money that a man is willing to lend to sports. And for probably 3/4 of the people in Georgia, the priority list for that time/money goes something like this:

(1) Falcons
(2) Braves
(3) Hawks
(4) UGA
(5) Georgia Tech
(6) Out-of-State Franchises of Football, Baseball, Basketball
(7) Professional Hockey

Most people barely have enought money/time to fund item 1.

Jace Walden May 31, 2011 at 12:49 pm

It’s the same reason the “Iron Bowl” is so big in the State of Alabama: There’s absolutely no competition. That is the single “big event” in Alabama sports year in and year out.

In Atlanta, you usually have the Braves making a run at the playoffs, the Hawks are usually making a run at the playoffs, and suddenly even the Falcons are making playoff runs. Throw in UGA football (last year notwithstanding) and Georgia Tech, and there is a lot of competition for your attention.

Jason May 31, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Your point on over-saturation is well-taken. However, you know as well as I do that a playoff appearance in one season may not be enough to consistently bring fans out (but that season was the peak of attendance during the Atlanta Spirit’s ownership).

I’m unable to find anything regarding that $20 million in losses during the 2005-2006 season. I know that ownership has lost money, which can also be attributed to their never-ending court battles. Not that I doubt you, but I’d like to see it myself.

Jace Walden May 31, 2011 at 1:25 pm

On the $20 Million loss…I just heard that on 680 the Fan. John Kincade was interviewing a guy from the Atlanta Spirit Group.

Of course, he could have been lying…but at this point, I don’t see how that would benefit him.

griftdrift May 31, 2011 at 1:32 pm

Not saying he’s lying either (plenty of decent products have been torpedoed by poor management) but it could benefit him because he is an Atlanta native and right now public opinion of him and his buddies is below the Falcon owning Smith’s of the 80s and a few notches above Sherman.

Charlie May 31, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Oversaturation sure, but the Hawks over UGA? Really?

Jace Walden May 31, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Sorry, should have clarified.

My personal list would have UGA on top, followed by the Falcons, the Braves, the Hawks and the Thrashers. Yes, the Winnepeg Trashers. I’d watch them over Tech.

I just listed the Pro teams first because the topic was professional sports. Sorry.

Buzz Brockway May 31, 2011 at 3:54 pm

I thought UGA was a professional team.

Joshua Morris May 31, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Tickets were too expensive. I’m no expert, but it seems that other sports have better revenue streams that allow good tickets to be more affordable. I can live with minor league hockey–there’s nothing like going to a fight and seeing a hockey game break out.

drjay May 31, 2011 at 2:10 pm

i didn’t even know there was a minor league hockey team in atl. i remember when augusta had minor league hockey it was kind of fun…

Mark Rountree May 31, 2011 at 3:02 pm

Gwinnett Gladiators put on an outstanding event every time they go on the ice.

The arena is great for hockey, as well, and the organization puts on strong fan appreciation events. The General Manager, Steve Chapman, has a strong history in the business of hockey, and helps make a great contribution to the Gwinnett community.

Unless you’re really in tune of pro hockey, you could go to a Gladiators event and have the same experience as professional hockey — for a fraction of the price. Well worth it.

http://www.gwinnettgladiators.com/site/default.asp

GaConservative23 May 31, 2011 at 3:03 pm

I’ve probably been to a dozen Gladiators game and only one Thrashers game in my 10 years in Atlanta.

Hell, I’ve been to three or four Georgia Force games.

John Vestal May 31, 2011 at 3:38 pm

I did quite a few Flames’ games their last two seasons (including Jim Craig’s pro debut during an ice storm) and a coupla’ dozen Thrashers games.

I also did attend ONE Atlanta Chiefs indoor soccer game at The Omni……but only becuase their was a free Slim Whitman concert afterwards. “Una Paloma Blanca” was worth the wait for the carpet to be rolled up.

grumpymoderate May 31, 2011 at 4:25 pm

You need to put a consistently good product on the ice. You also need stars people can gravitate to (e.g., Chipper, Joe Johnson, Matt Ryan, etc.). The Thrashers didn’t really promote their stars like they should have. The Dany Heatley incident didn’t help matters, either.

OleDirtyBarrister May 31, 2011 at 7:10 pm

This is great news. You know that you have far too many g.d. yankees in your southern town when a hockey team succeeds.

Go Thrashers go! And take all the g.d. yankee transplants with you!!!!!!!!!

The illegal aliens and Florida Gators fans too!

saltycracker May 31, 2011 at 9:24 pm

:-) apologies for laughin’……..might be a redneck & a ‘Noles fan….

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