Hockey Anything But Peachy In Georgia.

As I spin my wheel for who to pick on next for a candidate to be the future Winnipeg Jets, the marker lands on Atlanta.  Sorry Georgia, at least you have Matt Ryan and Michael Turner.

But so far as hockey goes, times aren’t good.  As with most southern markets, hockey has been a tough sell in Atlanta, something that dates back to their first attempt at the NHL level with the Atlanta Flames.  That franchise was short lived, lasting 8 seasons before being moved to Calgary in 1980.

Their latest team has survived for over 10 years now, the key word being “survived”.  Currently the team’s 8-man ownership group, The Atlanta Spirit whose portfolio include the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, are in a bitter court battle to iron-out the specifics of how seven members are to buy-out the eighth member.  This has been on-going for three years. A recent report states that the two clubs have lost $174 million since 2002.

As Adam Kopp of the Bleacher Report writes:

Logic should have told NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman that expanding a winter sport into a place that doesn’t see a whole lot of snow would be a fools errand. Several years later, the tough economic times, coupled with the reality of trying to lure Nascar and college sports fans into the thrall of ice hockey have left several southern teams on the brink.

The Thrashers are almost beyond the brink.  What makes this team such a likely candidate to relocate is the fact that, unlike the Hawks, they are not tied to a 30-year lease at Phillips Arena.  In simple terms, they are free to go at any time without penalty.

Meanwhile tickets remain a tough sell.  In 2006-2007, the Thrashers averaged a league high 2,827 complimentary tickets per game.  That is 15% of Philips Arena capacity given away for free.   Until players start performing for free, this practice might not be the best marketing strategy.  They also pull in an average of less than $500,000 in gate revenue per game, a figure that places them in the NHL’s bottom five.   Although I am not certain of the figures from the past season, one has to think they haven’t changed for the better being the second worst team in the league right now with 17 wins in 51 games.   As their legal mess continues to play out and the Thrashers on-ice performance dwindles, the clock seems to be ticking on this franchise.  And those empty seats aren’t helping matters.  Many blogs report thousands of empty seats each game and laughable attendance announcements, like this one from Richard DeLancey.  Now we all know attendance figures are faulty and have been for years, especially in bad markets.  But posting a crowd of 13,000 is bad enough even if it were true, let alone the real number being somewhere around 7,000.

But one has to wonder if this team has a long-term future even if they were the best team in the league.  How long before the seven owners of the team want to make like the eighth, and get out of it entirely.   Currently Forbes has the Thrashers value ranked 27th in the NHL at $158 million.  I’m sure $20 million per person doesn’t sound all that bad after the thought of writing another infusion cheque to cover losses, not to mention more lawyers fees.

It’s a fact, hockey in Georgia is anything but peachy.
OWNERS SEE RED

The Hawks and Thrashers lost money under Turner Broadcasting System and continue to bleed under an eight-man ownership group known as the Atlanta Spirit. The group has been fighting in court for more than three years over the process of buying out Boston-based partner Steve Belkin.

2002-2003….$48.9 million

2003-2004….$37.3 million

2004-2005….$12.5 million *

2005-2006….$24.8 million

2006-2007….$27.2 million

2007-2008….$23.1 million

Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

2 Comments

  1. Simple. Bettman is not a hockey guy. Nor is he a Canadian. Until he leaves his post (and who knows when that will be), no teams will be moving or expanding into Canada.

  2. Tim Leschyshyn says:

    What’s even worse is Gary Bettman can’t be a man an even acknowledge that some of these southern markets are losing money, and losing money fast. The NBA, Nascar, etc have all said the econimis crisis is effecting buisness and have not dodged reality with questions being asked by the media. Why is Gary protecting these teams so much? Why wasen’t he so protective of Quebec, or the Winnipeg Jets. It makes no sense for the league at all. Why do the Toronto Maple Leafs and the New York Rangers have to keep bailing out these southern franchises that are losing millions and millions of dollars each and every year? It would make alot more sense to have a team in Winnipeg that at the very least would break even then compared to having a team in Atlanta, Forida, etc that have to keep getting bailled out and recieve revenue sharing each year. Dosen’t the NHL want the league to get stronger? Does Gary not want fan’s in the seats? Winnipeg has a rich history and a great love of hockey were the game doesn’t have to be sold or marketed. You put a team there and the building will be sold out each and every night. On Mondays and Thursdays, not just on weekend games. Where many of the southern markets get a little more fans in the seats but thats not the point. It dosen’t matter when the games are played you will only have fans in the seats were the game is loved and were people have knowledge of hockey. If the NHL wants to grow the NL needs to put Franchises were the game is loved by people. There is no better place to put these struggling franchises then in Canada were the game is loved by all. I don’t know what it will take for the NHL to wake up and fix this problem. Maybe Gary needs to be replaced with someone who know’s the game better and will put these franchises in home’s were the will be loved before Nascar, and college sports. Untill then Winnipeg, Quebec, and southern Ontario will wait untill something dramastic happens or Gary gets canned before these fine cities get what they all deserve so much more. And thats a National Hockey League team of there own. Were they all will florish and were they all will be loved to death without giving free tickets or 2 for one’s. Untill then we will all keep our fingers crossed and hope for they day I can hear and here come your WINNIPEG JETS as i’m sitting in my seat at the MTS center. 15,015 strong every single night 42 nights a year.

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