Blog Entry

Reports: Winnipeg group in talks with Thrashers

Posted on: May 16, 2011 1:25 pm
Edited on: May 16, 2011 11:23 pm
It appears Atlanta is close to losing its second NHL team.

The Thrashers owner Atlanta Spirit are in negotiations on a deal with True North Sports and Entertainment, , The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Chris Vivlamore reports citing a person familiar with the process. The deal would include relocation to Winnipeg, which lost out on the Phoenix Coyotes after Glendale (Ariz.) agreed to pay the NHL as much as $25 million to cover expenses for the 2011-12 season.

Here’s more from Vivlamore:

A deal has not been completed and it is also not known how long the two sides have been negotiating. However, the fact that talks are on-going negotiations could mean the Thrashers would relocate to Manitoba perhaps as soon as next season.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, reach via e-mail, said there was "nothing I'm prepared to say at this point." A True North Sports and Entertainment spokesperson had no comment.

Technically, NHL owners do not have to seek league approval to sell a franchise. However they would have to get permission to negotiate with a party interested in relocation. Once an agreement in principle has been reached, the NHL’s Board of Governors would be asked to judge the acceptability of the new ownership.

Negotiations began after a buyer willing to purchase the Thrashers and keep the team in Atlanta could not be found.

It's been a messy ownership situation for years since a fraction grew within the controlling group. We chronicled some of the attempts to keep the team a few weeks ago. There was also talk that former Braves pitcher Tom Glavine was interested in buying the team. Those fronts have been quiet of late.

This is almost exactly what happened three decades ago. The Flames’ ownership group in financial straits announced in May 1980 that it was headed to Calgary after no ownership group could be found locally.

This stands to be the first NHL franchise to relocate since the Hartford Whalers, who left Connecticut for North Carolina and became the Hurricanes, in 1997.

Since getting a new arena built -- the lack of one was the impetus for the exodus from Winnipeg in 1996 -- the fans in the former NHL city have been dying to get the big leagues back in town. Relocation has been a very popular topic across the league in recent years, with the Coyotes having been rumored to be on the move for a couple of years now, starting with Blackberry owner Jim Balsillie, who was denied in his attempt to move the franchise to Hamilton, Ontario. Southern markets like these two at hand and others with lower attendances have long been the targets for those hoping to get back into more traditional markets.

True North is expected to have to pay as much as a $60 million relocation fee.

But this may not be over. Expect the league to do whatever it can to keep the Thrashers in Atlanta much like it did in Phoenix. The league just signed a 10-year deal with NBC/Comcast worth $2 billion and NBC/Comcast won’t be thrilled to lose a top-10 TV market to Canada.

-- A.J. Perez and Brian Stubits

Since: Sep 25, 2006
Posted on: May 16, 2011 5:36 pm

Reports: Winnipeg group in talks with Thrashers

This would be a big blow to the league. Yeah, Atlanta isn't known as a hockey haven, but it is a huge city, increasingly populated by northerners. There's just much more upside to Atlanta than Winnipeg, which is a fraction of the size (5.2 milllion vs. 700K) of Atlanta. Plus, it's all about the product on the ice, even cities like Boston and Detroit  struggled with attendance when the team stunk. Atlanta has only made the playoffs once, and they lost in a 4 game, first round sweep.

Since: Jun 26, 2007
Posted on: May 16, 2011 4:46 pm

Reports: Winnipeg group in talks with Thrashers

Way better for the fans of Winnipeg you are getting a younger team with some great potential players.

Since: Oct 20, 2008
Posted on: May 16, 2011 4:38 pm

Reports: Winnipeg group in talks with Thrashers

Yes, it is unfortunate for the few NHL fans diligently showing up to attend Thrashers, Coyotes and Blue Jackets games.  It's exciting to be awarded a franchise, only to have it taken away a few years later.  Places like Los Angeles and Atlanta suffer from lukewarm fan support, as a chronic problem.  The NHL Board of Governors was naive and greedy to think that a large population (and corresponding large potential media market) equated to a rapidly successful team.  Atlanta is truly doomed, and Phoenix was only just given a stay-of-execution. 

Since: Oct 2, 2006
Posted on: May 16, 2011 4:36 pm

Reports: Winnipeg group in talks with Thrashers

So why then have there been several NFL teams fail in Los Angeles?  This argument is bunk.

Since: May 8, 2008
Posted on: May 16, 2011 4:31 pm

Reports: Winnipeg group in talks with Thrashers

Bye bye Thrashers, I hardly knew ya! Thanks for Hossa, even if the Pens lost the cup that year. How is Angelo Espisito working out for ya? One of the most pathetic franchises in the history on the NHL, it is time to move on.

Since: Aug 22, 2007
Posted on: May 16, 2011 4:09 pm

Reports: Winnipeg group in talks with Thrashers

It's sad to see a team leave a city because anyone that doesn't live in a major city of a population exceeding 2 million or more realizes it could be their city too.  It's also sad because you realize that despite the fact SOME fans might not know when to cheer, they were at least there supporting the team.  That being said, the blame is on the NHL for trying to spoon feed a city that just didn't have the capacity to fill an arena night in and night out even when hockey was bad.  I feel for those that are true NHL fans, that love their Thrashers, but losing Kovalchuk was just a sign that this team and city just didn't have what it took to make a competitive team with the money they were bringing in.  As much as I feel for those in Atlanta, it's time to give a city like Winnipeg back a team because they never deserved to lose it.  It's really just time Bettman woke up and realized that hockey is the ONLY sport Canadians care about and aside from Canada, the only true place that hockey will continue to thrive is along the Great Lakes region and in the Northeast where there are enough hockey rinks and cold days to keep the interest of fans high.  Sorry Atlanta but be thankful you still have a baseball, basketball and football team.  Not many cities can say they have a team in every sport and it's just purely a geographical and financial thing 

Since: Apr 30, 2007
Posted on: May 16, 2011 3:51 pm

Reports: Winnipeg group in talks with Thrashers

I agree.  The statement of "put a good product on the ice [or field, court, etc]" applies to almost any other major U.S. sport except hockey.  I just do not think that the market for hockey is not that great in the southern states compared to the northern states and Canada.  Even when the teams are winning they are experiencing mid-range numbers at best.  I'm a Wings fan and when I watched the Phoenix series I couldn't tell if the Phoenix fans even came.  When the games were played in Phoenix, it seemed like they cheered a lot louder when the Wings scored compared to when the Coyotes scored.  They might as well have played all for games right in Detroit.

And even in the other major sports certain winning teams have been experiencing low numbers.  Jacksonville Jaguars have had a couple playoff runs recently and they haven't been able to sell out very many games at all.  The Florida Marlins, despite having won the World Series half a decade ago, experienced huge attendance problems the very next year.  Sometimes having stadiums well below 50% capacity. 

So the whole "win and they will come" doesn't hold that much weight.  "Win in a good market and they will come" sounds more accurate.    &n

Since: May 16, 2011
Posted on: May 16, 2011 3:46 pm

Reports: Winnipeg group in talks with Thrashers

You are incorrect regarding Tampa.  During the 2003/2004 season when they were last good, they were in the top 15 in attendence in the league.  Look it up.  They won the cup and then we had the full season strike.  In the 2005/2006 season the Lightning were #2 in the league, after Montreal, with a 20,509 average attendence.  Every game was a sellout.  In the 2006/2007 season they averaged over 19k and after that they took a big dip, falling to 15k by the 2009/2010 season.  But, they sucked then.  Now, they are good again and yes, they will come.  The playoff games are all sold out.  Season ticket sales are brisk for next season.  There are a lot of hockey fans in the bay area that appreciate good hockey.  Now that they are good again, with a good owner, a good GM, and a good coach, the fans will come out and there will be sellouts once again.

Since: Jan 2, 2007
Posted on: May 16, 2011 3:09 pm

Reports: Winnipeg group in talks with Thrashers

jzinger, I can respect your desire to keep the franchise in Atlanta or any of the other southern cities-- Tampa, Miami, etc.  But your argument of
"put a good product on the ice and the people will come to watch."
just isn't bearing out that way.

Tampa Bay won the Stanley Cup and are in the conference finals again this year.  They've been in the bottom half of the NHL for average attendance for the last three seasons.  They win and people aren't coming.  Maybe it's enough to keep the locals happy but if the franchise is losing money and having trouble paying the bills, then they probably need to move on.  They were up there in the rankings 4-5 years ago, but they have been slipping.  If it continues, expect the team ownership to start scouting out new homes to the north.

You've got a fair argument with the Panthers.  They've sucked on the ice for the better part of the last decade and people are staying away in droves.  However, I would also point out that the Marlins have won two World Series and can't come close to filling that ballpark on a regular basis.

Nashville has been winning more the last few seasons.  Playoff appearances for the last two seasons and a near miss three seasons ago tell me they're playing good enough hockey that they should be able to draw better.  Until this season, the Predators hadn't been out of the bottom five for average game attendance over the last three seasons.  If they can sustain the numbers at the gate, keep 'em there.  If it starts to make it difficult to pay the bills, call the moving vans.

The NHL is not a strong enough professional sports league that it can sustain greater than a third of its teams losing money.  If you believe the news articles for the 2009-10 season, more than half of the league's teams lost money.  There's only so many times you can get the Red Wings, Canadiens, Penguins, and Capitals to come to town to boost your attendance numbers.  It might be nice watching ice hockey in the American south, but if the bills can't be paid without incurring large debts, it's time to fold up or leave town.

Since: Dec 18, 2006
Posted on: May 16, 2011 3:03 pm

Reports: Winnipeg group in talks with Thrashers

I could not agree more!  I had a friend who lived in Atlanta for a while and said most of the fans didn't even know when to cheer.  Let Georgia have NASCAR and The Masters, hockey however belongs in Canada and the Northern US.

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