Blog Entry

Thrashers Prez: Winning would have changed things

Posted on: May 31, 2011 6:07 pm
Edited on: May 31, 2011 6:16 pm

The most recent failure of the NHL in Atlanta went beyond the fact it was a non-traditional hockey market where lawsuits among the team’s ownership group were about as harmful as the exodus of star players like Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk.

“There is no doubt that if we had more success, we would have had a better turnout at the gate,” Thrashers president Don Waddell said in a conference call with reporters hours after the sale of the franchise to a group from Winnipeg was announced on Tuesday. “If we had duplicated (the success) the year after we won the division and went to the playoffs, I thought we were set up to continue to try to build the momentum in the marketplace. But that didn’t happen.”

Waddell’s tenure with the Thrashers extends even before the team’s inaugural 1999-2000 season and he spent all but the last 13 months as the team’s general manager with a couple stints as interim coach. The team only reached the playoffs once (2007) in its existence and never had back-to-back winning seasons.

“When you look back at things, when you win more you are going to get more people excited,” Waddell said.

Hockey in Atlanta never took hold, as was the case three decades when the Flames left town for Calgary. It didn’t help that the infighting among the ownership group, known as Atlanta Spirit, led to a lawsuit didn’t win it much goodwill in Georgia. That lawsuit was settled on December, but a separate suit against an Atlanta law firm filed in January disclosed the team been on the block for five years --- something the Thrashers organization had previously denied.

Waddell said he’d been contacted by about 20-plus groups who expressed interest in purchasing the Thrashers and keep them at Philips Arena, but none had the financial backing that would meet league approval.

“We had a lot of people trying to put groups together and seek investors,” Waddell said. “There were only a handful who had the resources to qualify to buy the franchise. We didn’t have one offer that was even worth talking about.”

The closest the team got to a sale before Tuesday’s deal came down took place in 2009, Waddell said.

“It was difficult to find a buyer who wanted to buy a team when (the Thrashers’ owners) were in a current lawsuit,” Waddell said. “I can tell you two years ago that were close to purchase agreement with a potential buyer. At that time, they got scared away because of the lawsuit. It was something people didn’t want to be a party to. “

Hossa, arguably the biggest star in Thrashers history, was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in February 2008 after Atlanta fell out of the playoff picture. The New Jersey Devils acquired the other cog from the Thrashers’ lone playoff team before the 2010 trade deadline.

The Thrashers, one of the youngest teams in hockey, were in the playoff picture for much of this season before they faded. Waddell is proud what he will leave the Winnipeg Jets, Manitoba Moose --- or whatever the franchise will be named --- well-stocked, even if he won’t be joining them. His contact with the franchise concludes when sale is approved by the NHL Board of Governors, who will meet in three weeks.

Despite another failed attempt in Atlanta, Waddell said hockey could still work in the market. Maybe.

“I still believe it could work under the right situation,” Waddell said. “The fans we had were very passionate. We just could never reach that population, that extra amount of people, to make it work here.”

-- A.J. Perez

Photo: Getty Images
Since: Dec 2, 2011
Posted on: December 16, 2011 12:31 pm
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Since: Jul 22, 2007
Posted on: June 1, 2011 4:33 pm

Thrashers Prez: Winning would have changed things

I grew up in Boston, the Garden wasn't located in the most desirable area as far as getting to it, it was old, antiquated, incredibly hot especially in t he upper seating areas, you had support posts in front of seats in some areas - the famous "obstructed view" seats.
The public transportation that brought you there for most of the years I grew up was poor at best and was always a sardine can but yet we still showed up year in and year out to supprt the B's!
Even when Jeremy Jacobs & Harry Sinden were nickle and diming, not bringing in players and giving us what we affectionately called "plumbers" instead of superstars we still supported the team.
When the new arena was built ticket prices went up, waiting ot get into a Bruins game was hell because the lobby where the escalators were also shared space with the commuter rail station that was already crowded with people heading home from work to all points north of Boston but still we supported the team.
There were lots of years the B's didn't win in the new garden but we still showed up and supported the team!
Your assertion that arena location, parking and lack of winning rings hollow with me because if your team has to win before you support them doesn't show that you're a TRUE hockey fan but rather a bandwagoneer.
"Oh the Tharshers have to win before i'll spend my money on them" baloney! You either love your hockey team win or lose or you don't! Sure you can complain about the losing and what moves should've been made but at the end of the day when you're a TRUE hockey fan or a fan of any sport for that matter you support that team no matter what!
Atlanta has shown itself on a regular basis to be a fair weather sports town and have done so with ALL the teams and yes that includes the Falcons which until Matty Ice & Mike Smith put you on the winning track you guys weren't supporting, sure you did when Prime Time & Bad Moon were there but again it goers hand and hand with winning and illustrates the very fairweatherness of Atlanta sports fans.

No, hockey will NOT be coming back to Atlanta, at least NHL hockey won't be, you've had 2 chancves to make it go and it hasn't happened so it won't be back, focus your support for the Hawks, the Braves - especially if they make the playoffs, how about selling out the playoff games will ya? Keep supporting Matty Ice and the Falcons and well the one team you don't have to ask Georgia sports fans to support are the 'Dawgs but they've been around so long it's ingrained to support them, if you don't you beomce a pariah!
So support what you have, winning or losing, don't be fairweather fans but I suspect that won't happen because it's the nature of Atlanta sports fans and I don't see that changing anytime soon.

Since: Jul 22, 2007
Posted on: June 1, 2011 4:20 pm

Thrashers Prez: Winning would have changed things

"If we had more success we would have had a better turnout at the gate"
Yeah and if my aunt had balls she'd be my uncle!
I have news for you, Atlanta isn't a hockey town, never was, never will be, nothing against the fans and the city it's just not their bag and that's fine now maybe the NHL will learn from their mistakes and make sure when a franchise is put in a city that the city will TRULY embrace it and not just when they're winning.
The Thrashers could've been competing for the conference championship or the cup and the fans STILL wouldn't have shown up in droves or they'd have to be coached into how to cheer for the team like the Braves fans need to be told when and how to do the tomahawk chop or the "fans" in Phoenix who have to be told to wave white hankies during the game.

The true defining moments of a teams fandom come not when the team is winning but when they are in the throes of a poor season and are losing, it's easy to stick around and cheer for a team that's winning it's when the losing starts when you see who the true fans are and who are just there for the funtimes & winning.

In essense what i'm saying is that though Mr. Waddell is half correct in his assertion that more success on the ice would have brought more fans to Phillips Arena they still would've hit some bad times and would have a losing season or 2 and judging by Atlanta fans inability to show up for Braves playoff games I highly doubt they would show up to support the Thrashers in their tough times even if they romanced the fans with some spectacularly winning seasons leading up to the downtimes.

In short hockey has had 2 go rounds in Atlanta & hasn't worked, let's not give it a third shot as it's plain that there is no passion for hockey in Atlanta not in any sort of way to sustain an NHL franchise that is which is MUCH different than supporting a minor league team like the Knights.
Hockey is back in Winnipeg and that's a good thing, now the NHL just needs to get the other teams in non traditional markets that are struggling to cities like Quebec City & Hartford where they WILL be supported.
By the way the Whalers being moved was bogus and was just a case of a greedy owner wanting a free arena and when another city offered him one he jumped at it, there was PLENTY and would be PLENTY of support for a return for the Whalers same for the Nordiques!

Since: Nov 16, 2006
Posted on: June 1, 2011 11:22 am

Thrashers Prez: Winning would have changed things

This is not a front runner town. The biggest problem was arena location. It was in the middle of downtown, no decent and inexpensive parking, no convenient way to get to the arena without sitting in traffic. I promise you, if the arena was in the north part of town (Alpharetta, Gwinnett Co, i.e.) we would not be having this conversation.

Also, a winning team helps. The a$$ clowns who owned this group took the Thrashers as part of a package with the Hawks and Philips Arena. Philips is one of the nicest arena's in the country. There is an ECHL team in Gwinnett County that has averaged 5-6 thousand a game for 8 yeras, and they are mismanaged also. Why do they succeed? Free parking, convenient location, half decent product that has won before, though they haven't made the playoffs in a few years due to bad management and coaching.

With a decent product and the right ownership, along with the right location for the arena, Atlanta will support a hockey team. No chance now that any relocation would ever come back unless a new arena is built in the northern suburbs. Any potential team moving here would be a tenant of the Atlanta Spirit Group, who still owns Philips Arena.

Who I feel sorry for are the employees at Philips Arena who just lost 41 days of employment each year.

Since: Apr 11, 2009
Posted on: June 1, 2011 10:31 am

Thrashers Prez: Winning would have changed things

When hockey was threatened in Pittsburgh, Little Gary Bettman ran to Pittsburgh and pleaede with ownership, fans and the community to keep it all together...

Just a few months ago, he scurried his little chipmunk ass to Phoenix to help save the Coyotes...



Since: May 13, 2011
Posted on: June 1, 2011 12:58 am

Thrashers Prez: Winning would have changed things

poor atlanta fans you were used by gary the weasel bettman in a misguided attempt to get a tv package comprable to the other major sports the weasel had the idea of branching franchises out into areas that dont know the difference from a hockey stick and a pogo stick he thought if you added franchises in uncharted waters they would show up like a burger king franchise wrong weasel it never had a chance just like you never had a chance to get a huge tv network pakage and you never will get one even close to what the other sports get

Since: May 21, 2011
Posted on: June 1, 2011 12:51 am

Thrashers Prez: Winning would have changed things

Winning comes from great leadership and Waddell doesn't come close.  In his 11 years as the "Leader" his teams averaged 28 wins per year.  At some point, he needs to quit blaming others and look in the mirror.  No guarantees that Winnipeg will become an overnight success but Atlanta was not even close to being an elite team.

Since: Aug 31, 2006
Posted on: June 1, 2011 12:11 am

Thrashers Prez: Winning would have changed things

Wishful thinking on Mr. Waddell's part.  Atlanta has and always will be a front running professional sports town.  Even the Braves who had the most success for the longest amount of time, could not sell out playoff games, never mind regular season.  The Hawks were pretty much the same even when they were winning.  The Falcons couldn't sell out games until they proved that they could win.  The Georgia Bulldogs college football team was more popular.  Hockey did not stand a chance with such a fanbase. 

I say strip Atlanta of all of its pro sports teams.  Send the Hawks back to St. Louis.  Send the Braves back to Boston.  Boston is so passionate a baseball team, it could support two teams.  And when the Falcons winning ways are done and the fans stop coming, send them away too.  San Antonio, Toronto, London who cares.  Any city that will avidly support their teams.  Atlanta is not that city.

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