It is official. The announcement that the Atlanta Thrashers had been sold by the Atlanta Spirit Group to True North Sports and Entertainment took place yesterday at noon. True North has every intention to move the team to Winnipeg, despite the fact that the Thrashers were still selling season tickets at 11:00 AM, Tuesday.
I am on the fence as to what this deal means for the NHL, hockey fans in Winnipeg and hockey fans in the United States. Atlanta shouldn’t have to suffer through losing a franchise. It is the second time they lost a hockey team, maybe the NHL should have kept that in mind when they awarded the franchise to Atlanta in 1999. Still, the few dedicated fans they have don’t need to lose their team. Still, the franchise was poorly run and suffered from day one.
The fans in Winnipeg know the suffering that the 23 hockey fans in Atlanta are going through. They are surely ecstatic to have their team back. However, the MTS Centre only holds 15,000. That is not enough for an NHL franchise and I doubt that a new arena plan is in the works for the near future. Gary Bettman said they need to sell out every game for this to work out. I’m certain that won’t be an issue for this season or next. But, after the first three years you will have to wonder where the fan base will stand if there has been limited, or no success. Not to mention, the Jets struggle to find corporate money, I can’t imagine that will be easier in a city with a population under 800,000.
True North has aimed at 13,000 for a season ticket base. The “Drive to 13” is how they hope to wrangle the necessary cash to remain afloat. I’m a little uneasy about the fact that ticket holders are locked in for at least three years. Tough call for a smaller city. There will need to be some modest success as this team moves forward in order to ensure that the New Jets don’t turn into the Old Jets.
As for the league, this is a good move. The Thrashers struggled to fill the building and made the playoffs once. Sure it is the same team moving up to Winnipeg, but there will be fans in the seats supporting this hockey team each game. It won’t be a minor league setting, this will truly be the show. I can acknowledge the fact that the NHL abandoned the situation in Atlanta quite quickly and that the roots never were able to take hold in that city. Most of the blame needs to be saddled with ASG. To say they were absentee owners is a major understatement. The Thrashers received little support from their owners and management and it trickled down to the on-ice product. However, to have a warm body (so to speak) filling a spot in the league’s weakest division wasn’t helping the league’s revenue sharing or the league’s image. Winnipeg will do exactly that. The lack of corporate dollars will hurt the New Jets’ ability to contribute to revenue sharing. Still, a successful team with asses in the seats is better than the opposite.
At the end of the day this is the right move for the NHL. The New Jets will add some stability to the league and it may even allow the Blue Jackets or the Red Wings to move into the Eastern Conference where there time zone will cooperate. I’m fairly certain that by the end of 2012-2013 the New Jets will have established a strong foothold out West while hopefully supplying some additional stability to the league as well.