Friday, May 20, 2011

The Good and Bad of the Atlanta Thrashers Sale ... Assuming It Ever Happens

If you haven't been following the NHL's off-ice headlines recently, you might not know about the saga of the Atlanta Thrashers, who are soon to become the Winnipeg/Manitoba Somethings.

The Globe and Mail reported Thursday night that the deal was done, but the NHL quickly refuted. The quick trigger of the Globe prompted celebrations in the streets of Winnipeg, as citizens began to sense the reality of the NHL's return after 15 years.

The last scene we have of NHL hockey in Winnipeg is this:

Now, True North might be on the verge of bringing the league back.

This is obviously an exciting time for multiple groups of people, including the citizens of Winnipeg that feel they didn't deserve the fate they were dealt in 1996, Canadians who think the NHL has been trying to over-Americanize the sport, nostalgic hockey fans who appreciate the smaller markets and the atmosphere Canadian teams can bring, and people who think Atlanta never should have had a team to begin with.

It's thrilling in a way to hear about Canada -- a nation that is wonderful in its enthusiasm and support of hockey -- getting a seventh NHL team, and it's cool to think about Winnipeg getting a team back. It gives hope to other cities that feel they unjustly lost their teams.

On the other hand, there is a second side to this story, and it's not as happy or thrilling.

The Thrashers are leaving Atlanta, and while they had a lot of empty seats at their games over the years (a big reason why this is going to happen), they also had a lot of loyal fans who followed the team from Day 1 and will be left without anyone to cheer for.

I feel especially bad for people like those behind the Bird Watchers Anonymous blog. They're dedicated fans who care about this team and this franchise, and they don't deserve to lose their team because no one is stepping up and making an effort to make it work. It's not that it can't work. It's that no one is trying.

Bad ownership in these Sun Belt markets is a kiss of death. It leads to a lack of corporate support -- the lifeblood of sports franchises -- along with a lack of attendance, which just makes it all worse. Good local ownership can make things work in any market that has the fan and corporate bases, but we have yet to see NHL franchises like Florida, Atlanta, and Phoenix blessed with good ownership.

It's a sad day for the affected fans in Atlanta and around the country, and that shouldn't be forgotten. For the most part, none of them are responsible for this mess, either.

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