Earlier tonight, we discussed the perception that the NHL doesn’t have the same interest in keeping the Thrashers in Atlanta as it does with making sure the Coyotes don’t relocate. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution report indicates that Atlanta politicians won’t be willing to make the same $25 million deal to keep the Thrashers as the City of Glendale did to avoid the Coyotes’ relocation, either.
A spokesman for Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed said that the league hasn’t approached the city to make a similar deal as Glendale, but even if the NHL did, the city wouldn’t consider it. Reports indicate that the city might be in the middle of layoffs and pension reforms in 2012, so retaining a hockey team might not be considered a priority.
Before you throw Atlanta government officials under the bus, it’s important to note that these situations aren’t always directly comparable. Consider the following a simplified explanation of the biggest reasons the two situations are different for each city.
The Coyotes and Thrashers have very different leasing agreements. The Coyotes are the primary draw for Jobing.com Arena, so losing their primary tenant would be a big loss. There are other legal issues that might make relocation a bit sticky. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Hawks foot most of the bill at Phillips Arena, so it wouldn’t be quite as detrimental to that market if the Thrashers took off (in a big picture sense).
Losing the Thrashers might be a relatively smaller problem for Atlanta than the relocation of the Coyotes would be for Glendale, but it would still have some drawbacks.
William Pate, president of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, said losing the Thrashers would be a blow to the city’s brand.
“Atlanta is obviously an international city and a major sports town, both professional and collegiate, one of the handful of cities that has a professional team in every major sport,” Pate said Wednesday. “Just from the brand of the city, if you will, it would be disappointing to see our hockey franchise leave the city.”
Pate said “a lot of conventioneers and tourists, particularly from the North” like to go to Thrashers games at Philips Arena.
You can debate the merits of Atlanta as a market day and night, but the bottom line is that the team lost a lot of money so far. It’s unfair to say that hockey cannot work in Atlanta, but a local buyer must be convinced that there’s potential for growth. There’s no guarantee that the Thrashers’ days are really numbered, but all signs indicate that the local government won’t be the ones who save the day.