With the Atlanta Thrashers now gone from the deep south of the United States and making their home in Winnipeg, there are a host of fans in Atlanta and around Georgia that are now left without a local team to root for. Go ahead, make jokes about how Thrashers fans are just a figment of Gary Bettman’s imagination, but they’re real and now they’re hockey fans without a pro hockey team, a problem the Nashville Predators have already started to try and cash in on by offering enticing ticket packages for former Thrashers fans.
Now the Predators are going to potentially have some serious competition from another southern team to try and keep Thrashers fans in the mix in the NHL.
Luke DeCock of the Raleigh News & Observer shares news that the Carolina Hurricanes are thinking about making their move into the Atlanta market by showing up there next preseason to play a game and win over fans of their former division rivals. The one guy that knows all about how that works is current Hurricanes forward and now former Thrashers forward Anthony Stewart as he’s seen how great some of the Atlanta fans were up close and personal.
“There’s some passionate fans there,” said new Hurricanes forward Anthony Stewart, who played for the Thrashers last season. “I’m on Twitter pretty much every day, and they seem passionate about that. I’ve heard some fans say that their next team is going to be Tampa or Nashville or Carolina. It’s definitely worth it.”
Making the competition a bit stiffer to win those fans over, as DeCock mentions, the Predators and Hurricanes each getting about 40 games on Atlanta cable TV outlet SportSouth. While the Atlanta Spirit Group didn’t do much of anything to help Thrashers fans fall in love with the team by treating it like a poorly run bodega rather than a sports franchise capable of making money, both the Predators and Hurricanes are more than happy to court those jilted by the loss of their team.
Sure it might seem like vultures swarming over a carcass in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a good move to keep those fans that did love hockey entertained and winning over more fans in the deep south is never a bad thing. The one catch here in this competition between the two teams is proximity. Nashville is about a four hour drive from Atlanta whereas Raleigh is about a six to seven hour drive if you can fight off Atlanta traffic without a problem. Having the games on TV is a great thing because, let’s face it, hockey fans no matter where they are want to see it. Getting those fans to come out to a game at some point might be a bit tougher thanks to those tough commutes.
Still, it’s nice to see at least two other teams do something for Thrashers fans that their own team never felt compelled to do in the first place: Care.
So you’re coming here thinking I’ll be talking about how great Dale Hawerchuk and Teemu Selanne looked back in the day, right? Wrong. Instead, this is just going to be really, really awkward as I talk about great and ugly Thrashers sweaters of the past while we wait for the Jets to unleash their new look upon the masses. Consider this the fashion eulogy for the Atlanta Thrashers.
Best: Well this is awkward. The Jets are the ex-Thrashers and they don’t have a sweater identity of their own yet. The Thrashers, sadly, had a mostly forgettable history of sweaters. Sadly that’s how it works out for their hockey team as well. Their original home and road set were simple yet uninspiring.
What really grabbed people by the face were their final home blue sweaters. They did things really different by having “ATLANTA” going vertically down one sleeve with a baby blue sweater. It was striking, it was odd, and it was different. In a city that had a hard time getting noticed for hockey, those sweaters made you take notice of the team.
Worst: Hands down the worst sweater in Thrashers history was their final third sweater. For a team that was billing their home games at Philips Arena as “Blueland” thanks to their full-on adoption of baby blue sweaters, having a burgundy third sweater that eliminated the team logo and had a football-like “THRASHERS” word mark across the front it was a cavalcade of stupid. From a marketing perspective, playing games in a place you called “Blueland” and wearing a deep red color is dumb. Creating a third sweater that is thoroughly unattractive is a terrible way of trying to make a sale. Dumb, stupid, and ugly are three words you could use for this approach. They’re also three words Thrashers fans would use for the Atlanta Spirit Group.
Looking like a bird?: Something you may not have noticed about the Thrashers’ original sweaters is that when you look at them with the arms wide open, the curious sleeve design made it look as if the body of a jersey was a set of wings. I’m either constantly on drugs or it’s one of those sneaky things that’s there as plain as day and you just don’t look at it curious enough to notice. Please tell me I’m not crazy and that I just discovered a secret gem about these sweaters.
Assessment: We’re going to have to hope the Jets and True North’s designers are going to do something classic looking with their honestly awesome new logo. With the nod to the Canadian Royal Air Force, there’s a lot of reason to have high hopes for what the Jets will do. If they’re taking nods from what the Thrashers were doing, I’m terrified at what might come out. We’re not likely to find out what the Jets sweaters will look like until September so here’s to hoping they do it right.
Life’s been rough enough this summer for hockey fans in Atlanta. They’re without a team now that the Thrashers have been bought by True North and moved to Winnipeg and now the former ownership, Atlanta Spirit Group, is continuing to find ways to make life miserable for them.
While many fans in Atlanta bought season tickets in hopes that the talk of the team being bought and moved was just talk, that talk proved to be true and Atlanta Spirit is taking their sweet time in paying those trusting fans back.
WSBTV.com’s Jim Strickland out of Atlanta reports that many fans are having a hard time getting refunds for their season ticket deposits and payments from Atlanta Spirit. Salt in the wounds is not what these displaced hockey fans needed on top of the pain of losing a team, but the people representing the Thrashers ticket sales team aren’t helping matters either.
“It’s just been one excuse after another. Where’s my money at? Where’s my refund? It’s been well over a month from the time it was guaranteed to be sent back to me,” complained fan Brad Lyons.
Strickland called Lyons’ ticket representative. James Desmond refused comment and hung up the phone.
Strickland called back several times and got voicemail from several team officials.
“I was told, others have had this problem,” said Lyons. A second fan told Strickland that he’s still waiting for $3,700.
Lyons owed less than $200.
“I don’t care. It’s my money,” he said.
The upside to this story is that apparently the attention paid by the TV station is going to get these fans their money back sooner, but that’s how Atlanta Spirit has operated in this thing all along. They’ve operated poorly thanks to no one taking notice of what they were doing and then upon being called out, they snap into action to do what’s right.
Apparently all Atlanta Spirit needed to do a good job running a team was to have people paying attention to their mismanagement and general disarray in trying to run a franchise. Too little, too late for that now as the Thrashers are now the Jets and Atlanta Spirit can now exist in infamy as one of the worst ownership groups to call the NHL home.
We can just hope that they’ll stop jerking around other fans who deserve to get their money back efficiently. It’s the least they could do given that they did little to nothing to help the Thrashers establish a winning team or finding other potential owners to keep the team in Atlanta.
Say what you will about the situation involving the Thrashers sale to True North and moving to Winnipeg, it has an effect on everyone. For the fans in Winnipeg, they’re ecstatic. For the fans in Atlanta, they’re crushed. For the soon-to-be former owners of the Thrashers, they’ve said they’re disappointed and apologetic for not getting a deal done locally.
Are they sincere about that? Well now you can be the judge.
Thrashers owner Michael Gearon spoke with the media in Atlanta today to express his thoughts and feelings on the situation that will now see the Thrashers move from Atlanta to Winnipeg after 12 seasons in Georgia. The Thrashers made the playoffs just once and since Gearon and business partner Bruce Levenson bought the team as part of the Atlanta Spirit Group in 2004, they’ve been on hard times with making things work in Atlanta ever since.
In his talk to the media, Gearon had to pause numerous times so as to not get busted on camera crying fully for the fate of the team and hockey in Atlanta. Do you believe his feelings though? Given how things have shaken out we’re more than a bit cynical. Judge for yourselves however.
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As we discussed earlier today, the most recent reports indicate that the Atlanta Thrashers’ relocation to Winnipeg could be made official as early as Tuesday. Even if it doesn’t happen then, the consensus is that it is just a matter of time.
It’s easy to make the city of Atlanta itself the scapegoat, but many Thrashers fans blame the Atlanta Spirit ownership group for the team’s failures. The group (which also owns the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and Phillips Arena, where both teams play) has been steeped in lawsuits and lost distressing amounts of money during their time in control.
Jeff Hullinger interviewed Rutherford Seydel, one of the co-owners of the Thrashers and a member of the Atlanta Spirit, who wouldn’t discuss specifics of the negotiations but insisted that the ownership group tried their hardest to make the team work in Atlanta.
RUTHERFORD SEYDEL, Atlanta Spirit Group, LLC: “I can’t really comment on where we stand. I can just say that I’m proud of my partners for working hard to keep the Thrashers and paying a lot of money, all of us, to keep the team in town for longer than anybody else has thus far.
“Unfortunately, there are not enough of us that are passionate at this point in time to keep the team, to replenish what we need to have done.
“We currently are trying and we’ve tried and it’s frustrating and it’s a very heart-felt sorrow that I have at this point.
“Obviously being a fifth-generation Atlantan, being passionate about the team, being part of it, my father-in-law (Ted Turner) being the guy who named the team, it being important to our family, it’s something that would have been, would be great to have as a part of the fabric here in Atlanta.”
As happy as the hockey-starved citizens of Winnipeg will be to potentially receive another NHL team 15 years after the Winnipeg Jets fled town, it’s important to note that there will be plenty of crestfallen fans in Atlanta. If Seydel isn’t just providing lip service, then there might be at least a few members of the Atlanta Spirit who are unhappy about it, too.
Check out footage of his interview in the video below, from NBC 11 Alive News in Atlanta.