Tag: Michael Gearon

Michael Gearon

Video: Thrashers owner Michael Gearon breaks down crying talking about team’s sale and move to Winnipeg


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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Thrashers owners tell fans they’re sorry it didn’t work out in Atlanta

Michael Gearon, Bruce Levenson

While the Thrashers are officially being sold to True North Sports and Entertainment and moved to Winnipeg next season, there’s the other side of the story that’s out there. That part of the story comes from the Thrashers owners in the Atlanta Spirit Group, Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon.

While the press conference was going on in Winnipeg to euphoric cries of joy, Atlanta Spirit was quietly expressing their own version of sadness and dismay at the financial mess they put themselves in and forced their hand into selling to True North.

Levenson and Gearon posted a letter to fans in Atlanta on their website to express what they’re feeling as they sweat out their final days before the NHL Board of Governors meet on June 21st to officially approve the sale. Pardon us if we’re not feeling the sincerity they’re trying to push on the fans.

As many of you know, for some time we have been seeking a buyer for the team or a partner willing to join with us in continuing to fund the team. We hired an investment banking firm to seek out potential investors with the expressed goal of finding someone who would keep the team here in Atlanta. In recent months, we openly indicated a growing urgency to secure assistance in off-setting our operating losses in hopes that our public plea would produce investors who, to that point, had eluded us.

After extensive effort, nobody has come forward. As a result, we had no choice but to explore the investment option presented to us by the NHL in the form of True North Sports and Entertainment.

Their push to find local owners only became public in the last few months and saw the likes of baseball star Tom Glavine and former NHLer Anson Carter come out with hopes of assembling investors together to buy the team. Those plans didn’t work out for any number of reasons be it a lack of suitors willing to part with their money or Atlanta Spirit Group unwilling to see things out.

Levenson and Gearon made this mess and did little if anything to clean it up. Their efforts to help make the Thrashers look as unappealing to other potential buyers in the seven years they owned the team worked out well enough so that they could cut a sweet deal with True North. Everything works out nicely for them, meanwhile the fans get screwed and the city of Atlanta loses their second NHL team in 31 years, a truly unbelievable accomplishment of failure.

Atlanta Spirit Group should be embarrassed with how they handled the Thrashers and for treating the team as a side thought. Instead, they’ll take the money and run while Canada can celebrate the return of a franchise to within their borders. We’re happy for Winnipeg here, don’t get us wrong, but seeing Thrashers fans get shown the door in such a way is low. Perhaps not as low as the Baltimore Colts in the NFL, but this ranks up with one of the uglier ownership fiascoes of modern times.

Who wants to buy the Thrashers? A Hollywood filmmaker has interest

Washington Capitals v Atlanta Thrashers

With Thrashers owner Michael Gearon sounding off yesterday about how the Thrashers are struggling in Atlanta worries sparked almost immediately about who would help out and where they might land if they’re moved. The real side effect of all that may have been to just beat the bushes and shake someone out of hiding. If that was the case, Gearon wins this round.

Filmmaker and Atlanta native Stephen Rollins is apparently interested in purchasing the team.

Rollins is the head of Lightning Pictures. He says he has talked with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Rollins says the Thrashers “want to do something pretty quickly” but his group is cautiously seeking “adequate data” on the team’s finances.

This arrangement sounds similar to the one the the NHL has going with Matthew Hulsizer and the Phoenix Coyotes, a deal that has still yet to be approved and finalized in Arizona.

Rollins isn’t a novice when it comes to hockey as his IMDB profile says he’s got a recent past with the game and even played in Roller Hockey International with the New Jersey Rock ‘n Rollers. Hey, it’s something to run with here.

If Rollins is the guy to save the day for the Thrashers, Gearon’s threats of relocation might be all for naught as you’d have to imagine a guy with an Atlanta background is going to jump in looking to be the local savior. Of course if Rollins is scared off by the financial particulars involved in the deal, we can’t exactly blame him.

Of course, part of the problem in Atlanta just might be because the owners that bought the team were looking to get out and the fans have a hard time buying into a team that the owners aren’t really trying to do anything with. Still, it’s positive to see instant interest in the team. Whether or not Rollins is at all serious remains to be seen but these things can develop fast, look at how quickly things happened with Jeff Vinik with the Lightning. It’s a small glimmer of hope for the Thrashers, but it’s a good thing for now.

Atlanta owner says if things don’t improve, Thrashers could be on the move

Nik Antropov

You would think with the Thrashers being a playoff contending team this season that attention and ticket sales would improve in Atlanta. They play an entertaining brand of hockey with a pair of electric personalities in Dustin Byfuglien and Evander Kane and most of all they’ve been able to win more often than not.

Instead, the Thrashers have the third worst attendance in the league filling up just 70.4% of Phillips Arena to the tune of an average crowd of 13,056. Atlanta isn’t always known as a great sports town and support for teams like the Braves, Falcons, and Hawks have always been mercurial. Thrashers owner Michael Gearon understands this and is trying to be pro-active about lighting a fire under the fans and inspiring them to come out to games and get more local corporate support behind the team.

Problem is, he’s opted to go about doing so in a the threatening, doom and gloom kind of way rather than a positive spin as Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution shared today.

Atlanta Spirit co-owner Michael Gearon said there is now a “sense of urgency” to find additional investors or a buyer willing to keep the Thrashers in Atlanta. If the ownership group does not get additional financial help in the near future the franchise could be sold and moved to another city.

“If we are faced with that as the only alternative, that’s what’s going to happen,” Gearon told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an exclusive interview Tuesday. “I don’t think there is an ability to stomach another $20 million in losses. We just can’t do it.

“The reality is we need fans showing up and we need investors, or a primary investor.”

An owner pleading with the locals to help him out so he doesn’t suffer more multi-million dollar losses. It’s a situation we’ve gotten to be too familiar with thanks to the ongoing saga in Phoenix with the Coyotes and former owner Jerry Moyes. This stuff with Atlanta has been bubbling for a while as the Atlanta Spirit group continues to drown in litigation with former ownership partner Steve Belkin.

Atlanta Spirit has been trying to sell the Thrashers for six years, starting almost immediately after purchasing the team, according to the Jan. 21 lawsuit filed in Fulton County Superior Court against Atlanta law firm King & Spalding.

The group filed a $200 million malpractice lawsuit against the firm saying a “fatally flawed” and “botched” contract written to buy out former partner Steve Belkin prevented a Thrashers sale in the nearly five years it took to settle that suit in December.

Before the current litigation, the Atlanta Spirit stated publicly for the past two years that it was looking for investors for the Thrashers, Hawks or both franchises. According to the lawsuit, ownership reported more than $130 million in operating losses since 2005. The Thrashers value also has dropped by more than $50 million, the document says.

With that sort of mess on their hands, Gearon coming out and saying that if things don’t improve soon, things will be dire for the team and their future in Atlanta will be in peril.  It’s the sort of thing we’ve gotten used to hearing from owners looking for financial help to get their way. Moyes tried it in Phoenix and Mario Lemieux did something similar when negotiating for a new arena in Pittsburgh. In Mario’s case he won out and CONSOL Energy Center was built. For Moyes, he had his team bought from him by the NHL rather than getting to escape by selling the team to Jim Balsillie.

For Atlanta, circumstances are a bit different as their ownership situation is a mess with the ongoing court stuff and the seeming overall disinterest from the people in Atlanta on the whole. Atlanta does have a sect of very loyal and loving fans, but branching out beyond those few thousands has been the struggle all along in such a hot-and-cold sports town like Atlanta.

Of course, when you come out all guns blazing to call attention to something you find to be a problem, you’re going to get noticed. This afternoon, Gearon was on local Atlanta radio with John Kincade to talk about his comments and hit the gas to backpedal away from a lot of his initial thoughts.

Apparently Gearon didn’t realize that all of Canada is eager to get a struggling American NHL team back in their own hands. Gearon spun things a bit more level-headed-like on the air today as Laura Astorian of SBN Atlanta summed up.

Most pointedly, Kincade asked Gearon if he could guarantee that the team wouldn’t be moving, and the response was a stock answer about dedication to the team. The best quality quote, though, is this one:

“I’m not hitting a panic button here and I apologize if it came out that way. I want to set the record straight and get the fans and community on board with us.”

Less doom and gloom, more rah-rah stuff. You can’t help but think that Gearon got a phone call from the league office in Manhattan asking him to be a bit more careful talking about a team that’s already got attendance issues and is in the midst of a playoff race. The last thing the NHL wants to deal with is financial fires on both sides of the country and while the situation in Atlanta is bad, they’re nearly out of the woods with Phoenix so having this come up now is wildly inconvenient both in how the league wants to handle things and how the perception of the league is amongst the masses.

It would be the NHLs luck though to have things get close to finished with one problem team only to have another rise up and grab all the attention. Here’s to hoping things don’t get that ugly in Atlanta.