I hate this for Atlanta. While I fully believe that Winnipeg is deserving of a franchise I do NOT think this is fair. The NHL has bent over backwards for years to keep a franchise in Phoenix, but within a period of a few weeks, they allow an organization to purchase the Atlanta Thrashers and move them 1400 or so miles away.
What is it about Phoenix (or a yuppie suburb of Phoenix, in the case of Glendale) that is so valuable to the NHL, that they will give millions to the franchise, and do everything it can to save the team, but they let go of Atlanta without allowing any kind of fight to occur? I love Phoenix. I lived there for 12 years. It’s a great city, with so much to offer. I have been to a Coyotes game in Glendale, and it was fun, but the fan support was pathetic. (I think the 8-10 Hurricanes fans who were there for the game were louder than all the Coyotes fans combined!)
But the NHL didn’t try and stop this. They didn’t do anything to help Atlanta, as they assisted Phoenix. That, is my biggest problem. One team gets years of support, assistance, financial backing, legal battle assistance, etc., and only weeks after it was determined Phoenix (Glendale) was keeping the Coyotes, Atlanta has lost their team. Why didn’t the NHL help Atlanta? It seems to me, from a PR standpoint, it’s a city the league would want in it’s fold. It’s a racially diverse community, and let’s be honest, the NHL is a predominantly white sport (though it shouldn’t be!) and Atlanta had been making great strides to diversifying their fan base, and even had one of the most racially diverse squads in the NHL.
This is great news for Winnepeg. The fans there are passionate, and clearly won’t need the same kind of fan-education that a non-traditional market like Atlanta required when it got the Thrashers in 1990. I’m sure even if the new Winnepeg team sucks (hey, maybe my Oilers won’t be 30th this year!), they will still have plenty of fans in the stands, which many feel is the hallmark of a successful franchise. I don’t believe this move has any potential to get more TV viewers in the United States. It isn’t going to break merchandising records for tshirts sold, etc. for anyone outside of Manitoba.
But this is terrible news for Atlanta. It’s terrible news for all of us who live in non-traditional hockey markets. It’s horrible for teams in the South, because of all of them, Atlanta was the largest, with the biggest population to draw from. Atlanta has a metro population of almost six million people, and they couldn’t get 15K of them to care enough about the team to buy season tickets. (Raleigh, by comparison, has a metro population of 1.1 million, drastically smaller than the other teams in the Southeastern Division, but nearly double the size of Winnipeg’s 690K.)
This isn’t going to be an easy year for the Southeast division. Travel will be VERY different, and will require the new Winnepeg team to visit each of it’s five division rivals three times each, plus a trip to Charlotte on September 25 for the preseason game against Carolina. It is only a matter of time before a new team joins the Southeast (probably Nashville or Columbus). The NHL made strides a couple of years ago to have each Canadian team play each other twice, but with the alignment in the Southeast next year, I assume Winnepeg will only play Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver once, despite the closer proximity to them. They will still play the Eastern Canadian teams multiple times, though (four each, if the schedule format remains the same in 2011-12 as it’s been in recent seasons).
I think this is a wake up call to all of us Southern hockey fans. We MUST continue to support our teams, win or lose. We’ve got to keep buying tickets, supporting our teams, and bringing more friends and family to games. Hockey in the south is an amazing thing, and I know I’d be devastated if I lost my team as those in Atlanta must be today.
A couple of quick notes:
- The preseason game on September 25 with the Hurricanes in Charlotte is still going to happen. According to Chip Alexander there is a signed contract. (Of course, I’m sure the season ticket holders in Atlanta also had signed contracts for the tickets in 2011-12 they had already bought…. so contracts only mean so much…) Regardless, it looks like Charlotte hockey fans are going to be some of the first to get to witness the new Winnepeg team.
- I bet Jacob Micflikier is excited beyond belief. He always told me if he wasn’t playing in Charlotte, the only other AHL team he’d want to play for would have been the Moose. While I REALLY want to see number 18 back in a Checkers jersey next year, I’ll keep my fingers crossed he can sign a deal with the Winnepeg Thrajets.
- I was confused by the comments the PR guy made about Winnepeg being a major music city, and having so many great bands from there. Thanks to Mike Lappan, I learned that Winnepeg is home to Crash Test Dummies, The Guess Who, Propagandhi, Niel Young and Bachman-Turner Overdrive. I’m not sure those names give them the awesome music status of somewhere like Athens, GA (of the 80’s and 90’s), Nashville or Memphis, TN…
- I wonder what this means for the Thrashers ice girls? I HOPE it means that the NHL will have one less team with hockey cheerleaders/dancers/whatever…. the Thrashers ice girls wore less clothes than the Checkmates, but weren’t quite as skanky looking as the Panthers ice girls…
- I’m anxious to see what this all means to the AHL. The Manitoba Moose are now homeless (they are the Vancouver Canucks farm team, but are owned by True North, the same organization that bought the Thrashers) and the Chicago Wolves may be without a parent club, as they were affiliated with Atlanta. So lots and lots of things are going to be happening in the coming weeks.