Contrarian Corner: Who cares about the Thrashers?

 

 

So it’s starting to look officially official, even if everyone’s denying it up and down: the Thrashers are almost certainly going to move to Winnipeg and become the Manitoba Moose and some perverted Canadian fantasy about how the American South is unfit to host teams will be proven right.

But it’s not a big deal, and anyone who tells you otherwise is an idiot.

The fact of the matter is that apart from divisional realignment, the NHL is going to change very little if the Thrashers pack their things and move to Winnipeg. It’s tough for people in Canada to admit that, I know.

It’s not a victory for Canada or The True Spirit of Hockey or anyone. It’s a loss for Atlanta and to a lesser extent Gary Bettman’s overreaching plans to create a footprint for the sport in the "non-traditional markets." The first fallacy pumped by the pro-Canadian team self-interest lobby is that these cities don’t deserve teams when Canadian municapilties, microscopic in size by comparison, go wanting. "How," they say, "can there be a team in Phoenix/Atlanta/Miami/Anaheim/Nashville when Moose Turd, Saskatchewan, has a brand new seven-year-old 12,000-seat arena?"

Well it’s really easy. These metropolitan areas have millions of people in them. Millions of people, potentially, mean money.

Yes, Gary Bettman opened about a million cans of worms when he expanded to the American South instead of Canada. Definitely. But moving to a Canadian city with a metro area with a population of around 1 million, if we’re being generous. The Atlanta metro area has 5.6 times that amount. I looked both of those things up on Wikipedia.

So there’s your reason right there. The NHL is moving back to Canada for the same reason it left: money. It’ll get a cut of the team being bought, and it’ll pull in a hefty relocation fee too. It’s much better than continuing to subsidize the Thrashers for another year because 5,000 season ticket holders would really like it.

(It should be noted, by the way, that I have zero sympathy for anyone that likes the Thrashers. The city couldn’t support the team, and I don’t care how many hockey fans are generally put out by the move, because in the end this was a failed experiment.) 

If there is interest from an ownership group and incentive to start a team, or import one from elsewhere, then that’s something the league should consider. Its primary function isn’t to make you happy, it’s to make money for the now-30 guys or groups that own NHL teams. They certainly hope you are entertained by the byproduct of that money-making venture — without fans, there is no venture — but the situation in Atlanta only became untenable because of one thing.

The team is drizzling cat piss.

The Thrashers have made the playoffs once in franchise history, traded away or lost to free agency every half-decent player to ever pull on a uniform and never created the foothold in marketplace that was necessary to properly kickstart their existence. They have, in short, been mismanaged into the ground. No one pays NHL prices to see a losing product. See also: Jets, Winnipeg.

People are currently lined up around the block to get season tickets in Winnipeg, just as they were in Atlanta when that team started out. "New" is fun and exciting. "Bad" is not. The new Manitoba team will be both, and the only thing we know for sure is that they won’t be new forever. The team can issue no such guarantees about its current poor quality.

And so the Thrashers are going north into a terribly uncertain future. Manitobans are thrilled. The prodigal sons, having gambled and drank and whored away all their goodwill deep in the heart of Dixie, have returned to the sport’s cradle, with people painting Gary Bettman as seeking hat-in-hand forgiveness for his transgressions. "This is what the league should have done all along,"  they say. Maybe. But the reality is that they’re getting back a team that isn’t very good. Granted, it’s better than the Jets squad that packed its bags for Arizona 15 years ago, but not by much. How long does that new team smell enchant the fanbase that would have you believe it’s hockey-starved? How many seasons of losing are they willing to put up with for the sake of  having a team at all?

History tells us it’s about 17.

So let’s not act like this is your birthright or anything. It’s just business.

 

  • 100% true. The reality is that if they wanted to put a franchise in a place that could support it they should put another one in Toronto. Winnipeg is fine for a relocation fee but they are saving the best market to financially and population-wise support a team for someone who wants to plunk down a huge expansion fee to fill the coffers of the rest of the owners.

    • Robert Cleave

      The expansion fee (and the extra cash to buy off the Leafs) for a Toronto2 franchise will be monumental, so if that’s really the endgame, it’s the correct play. Whether the league is organized enough to pull it off is another matter altogether, but agreed, Winnipeg wouldn’t get an expansion team from a league that knew what it was doing.

  • Scoring_guru

    As someone who spent his first 29 years of my life in Winnipeg, I would love to see this team thrive. However, it will be interesting to see the support in the middle of January, when the temperature is -35C, on a Wednesday night when the Winnipeg/Manitoba Jets/Moose/Unknown renew their age old rivalry against the Panthers, Sabres or Islanders. Once they start that long cold walk down Portage Avenue, they might second guess themselves and think that their 52″ plasma in their parents basement with a 12 pack of Standard lager is much more enticing. Are fans prepared to pony up $50, $75, $100 a ticket or more, plus beer, plus popcorn, plus parking, plus a foam finger (do they still sell those)….Even if you incorporate a 400km radius around the city for fan support, I am not sure Brandon, Pinawa, Teulon or Morris are going to be enough. Good luck Manitoba…good luck….

  • Heard an interview with Brian Burke the other day that basically said he doesn’t think a second Toronto team could survive because the Leafs don’t even sell all their suites as it is. Most teams rely on that type of thing to generate revenue moreso than gate receipts and merchandise sales.

    • The last time I looked at the NHL revenues by team a few years ago, the Leafs were way out in front of everybody. They were lapping some clubs in fact. So the intimation that TOR couldn’t support another club because the current team (which has been terrible for close to a decade now) doesn’t sell out it’s suites rings a little hollow to me.

    • Robert Cleave

      Depends where they locate that second team. Hamilton? Sure. That would draw heavily from the area between there and Niagara Falls, which is prime Sabre STH territory. The recent chatter is a new facility on the north or northeast side of the region, around Vaughan or Markham. If the team is based there, people in that area aren’t going to Sabres games, so probably not so much.

      Oh, and Brian Burke is protecting the interests of his employers, the end. They might have to knock the prices down a bit, but they could shave 70M off their yearly revenue and still be a top five club. His premise also rests upon the idea that there aren’t any businesses or fans currently shut out by the exorbitant pricing structure that the monopoly he works for charges. That belief might have a hard time bearing the weight of serious scrutiny.

  • Emir

    I think its a solid and legitimate point. Only when the newness of the team wears away do we see the real support. So the jury will be out…

    As for Toronto not selling to their corporate clientele, well no shit lol. Companies aren’t profitable by employing complete idiots, so no wonder they don’t want to spend money on a leafs box. Lets pay money to watch skating garbage… Or put money into a corporate golf membership where we can drink and have fun… Or a ski package… Or even just use the money to throw at homeless people. As you can see, lots of other things to do than watch the leafs lose and it won’t cost you top dollar.

  • Vintage Flame

    Even though I’m thrilled to see another Canadian team back in the NHL, in the back of my head I’m skeptical. it almost seems to be the NHL looking at the lesser of two evils. Clearly couldn’t keep the Thrashers in Atlanta with the lack of fan support and incompetence of the Thrashers ownership group. But is the move to Winnipeg because they deserved the franchise, or just lack of any other option?

    For a few years now they have talked about Kansas City as a possible location, but from what i understand, they haven’t gotten ownership figured out there yet either. And I’m not sure what the status is about an arena to play in?

    So only time will tell if the Peg chooses to let this team thrive or if they are as Scoring_guru fears, in just wanting to watch the games safe from Winnipeg’s arctic freeze. One thing is for sure, Atlanta becomes the first city to lose 2 NHL franchises.. let’s hope Winnipeg isn’t the second.

    • Not Sergei Priakin

      Kansas City has the Spring Center which opened in 2007 and seats over 17,000 for hockey.

      It’s also in downtown KC.

      Not sold on the Jets II.

      Not sold on a KC Scouts redux (and yes, I remember the Scouts … somewhat).

  • Can Winnipeg become a top ten revenue generating market? Probably not. Not with a 15,000 seat arena, modest and ticket prices that Manitobans can afford.

    Can Winnipeg do better financially than Atlanta or Phoenix? Almost certainly. But it wouldn’t surprise me if they are regularly on the receiving end of the revenue sharing plan.

    The only other option that they have is to fold the team. Things will have to get pretty bad before they entertain any contraction ideas.