Friday, May 20, 2011

The Sunbelt Manifesto

If you follow me on twitter, you well know that I have long supported a NHL team in Winnipeg. I'd support one in Quebec City and Hartford too. I didn't however, support the Coyotes moving to Winnipeg. Why? Simply because, as I wrote before, the backroom deal to move the team out of Phoenix is why the NHL is involved in the first place, and they are trying to finish what they started. In Atlanta, none of that applies. The new owners apparently never wanted the hockey team in the first place. Combine that with one playoff appearance in franchise history, and no wins to boot, it was not a recipe for success.  But, this is by no means telling of the other southern NHL franchises. In fact, it's more a referendum on bad ownership destroying a team before the success could begin.

What are the root causes for a team to move? Stadium issues usually come first, then it's stable ownership. Almost as quickly as Atlanta Spirit bought the Thrashers, the owners became embroiled in a court case that dragged on until recently. Not every owner of a Southern NHL team is ASG, Jerry Moyes, or even Alan Cohen. Look at how Disney built up the Ducks, how the Gunds built up the Sharks, and how Peter Karmanos built up the Hurricanes. The Thrashers never had an owner willing to build them up. Heck, Wayne Huizenga at least tried to build up the Panthers. Good ownership is required to build up a team to a point where they are the fixture. Just ask Seattle.

On the hockey side, it doesn't help out the Thrashers cause when the team made the playoffs once. All of the other "Sunbelt" teams have either made the playoffs on a consistent basis, or made the Stanley Cup at least once. Winning draws fans, no matter what market you're in, much to the chagrin of die-hards. Atlanta had no reason to ever go to Thrashers games in droves. When they started, the Braves were still winning NL East pennant after pennant, the Falcons had just made the Super Bowl, and the Hawks were consistently in the playoffs. And even when one team fell from grace, another took their place. In the other markets, the team is either the only winning game in town, or the only one in town. I won't go into individual histories, but you'll soon see what I mean.

It stinks that Atlanta has lost 2 hockey teams to a fate of low revenues and fan support, but this one here is not Atlanta's fault. They did all they had to do to get a team in the first place, and they had no part in the terrible ownership that followed. This isn't like when the Sonics or Browns left, as they were civic institutions. Sure other teams are in financial holes like Columbus, St. Louis and Florida, but their ownership is either committed or the team has some means of sustaining an arena or area.

If a team is winning and no one is showing up, that is a serious problem. The Thrashers never had that problem. The Ducks, Hurricanes, and Lightning never had this problem when they won cups, and even if they did, the ownership said that the team wasn't going anywhere.

Don't use Atlanta as a means to say that the Panthers or Coyotes or even the Blue Jackets are next. You never know what goes on behind the scenes, but Atlanta is different. There need not be comparisons.

The Sunbelt Manifesto is: Don't let the issues of one, tell you about how other strugglers are doing. It just isn't right.

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