On Tuesday, (May 31st, 2011) the NHL announced that the Atlanta Thrashers were being bought by True North and that the new owners would be relocating the franchise to Winnipeg, Manitoba.
As someone who has enjoyed NHL hockey for more than three decades, having a franchise in Winnipeg is something I am strongly in favor of. But will it work this time?
Like a lot of other people, seeing the NHL once again fail in Atlanta raises questions about the ability of the league to survive outside of traditional hockey markets.
In recent years, NHL teams from Phoenix and Nashville have gone into bankruptcy and needed to be saved by new ownership or league intervention. In fact, as you read this, the future of the Phoenix Coyotes, in Phoenix, beyond the 2011-12 season is very much in question.
If non-traditional hockey markets were the ONLY problem markets, then maybe I would be more optimisitic with this move to Winnipeg.
It wasn't so long ago that teams from more established hockey markets in Ottawa, Buffalo and Pittsburgh suffered similar financial problems and were faced with potential relocation if/when new ownership took control.
So at a time when the popularity of the sport appears to be increasing, with television viewership during the playoffs looking as good as ever, we are still reminded of how delicate a balance so many of the league's team may be on.
A second try in Winnipeg seems right for a lot of reasons...but as we have seen already, it will come at a cost.
True North is looking to secure season ticket plans in the neighborhood of 13,000...FOR THE NEXT THREE YEARS.
Hockey fans in Winnipeg are ecstatic about the Thrashers move, but are there enough of them who can afford to lay out the money for a 3 year season ticket plan?
My guess is...there will be...at least this time.
But what does this commitment that True North (not the NHL) wants from the Winnipeg fans say about the state of the game for some of the teams?
The balance really is that fragile.
One of the biggest problems the NHL faces is finding the right kinds of owners for their teams.
You might think that the guy who comes along with the fattest wallet is the one that should get a team.
As logical as that may sound, guys like that don't get fat wallets from running losing businesses. NHL teams in smaller markets...NHL teams in non-traditional hockey markets...NHL teams that lose, albeit in more traditional hockey markets...all have one thing in common. They don't make money...they usually lose it. Even owners with fat wallets don't want that.
So it's not just about who has the money...it's also about who loves the game enough to realize what it takes to make a team successful and do the things necessary to insure that success. That may mean losing, both on the ice and off, in the short term, so that they can win in the long run.
Is True North Entertainment that kind of ownership group? Only time will tell.
The Atlanta Flames played in the NHL from 1972 through 1979. In 1980, they moved to Calgary and have been there ever since.
The Winnipeg Jets played in the NHL from 1979 through 1995. In 1996 they moved to Phoenix and became the Coyotes. In 2011-12 they will play in Phoenix...after that, no one knows for sure.
The Atlanta Thrashers played in the NHL from 1999 through 2010. In 2011 they will move to Winnipeg and become a team that has yet to be named.
Here's hoping that "yet to be named" has a future in Winnipeg that more closely resembles the Calgary Flames than the Jets that left Winnipeg and went on to bankruptcy in Phoenix, or the two franchises that could not make it work in the Atlanta market.
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Losing money, however, is not as big a problem as it was before revenue sharing. You need to have a terrible fan base, and even losing teams in traditional markets generally get enough to sustain.
So, the main problem in Phoenix is a terrible fanbase...but even if ticket sales were better, would it make up for the 25M they need to stay there in 2011-12?
True, I agree on Phoenix, but I am less concerned about Peg.
A small correction... the Nashville Predators were not in bankruptcy. A single owner, under criminal prosecution, was in bankruptcy. A small but important difference.
Well done pmc. Classy and right way to make a correction.
Not only did Winnipeg fans sell the 13,000 they did it in a short time. Upper bowl season ticket holders made a 3 yr commitment, mid bowl was a 4 yr. commitment, lower/ice level was for 5 years. There were also 55 luxury/suite boxes that req'd a 7 to 10 year commitment (those are sold as well).
Very impressive and encouraging in Winnipeg. I'm hoping they take back the "Jets" name...only seems right.
There are a few names being talked about out there, but what do you guys think about the Winni"peg" Legs. They could where one sock that looks like a wooden stick. they could sew a parrot on their shoulder and they could have a pirate as their logo.