R.I.P. Atlanta Thrashers
Posted by Euroranger on June 1, 2011
Been awhile since I drooled on this page. Figured I ought to do something to indicate I was still active enough to piss off the gods (I am and they are, BTW). Anyway, the reason I’ve been gone for some time now is that I got caught up watching my second favorite sport, professional hockey (my first favorite sport, college football, is still a few months off and “furious self-abuse” isn’t yet considered a sport) so I didn’t have the time (or the interest despite many worthy topics I could have ranted about…and believe me, I ranted).
So, let’s talk hockey. The Tampa Bay Lightning (my team) went all the way to the NHL’s (which now stands for “No Hockey ‘Lanta”) Eastern Conference finals and Game 7 to boot before finally being overcome by a complete lack of hockey officiating and the Boston Bruins’ Tim Thomas. THAAAAAAT close to going to the Stanley Cup. You’d think I’d be somewhat upset or disappointed as a Bolts fan to have missed the Big Show by that much and to a team as dirty as the Bruins, but I’m not. I knew the Lightning didn’t match up well with Boston…I said as much on some sports forums here and there. The Lightning have much more talent than Boston (except perhaps at goaltender where the teams are pretty much even) but NHL playoff hockey is both good and bad for the same reason: the officiating changes radically and the way it changes favors teams who take cheap shots and play a rougher game than the regular season officiating tolerates. That’s not an excuse mind you: everyone is aware of this. It’s what makes playoff hockey the most exciting sport to watch on television…period. It truly has no competition so it’s really unfortunate that the NHL can’t figure out a way to get more Americans watching it. I’m also not all that disappointed because I really didn’t expect the Lightning to be as good as they turned out to be this season. They started the season with a new owner, new general manager, new coach and a new system…but mostly with the old players. I knew they’d be better (because they were so low last year they only realistically had one direction they could go) but nobody, and I really mean no living human being here, knew they’d turn out to be as good as they showed. I said before the start of the season that they’d be better than last year but that I was really looking forward to 2012 and beyond once the new management gets more of their kind of players on board. This season simply gave them all a teasing taste of what they could do…so hell yeah, I’m looking forward to next season. Thanks for the excitement Bolts! We’ll get that Cup next year!
Anyway, back to the Atlanta Thrashers. They announced yesterday that they’ve been sold to an ownership group in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada (if you’re rusty with your Canadian geography grab a globe, spin it round to Canada and then locate the spot representing the most boring, miserable spot any person could ever dread to be sentenced to live…and you’ve likely located one of the nicer parts of Winnipeg). Winnipeg, once upon a time, had an NHL team called the Jets (no, I have no idea why they were called the Jets aside perhaps from possibly being named after the conveyance that most rapidly bore people away from Winnipeg) and those Jets were one day magically relocated to the desert of Arizona to ply their trade…because as everyone who is also the NHL commissioner knows, if there’s one sport that will succeed in the desert, it’s ice hockey. Handily enough, agreement with this decision is also a reliable test for either dementia or adult onset cretinism, either or. Anyhow, so Atlanta, which previously hosted the going away party for the Atlanta Flames (now the Calgary Flames) now hosts the poorly attended departure ceremony for their Atlanta Thrashers…and many are wondering how/why/whatthehelltooksolongfor this happened. Because I am possessed of the unique attributes of being a southerner living in the Atlanta area, being a hockey fan and perhaps most importantly, being the owner of this blog…I am uniquely qualified to render the verdict as to why this sad move is taking place. (Sets down beer) Prepare to be amazed ya’ll by my elite hockey acumen:
Problem #1: Poor arena location – Atlanta used to play their games at Philips Arena which, I have to admit, is in itself a very nice facility and a pretty decent place to see a hockey game. That said, it sits smack in the middle of downtown, right next to CNN Center (they’re actually linked like unfortunately conjoined twins), just down the way from the Georgia Dome and across the street from Centennial Olympic park. You’d think that all those destinations would be a great benefit to the Thrashers but if you thought that, you’d be ignorant of one thing: there are no Thrashers fans living within any kind of reasonable distance of that location…primarily because Atlanta Thrashers (and hockey) fans in general aren’t homeless vagrants. I’m a hockey fan living in the northwest suburbs of Atlanta and I’ve lived here for going on 7 years. Know how many hockey games I’ve attended at Philips Arena in all those years? TWO. Know why it’s only been TWO? The first time I took my older son and we were accosted from the time we paid our $15 dollar parking fee (because there was no way in hell we were going to tempt the Gods who clearly have it in for me by riding MARTA) all the way to the door at CNN Center by bums, homeless dudes and Atlanta cops who acted acted like particularly ill-tempered homeless bums but with uniforms and weapons. To say it was uncomfortable getting to the arena is putting it mildly. I’ve been to exactly one football game at the Georgia Dome and been one time to the Georgia Aquarium for the same reason. The arena isn’t anywhere near the fans that typically support a hockey team. Put the arena in the northern suburbs where the more predominantly white and affluent fans live and the team would be talking up how much better they’d be doing next season…in Atlanta. However, let’s not dance around the issue because my second point addresses it directly:
Problem #2: Hockey isn’t a black sport– Now I know we’re all supposed to be color-blind, politically correct folk here but really, have you ever watched a hockey game on television? Actually, forget I asked that (because most Americans haven’t) and let me simply show you an example of what I’m talking about:
Have a really close look there. Those are fans of the Detroit Red Wings, quite possibly the most rabid American hockey fans anywhere. What don’t you see in that picture? Black folks. Know what’s even more remarkable? Atlanta is more than 61% black and is much larger population wise than Detroit. Detroit however is more than 81% black. You’d expect to see at least ONE black dude in that picture who isn’t shouting “popcorn, peanuts, ice cold beer”, right? WRONG. Black people don’t have an interest in hockey…period (little hockey pun there). If black folks won’t go to support a successful, storied hockey franchise in Detroit where they make up more than 3 people in every 4…how the fucking hell did anyone in Atlanta think they could do it in the Deep South by planting the arena in the most inhospitable-to-white-fans location they could find? Some might say “hey asshole (a name by which I am commonly referred to), the Falcons play right next door and they draw plenty of white folks”…to which I would counter with “hey dickhead (now that we’re on a professional moniker basis), know what time most Falcons’ games start and what time most Thrashers’ games start?” That’s right: football is primarily a “day” sport whereas hockey is played at night. It seems like a really racist thing to say but guess what: white hockey fans from the suburbs don’t really want to roam around downtown Atlanta rubbing elbows with the gangsters and bums…especially at night. Is that the primary reason the franchise in Atlanta failed? I doubt it. Did it help though? Not a fucking chance. Could it have been offset? Well, let’s check out problem #3 for the answer.
Problem #3: Piss Poor Ownership – This problem could easily be broken out into two separate topics but, truthfully, both topics call the same place home and that’s bad, clueless ownership. Those two topics? Bad team and nonexistent marketing. You can’t expect to lure anyone to come see your games if you can’t put a competitive entertaining product on the ice. People don’t go to see a loser unless there’s some other reason that fans adore them. You can pretty much point only at the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox (up til a few years ago) where fans will still come to pay money to watch lousy teams with no chance of winning anything as an example of the “you don’t need to have a winner” school of sports ownership. Guess what: Atlanta isn’t Chicago or Boston. The Thrashers, more than anything else, needed to put a winning product out there for the fans to follow, get behind and eventually form a bond with. The ownership group in Atlanta was so inept at this task that the Thrashers made the playoffs ONE time in ELEVEN seasons…and were promptly swept out of the playoffs as though the hockey gods noticed and said “whoa, who let them in here?”. They didn’t even win a single playoff game in eleven seasons. That’s pretty damned awful on any scale. But hey, there’s lots of sports teams who get by and are viable despite not winning many playoff games much less winning championships. St Louis has the Blues NHL franchise. They’re not all that great. Washington has the Capitals and until recently, they stunk out loud. Neither of those franchises are in what anyone would even charitably call “hockey country” and both those cities sport exceptionally large black populations that don’t support the local hockey team for shit. So what do the Blues and Capitals do better than the Thrashers? They MARKET the team, promote the team and try to put at least a semi-competitive product on the ice. The Thrashers marketing effort was so dismal I truly cannot recollect seeing so much as a billboard, radio ad or TV commercial extolling the excitement and fun to be had by attending a Thrashers’ home game. Now mind you, perhaps they have a respect for the truth such that they felt barred from telling such lies in such a public fashion…but this is business. You have to stretch the truth some to sell your product. The Atlanta Thrashers had NO discernible marketing effort whatsoever. I’d actually consider to go see the Thrashers play my Lightning but hell, with no ads to let me know who the next home opponent would be, I missed both Tampa Bay visits to Atlanta this season. Those are two games I’d might have bought a couple of tickets to go see…had I known they were even playing.
Anyhow, in closing: enjoy the team Winnipeg. You should never have lost the Jets and the ownership group in Atlanta didn’t deserve to own anything more complicated that a pair of socks. So long Thrashers. The chances of Atlanta ever seeing another NHL team playing here just dropped lower than whale shit.
Way to go Atlanta.