Do not expect much help from Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed, Atlanta Thrashers fans.
If you listened to him speak on Tuesday, it is almost like he was towing the Atlanta Spirit/NHL line.
“I think any time we lose a major sports franchise, it is tough,” Atlanta’s top elected official told TV cameras, including 11 Alive on Tuesday morning. “It’s going to hurt the city, but we are going to withstand it just fine. We will get through it.”
Wow. Those are really some fighting words from a guy who is all about creating jobs.
Granted, the Atlanta hockey audience comes mainly from outside the city of Atlanta. So the Mayor does not really have to care that much about Thrashers fans going to the ballot box and pulling the lever for the other guy in a few years.
But how many concessions workers, security guards, ushers, parking attendants and Atlanta Spirit employees will be affected if the Thrashers leave town? Not to mention all those ancillary effects to the local economy with 44 fewer major league dates at Philips Arena?
From talking to a lot of those people over all of my years of covering the Thrashers and the Atlanta Hawks, these good people live and work in the City of Atlanta. They depend on their paycheck to feed their families and live the American dream, Mayor Reed.
It also doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that the Thrashers bring money into Atlanta when people shop in the local area, stay in local hotels and travel to the city to watch a hockey game.
So how do you address that Mr. Mayor?
“We have a lot of positive things going on in the sports franchise space,” Mayor Reed said. “I think we will be announcing (it) pretty soon that will offset it a bit.”
Like what? Major League Soccer? If so, where? Georgia Tech? Turner Field? At KSU’s field in Kennesaw? Arthur Blank’s redundant stadium to compliment, but not replace the modern-enough Georgia Dome hasn’t been built yet, last time I checked.
Or maybe you can bring the Lingerie Football League to town and put them in Philips Arena. Or go get that extra week of the Circus back from the Arena at Gwinnett Center so that a zebra can roam around the Connector again.
Maybe even you can go and steal the Stampede rodeo from Calgary – now that will really show those Canadians for “stealing” two hockey teams. Perhaps you can bring back the defunct Ice Capades?
But will any of that make those Philips Arena employees whole? Of course not.
Philips Arena is pretty much maxed out as a concert venue. Unless you want to add five dates of the Charlie Sheen tour there, I don’t know how many more concerts you could add that would come remotely close to get the crowds you get for professional hockey, even if you are drawing to just 75-percent capacity.
Yes, you could add something like lacrosse or even bring back Arena Football to downtown, but there’s no way you’re going to get the same utilization of the rink that you would get with an NHL hockey team.
So why aren’t you fighting harder, Mr. Mayor?
Why are you towing the tired Atlanta Spirit line that after six months no one wants to buy a hockey team and that the Thrashers are losing money, instead?
“The Thrashers, as you know, are in an extraordinary position because of the amount of losses that are associated with the team,” Mayor Reed said. “So we have not yet seen a path where we can reverse those losses fast enough. If you talk to the Atlanta Spirit ownership, they will share the same thing.”
Ummm. Ask Charlie Sheen. Try winning. As my colleague Jeff Schultz pointed out today, the Thrashers did just fine attendance-wise when the only time they made the playoffs in 2006-07.
Perhaps the Mayor should ask the Spirit about that season. They weren’t complaining when the rink was sold out for 11 regular season games and the playoffs and were averaging over 16,000 fans.
And of course the Mayor has been talking to the Spirit a lot, because he totes the same tried-and-true line that the city has tried and tried and tried to get someone to buy the Thrashers under terrible lease terms.
“It’s not a lack of the city being willing to step up and do something about it,” Mayor Reed said. “It is a partner with deep enough pockets to be willing to sustain pretty significant losses. We have not yet had any of the individuals in our community who are prepared to take that on. But it has not been for lack of trying, believe me.”
Hey Mayor Reed, I’d love to know the effort you actually took to try to figure out a solution to this problem, but you may want to start by asking your friends at the Atlanta Spirit to give parties a bona fide effort to buy the Hawks, the Thrashers and the operating rights to Philips Arena.
Or at least tell your friends there to cut the guys who want to buy the hockey team into a fair 50/50 split of arena revenues like they do in Dallas.
But that would be too much of a common sense solution.
Look, no one is suggesting a Glendale-style bailout here. That’s certainly not necessary. I would never advocate using taxpayer dollars to bail out bad business judgment. And upon almost all accounts your friends at the Atlanta Spirit have been negligent in running this hockey team.
With that said, there are other “outside the box” ways to come to a solution here. Your city has a huge corporate base and foundations with millions upon millions of dollars.
The Thrashers are a public asset. You know that.
I don’t know Mayor Reed, did it ever occur to you to work with the Atlanta Sports Council and the Chamber of Commerce to rally the corporate base to give the Thrashers some breathing room so that a deal can be worked out next season instead of letting Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon get away with bolting with your city’s hockey team after what really amounts to a six month search for a new owner?
You may be surprised at how you can turn what’s looking like a losing proposition into a winning one, if you use the assets you already have assembled in this great metropolis of ours. Last I checked there were a lot of big companies here with a lot of money and people here that like to do things for the public good. Didn’t we build a world-class aquarium based on philanthropy?
Come on Mayor Reed. See the light here.
Thrashers fans, if you want to get in touch with Mayor Reed, he has a twitter account @kasimreed. His phone number is (404)330-6100. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
Give him some ideas. He apparently is apparently is missing that vision thing right now. Just be constructive. There is a solution here. Help the Mayor see the light.
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