ATLANTA – The Atlanta Thrashers’ sale and move to Winnipeg is not yet official, but Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed talked on Tuesday as if losing the team is inevitable.
“I think anytime we lose a major sports franchise, it is tough,” Reed said.
“It is going to hurt the city but we will withstand it just fine and we will get through it. We have a lot of positive things going on in the sports franchise space that I think we’ll be announcing pretty soon that will offset it a bit.”
An announcement about a Thrashers’ sale and move to Winnipeg will have to wait.
“No agreement has been reached,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in an email to The Associated Press on Tuesday night.
This would not be the first time longtime Atlanta hockey fans have suffered the pain of losing a team to Canada. Atlanta lost its first NHL team in 1980 when the Flames moved to Calgary.
Reed said the city was willing to work to keep the Thrashers, but had no success in its search for a buyer to keep the team in Atlanta. Reed’s office has joined the Thrashers’ ownership group, called the Atlanta Spirit, in the search.
“I’ve been working very hard to be as helpful as I can, but the Thrashers, as you know, are in an extraordinary position because of the amount of the losses associated with the team,” Reed said. “We have not yet seen a path where we can reverse those losses fast enough.
“You talk to the Atlanta Spirit ownership, they will share the same thing. It’s not a lack of the city being willing to step up and do something about it. It is a partner with deep enough pockets to be willing to sustain pretty significant losses and 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 a lack of trying, believe you me.”
Smith answered questions from reporters about the Thrashers after speaking at the opening of a new office complex.
The Thrashers’ owners, led by Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon Jr., are in talks with True North Sports and Entertainment, which would relocate the team to Winnipeg.
The ownership group also owns the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and operating rights to Philips Arena, which is home to both teams.
The ownership group claims the hockey club has lost more than US$150 million since 2005. Gearon told The Associated Press this week the team lost $20 million in the 2006-07 season when it made its only playoff appearance.
The Thrashers’ average attendance this season was 13,469—28th out of 30 teams.
True North reportedly is willing to pay $110 million for the team and another $60 million to the league as a relocation fee.