ATLANTA – Thrashers fans are planning to take advantage of possibly their last opportunity to demonstrate support for the NHL to remain in Atlanta.
Supporters are planning a rally before the team’s annual select-a-seat event for season-ticket holders at Philips Arena on Saturday.
Lisa Lewis, the fan club president, said Wednesday she expects a “pretty big turnout” in the rally she said is being organized by fan Jimmy Parks.
According to reports in Atlanta and Winnipeg, Thrashers owners are in negotiations with True North Sports and Entertainment, which would relocate the team to Winnipeg.
Former Atlanta Braves pitcher Tom Glavine is a high-profile Thrashers fan and former season-ticket holder who last month said he would like to be part of an ownership group which keeps the team in Atlanta.
Glavine said Wednesday he feared time is running out on the effort to save the team, especially after the troubled Phoenix Coyotes last week won a one-year reprieve to remain in Arizona. That development shifted Winnipeg’s focus to Atlanta.
“Based on the conversations I’ve had, off and on, I think there was always some sense that we had a little bit of time as long as Phoenix was still in the picture,” Glavine told The Associated Press. “Now that Phoenix is out of the picture, that time has kind of gone away and everything is on an accelerated path now.
“There seems to be a consensus there is gonna be a team in Winnipeg. The question is who, and unfortunately the bulls-eye seems to be on the Thrashers’ back.”
The Thrashers’ average attendance this past season was 13,469 per game to rank 28th out of 30 teams. Attendance has declined as the Thrashers, who made their debut as an expansion franchise in 1999, have made only one playoff appearance and some fans became impatient with team management.
Thrashers fan club member Jessica Moore said Atlanta fans who showed their discontent by staying away from games hurt the city’s chances to keep the team.
“When the energy is not in the arena, that’s an element of the game,” Moore said Wednesday. “I just think that’s a terrible way to show your ire at how an organization is run. I think it backfires and contributes to the situation we’re in now.”
Moore said she hopes it is not too late for fans to make an impact.
“At this juncture, people are so upset,” Moore said. “I think it’s very important for people to show up on Saturday.
“Outsiders say we’re fair-weather fans. If they see we’re giving up, they say ‘What kind of fans are you?'”
The ownership group, led by Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon Jr., also could sell the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, possibly to John Moores, who owns about 50 per cent of the San Diego Padres.
Moores had no comment to The Associated Press on Wednesday about a report in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he is in talks to buy the Hawks and operating rights to Philips Arena.
Levenson also would not confirm the report.
“We stated publicly over two years ago that we had hired an investment bank to pursue all options for the teams and arena,” Levenson told The Associated Press. “That remains the case.”
Levenson has said he has been unable to find a buyer to keep the team in Atlanta.
Glavine said he does not know how much more time remains for a local buyer to emerge.
“The problem now becomes that whatever interest there has been from people to buy the team here, there’s obviously more of a sense of urgency and I don’t know if that can be overcome or not,” Glavine said. “It certainly puts it in a much more difficult situation.”
Lewis said reports of the team’s talks with Winnipeg have “caught us out of left field.”
“Everybody wants the team to remain here,” Lewis said.
“With hockey fans, it’s a little strange. We all consider each other as family. We go on road trips together. This wold be almost like losing a family member.”