|You can help Phoenix but not Atlanta?|
It was a sad day yesterday as the Atlanta Thrashers finally died their slow death as the team was sold to True North Sports and will be moved to Winnipeg for this 2011-2012 season. Much has been said, even by me, about the mismanagement of the team by the Atlanta Spirit Group and they do shoulder the majority of the blame for the Thrashers' failure. You can read more opinion about ASG here, in this great column by ESPN's Scott Burnside. You can also see the tearful apology (sarcasm alert!) from ASG member Michael Gearon here.
While we all know the troubles of ASG, it seems as though commissioner Gary Bettman has some questions to answer as well. He jumped to the aid of the Phoenix Coyotes (HIS NHL even took over operations of the team) when they were let down by poor ownership. You see, it was Phoenix, not Atlanta that has been rumored to be headed to Winnipeg for a while, but Bettman fought tooth and nail to keep the Coyotes in Arizona despite having the league have to run the team.
The reason Bettman fought hard to save Phoenix was the fact that the local government voted to use tax-payer money ($25 million per year!) to help subsidize the losses the Coyotes are bleeding each year. In Arizona, Bettman gets to keep control of the Phoenix market AND not have to take a bath financially. He also doesn't have to say that his project (moving to Phoenix from Winnipeg) failed. It's as close to a win-win as he could have hoped.
In Atlanta, however, he had an eager seller, ASG. There was going to be no local subsidy to keep the team, so Bettman could also win here by giving True North and Winnipeg (a truly hockey-rabid area) their team back, without having to admit the Arizona failure.
However, here's the REAL REASON why the Thrashers moved: the franchise relocation fee. You see, as part of the Thrashers negotiated sale is a $60 million dollar relocation fee that ASG makes payable to who? You guessed it, Gary Bettman and the NHL.
With this plan, how could Bettman fail? He gets to keep and run the Coyotes with free money from the Glendale, Arizona government and gets $60 million more to sacrifice the Thrashers and cover any potential losses for the Coyotes, until he can find a buyer in Phoenix on which he can make even more money! I guess money means more than anything to Bettman.
In the end, it's a sad time for Thrashers fans, as we are left out in the cold for the incompetence of ASG and the greed of Gary Bettman. That's twice now that the Atlanta market has failed in the NHL, and we seemed destined to never get another chance. I guess it's Gwinnett Gladiators for me!