It’s official. The Atlanta Thrashers are on their way up north. The Atlanta Spirit Group, owner of the Hawks and operating rights to Philips Arena, sold Atlanta’s professional hockey team to True North Sports and Entertainment earlier today. The team will play in Winnipeg, Manitoba for the 2011-12 season.
Economics drives a lot of transactions in sports, and the sale of the Thrashers was no exception.Â Atlanta Spirit, which had been under financial stress, will receive $170 million, and the NHL will take in a $60 million relocation fee from True North.
The move doesn’t necessarily erase the financial difficulties of operating a team in the league, and NHLÂ commissioner Gary BettmanÂ acknowledged the challenges True North will face, particularly with the Thrashers playing in the 15,015-seatÂ MTS Centre, the smallest arena in the NHL:
“It isn’t going to work very well unless this building is sold out every night,” Bettman said.”
However,Â Winnipeg just might be better suited to bear some of the financial burdens. The Thrashers will no longer be competing with the likes of the Braves, Falcons and Hawks for fans, and Winnipeg has been itching for a pro hockey team ever since the Winnipeg Jets moved to Phoenix in 1996.
While several Thrasher players and fans are outraged about the move, some are looking on the bright side. Atlanta goalie Chris Mason stated:
“I remember growing up watching the Jets, and I’m just excited to know NHL hockey is coming back to a city that has always wanted hockey.”
And Vancouver Canucks player Alex Burrows pointed out:
“I’d rather play in a rink that holds 15,000 and feels like it’s 20,000 than go into a building with 20,000 seats and just 5,000 fans.”
And besides, the Canadian dollar is stronger than the U.S. dollar now anyways, right?