The Atlanta Thrashers have made headlines lately. Only it’s for reasons unwelcoming to the one or two Thrashers fans of the world. Each day, a move to Winnipeg looks more and more likely for the struggling franchise.
Fans of the NHL should welcome this move, which seems inevitable despite no official word yet. Hockey is the lifeblood of Canada, so therefore it makes sense for a league that struggles to gain recognition to welcome the return of a team to a market where it’ll be relevant.
The interest and passion for the Jets never evaporated from Winnipeg after the team’s 1996 relocation. The move was simply a financial one. It was impossible for the city, which was the NHL’s smallest market by the time the franchise relocated to Phoenix, to financially support the franchise.
But if the economic support is there, which it would have to be in order for the move to become a reality, it’s a fantastic move for the NHL at large.The Thrashers have only made the playoffs once since entering the league in 1999. A change of scenery, and subsequently identity, could prove to be beneficial.
But success — or lack thereof — is only a minor reason why the Thrashers moving would be good thing for the NHL. After all, any team in any location can experience a drought.
Instead, it’s the overall lack of interest in the current Atlanta franchise that’s off-putting.
ESPN The Magazine ranks sports franchises annually. In 2010, the Atlanta Thrashers were ranked 109th out of the 122 franchises in the four major professional sports leagues. Their ownership ranking was 120th, which is understandable given its unwillingness over the years to re-sign star players — such as Marc Savard, Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk ?- to long-term contracts.
Atlanta’s attendance this past season is even more disheartening because it represents objective figures. In other words, unlike the ESPN ranking, the attendance figures simply can’t be disputed.
The Thrashers’ average attendance this season was 13,469 — third lowest in the NHL. This figure represents 72.6 percent of the possible annual attendance — also third lowest.
But not only are the Thrashers a tough sell in their own market, they have little league-wide appeal, featuring the lowest attendance by percentage of any team in the NHL when you take into account their home and away attendances.
This has a lot to do with the team’s lack of success, sure, but even when the team showed promise, the interest simply wasn’t there.
In 2006-2007, the Thrashers won the Southeast Division by compiling 97 regular-season points. Fans had every right to be excited about their team’s chances that year. Yet the Thrashers were still 21st in the NHL in home attendance.
Winnipeg may have lost its team before, but the city is hungry to get the NHL back. Regardless of how successful the team is within the next couple of seasons, it would be shocking if attendance totals and the overall fan interest, both in Winnipeg and league-wide, didn’t far surpass its current state.
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