Professional sports franchises are, at the core, businesses that are typically characterized as well-run, immensely profitable, and inextricably rooted in a community. The Atlanta Thrashers, now the second NHL franchise to depart Atlanta for a Canadian city in 21 years, lacked all of these traits with an uncommitted ownership that never bought-in to achieve success.
After 11 seasons with only one playoff appearance and exactly zero postseason victories, the Thrashers are no longer part of Atlanta. Having been sold to True North Sports & Entertainment, a Canadian ownership group, the team will be relocated to Winnipeg, Manitoba. This is the same city that just 15 years ago suffered as the last North American city to lose its own NHL franchise when the Jets moved to Phoenix and became the Coyotes.
It is no secret that Atlanta Spirit, LLC, owners of the Thrashers since 2004, never truly committed to the on-ice product. Even before the Spirit took the reins, the franchise’s short history was marked by poor operations decisions and struggling efforts at marketing hockey in the American south. The Spirit focused a majority of the effort to finances on legal battles with one another, which resulted in the roster operating at league minimum and a plethora of empty seats in Philips Arena.
The team floundered, and never garnered a positive reputation within the National Hockey League. The sale of the team was imminent as news of the deal was popularized in the last few months. However, it was widely known that the Spirit had been soliciting the sale for several years, despite repeated false public statements from the group claiming otherwise.
The success of the Thrashers franchise hinged upon tapping into the hearts of the city’s people and the wallets of the corporate community of Atlanta. Just as a coach needs his players to buy-in to a system in order to win, a franchise needs the city to rally behind it in order to find lasting success. Unfortunately, with ownership’s lackluster support for the team, who could blame the sponsors and the fans for abandoning ship, or perhaps never boarding the ship at all?
The demise of the Thrashers should be a cautionary tale for businesses everywhere. Confidence and belief in the potential of a business’s offerings are pivotal. Businesses must believe in the value of their brand for others to stand behind them in order to build success.