Will professional ice hockey leave Atlanta again?

Back in the days of the WHA in the 1970’s Atlanta had a hockey team (the Atlanta Flames) which were a somewhat successful franchise, especially consider the combination of Atlanta and a sport played on frozen ice.  This franchise eventually left Atlanta, and became the National Hockey League (NHL) franchise we currently know as the Calgary Flames.  The Atlanta Thrashers, the more recent hockey franchise to choose Atlanta as home has been around since the 1999-2000 season, when they were on of several expansion teams added in a flurry of expansion and relocation by the league away from Canada towards warmer climates in the U.S.  Now it looks like the Thrashers may be in dire straits, as the Atlanta Spirit LLC, owner of both the Thrashers and the Hawks (of the NBA) announced that they would need a new investor to potentially keep the team in town.

Michael Gearon who is a current co-owner of the Spirit LLC noted that the team was losing about $20 million, and that they are at the point where they can not really take any more financial loss.  Furthermore, the Atlanta Journal Constitution also reported in the article linked about that according to recently released court documents, that the Atlanta Spirit LLC had been trying to sell the Thrashers for about six years, or pretty much the entire time they have been the owners of the franchise.  Now these documents came to light as the Spirit filed a malpractice suit against an Atlanta law firm for supposed severe flaws in a contract with Steve Belkin, a previous co-owner of the Spirit LLC.  In this, a five-year lawsuit was launched by the Spirit against Belkin who actually held control over trades of franchises.  Because of the five-year lawsuit, the Spirit were unable to sell the Thrashers which the Spirit claim lead to $130 million in losses caused by the Thrashers, as shown in this court document (warning it is 40 pages long, and 3.26MB download).

Currently, the Spirit LLC is suing the law firm for around $200 million for the errors in the contract leading to all of these losses.  Additionally, the Thrashers are currently 2nd lowest in the NHL both in regards to attendance as well as Forbes estimated value.  Now rumors are flying around that the Canadian cities of Hamilton, Quebec, and Winnipeg are primary potential relocation sites for the team.  As discussed in a prior post on this blog, Quebec is planning to build an arena to attract the team, and cities such as Kansas City have the Sprint Center ready and waiting for a professional sport tenant.


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