Do The Thrashers Have Large Talons?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Thrashers Steadily Destroying Their Own Brand

The Thrashers are headed for their 11th entry draft next summer. For 10 of those 11 years the Thrashers have sat in the first row of tables (reserved for those teams with the lowest points the prior season). Slowly, year-by-year and step-by-step the appetite for NHL hockey is being killed off in this city.

Atlanta has 5 million people, almost 1 million of them were born up in cold weather states (Atlanta has nearly as many Yankee-born as the Buffalo area). Many of these Yankee-born people know and like hockey. Many of the transplants grew up rooting for other teams (for me it was the Red Wings). In a city filled with transplants you have to give the locals a compelling reason to get excited about the local product. Year after year the Thrashers have branded themselves as losers.

But nobody is coming to games anymore.

Heck, even I'm not going to all the home games anymore. It used to take something like the Black Death to keep me away, but this year I've missed four home dates already. I'm probably one of the biggest die hard fans around, but increasingly I have to push myself to care about yet another losing season. I skipped both home games this week to go play ice hockey -- and I don't regret it.

I don't care what the announced attendance is -- just look at your television and you can see row after row with big swatches of empty seats. Weeknights have always been tough in a city like Atlanta. The urban sprawl makes for a hellish commute for many people (yet the Thrashers moved the games up to 7:00 from 7:30 on weeknights). But now even weekend games are not that full.

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the Thrashers gave away kids jerseys at a matinee game versus the Blues. Usually weekend games + holiday weekend + great giveaway = sellout. Not this time. I walked into the game right before puck drop and they still had boxes of kids jerseys available. Just two hours before game time, a season ticket holder friend of mine called up and offered me four lower bowl seats. I had already purchased a $10 single, but I took him up on his offer and found three people to join me. I ended up giving away the single to a stranger because a $10 ticket has zero resale value.

My friend said "they just comped me four tickets for some reason." I suspect that the reason was advance sales were "not good" and they figured getting a few more bodies in the building and would at least net them some concession money.

The prices keep getting cheaper and cheaper for tickets. For five years I purchased full season tickets. In most years it was my primary entertainment expenditure. To have NHL season tickets was a dream of mine since I was a 15-year-old kid envious of those ticket holders in Joe Louis Arena in Michigan.

The Thrashers were bad when I first bought, but I was patient and the tickets were cheap. I rejoiced in the victories and sorrowed in the many many losses. But I figured better days were ahead and we would someday have great seats for playoff games. But the good days never arrived and every year we had to deal with drunk college students with discounted tickets in front of us standing up in the middle of the play like they were at a Braves game and the pitcher was up to bat. Every year the people sitting around us paid less than what we had.

Last year was the final straw as a friend of mine was able to get discounted tickets for almost every game including weekends. I decided that if the franchise was offering a better deal for single tickets I would take that route. I'd rather be the savvy consumer than feel like a sucker 10 games into the season. (Note: I have no problem paying more money for a better hockey product, I just have a problem with paying more money that others for the same hockey product.)

So far it has worked out great. I have yet to pay more than $25 for a game. I've received numerous free tickets, bought them for less than half price on the secondary market. When that fails ordered them through the local hockey league which offers heavy discounts.

Yet even despite the cheap de facto prices, nobody is coming to games. If you're a NHL owner you look at home dates with the Red Wings and Penguins as money makers because you expect a full house. But not even Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin could sell out Philips Arena on a Thursday evening in November. The Penguins are returning this Thursday and I just received an special offering price cuts for this game as well.

What will happen next to NHL hockey in this city? Consider the following:
  • The New Jersey Devils were absolutely terrible for years and then they hired Lou Lamoriello and they became a contender.
  • The Washington Capitals were shockingly bad for years before they hired David Poile and Bryan Murray and became a perennial playoff club.
  • The Tampa Lightning were brutal for years until they fired GM Phil Esposito and hired some more competent management.
Will the Thrashers ownership make the major changes that are required. Will they recruit away the Sharks Director of Scouting? Will they find a new GM who has more than IHL experience to run a NHL team?

Or will the Atlanta Thrashers join the ranks of the Oakland Seals--a terribly managed franchise that eventually left that city and finally disbanded in Cleveland? The truth is that the franchise is certainly losing millions of dollars. Those loses will become even larger next season because the Thrashers have zero chance of hitting their revenue sharing goals and therefore they will receive less money from other clubs. Whoever wins the ownership lawsuit could easily blame the fans and complain that "hockey just didn't sell in Atlanta" and try to move the team. But the truth is Atlanta is just as capable of supporting a NHL team as Dallas or Tampa--but you have to win some games to draw people in.

As a fan, there is nothing I can do but wait for ownership to make the HUGE changes that will reinvigorate the NHL in this city. People are tired of losing and they're not coming back until there is a team worth spending their money on.

I can rant and rave but ultimately leadership must come from the top. If ownership intends to compete and win a Stanley Cup someday, they ought to speak about their plan for the future. If folks over at the team headquarters read this, I'm sure they would dispute the charge that there is no plan--but they need to TELL US what they are doing. (And "I'm working as hard as I can every day" does not constitute a plan--that's just a good work ethic.)

Last year Bruce Levenson was a very vocal (some would say too vocal) presence around Philips Arena. This year we've heard almost nothing from management and ownership about their plans for the future. The lack of communication leaves us fans confused and discouraged--and increasingly--absent.

"Where there is no vision, the people perish." Proverbs 29:18

23 Comments:

  • Steady beating a dead horse to death eh? Instead of grioing all the time why don't you try picking out the positives that will carry over into next season. You are steadily helping destroy the brand!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:46 PM  

  • I'm not going to write a bunch of "happy talk" about a team that is on pace to finish with 66 points in the standings.

    Every fan I know is in deep despair about this team. This is not the time to write fluff pieces. The building is empty, I don't work for the team and it is a story that should be commented on.

    I've so sick of watching this team getting its teeth kicked in year after year. Maybe you are new to this, but I'm not and I'm fed up.

    By Blogger The Falconer, at 7:58 PM  

  • No I am not new to this by all means. I too am in dispair about the state of the team. I don't work for the team either but there is way too much negativity being thrown around that is steady adding fuel to the fire. I for one along with a lot of fans I know, would like to finally read something positive rather than the bitching that has been going on for two years. Every fan is quite aware of what is going on with their team.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:14 PM  

  • Well I'm going to go watch the Wolves soon. Hopefully I'll have something positive to say about some of the kids down on the farm.

    By Blogger The Falconer, at 8:21 PM  

  • I would point out that I've been pretty positive on the message boards about Coach Anderson and the team's effort level. I've pointed out how they were tied in the 3rd period in many of their games and that I was entertained by those games.

    Now, they're not even close to keeping their heads above water. It is hard for me to say anything positive when the team regularly falls behind by 2 or 3 goals.

    I'm sick of it and I want to see changes made. I wanted to see changes made last summer. But nothing happened and we were dissed by Brian Campbell.

    By Blogger The Falconer, at 8:24 PM  

  • Maybe since the Thrashers aren't selling many tickets that they could give some away to people who are going to Braves or Hawks games. No one turns down a free ticket, and if they're in Atlanta going to sporting events anyway, they may be willing to shift over to or add hockey to their entertainment spending because lets face it, hockey is way more exciting than baseball or basketball.

    I plan on being a professor in a few years, so thats 500 kids a semester I can brainwash into being Thrashers fans!

    (btw I am a different "anonymous" from the other guy above.)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:35 PM  

  • Excellent blog. I couldn't agree more. The team is going to fold or move to Kansas City or Vegas if something doesn't happen soon. How the hell does Don Waddell keep his job? There is no reason why NHL hockey can't work in Atlanta but it's absolutely insane to ask people to support a losing product year in and year out.

    By Blogger Scott, at 10:25 PM  

  • I feel the same way. I'm a die hard fan from SC, and before, I would never miss a game on TV. Now, I'll miss a game here or there to get dinner with friends. I would NEVER do that before this year (even during last year's circus). I've already given up on the season. I don't know what the point of watching is when I'm just hoping we can land the #1 or #2 pick this summer. I'm even mulling over getting to know a second team so I can follow a winner. Don't blame me. If the ownership won't spend the money to give us a team that has a CHANCE ... year after year ... why would I keep watching?

    "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." -Einstein

    By Anonymous Sean, at 10:56 PM  

  • I understand and feel your frustration trust me I share that aspect. Coach Anderson and the guys that came up from the Wolves as well as a couple of the new additions are a very bright spot. The rest of them need to make up their minds if they want to play as professionals in the NHL or go play beer league hockey.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:04 PM  

  • Thank you for continuing to point this topic out, Falconer. I think it's absurd that any fan who knows what is going on wouldn't want this subject brought up every day. It all boils down to the fact that until enough people see how bad things are, then no change will occur. If the owners see fans who simply accept their ways, then they can continue to run this organization poorly. I, like you, also did not renew my season tickets this year, and have only missed two games thus far. I used to have seats in the 300-level, and am now paying probably 50% less every game to sit in the lower levels of the arena!

    By Blogger Everett, at 1:56 AM  

  • Well said, Falconer! The Spirit Clowns are killing hockey in Atlanta.

    Waddell has had more time, (10 years) than we give U.S. Presidents...it's time for "change" in Blueland!

    By Anonymous Rawhide, at 6:37 AM  

  • Falconser-
    Go back to Detroit! If not, why don't you accentuate the positives? Nothing about the snappy new red jerseys and how well they mesh with the hole. Blueland marketing campaign? What about the value of the tickets? They could be marking them up when good teams come to town then what would you do. I think you are still steaming of your lack of press credentials. I say take the Capitals up on their offer next time the Thrashers are in town and ask the players the tough questions you blog about. Stop being Jay Mariotti. Wanna be?

    Anon-
    I suggest you read Ben’s Blueland blog or the comments he makes as “Logan” on the Thraserh message boards. Also don’t forget Mark Knophler's articles and blogging at the AJC.com. They are way more positivier that the Falconer’s.

    P.S. What does "grioing" mean?

    By Blogger J.K. Sockey, at 1:17 PM  

  • Uh oh... things must be bad when the Falconer goes all biblical on us. :)

    Great blog, and I wanted to say thanks for compiling all of these stats and laying them out in an intelligent, coherent and entertaining manner. Talkers can talk, bloggers can blog, but numbers get peoples' attention. Thanks for being a passionate Thrasher fan.

    By Blogger aaron, at 2:29 PM  

  • The carry over goes beyond the product in the building I'm sure. I used to read whatever the AJC said about the team most days, would check the Blueland Blog at least on game days, etc. I've stopped even doing those things.

    By Blogger Jennifer, at 3:00 PM  

  • I totally agree with this...by not writing and talking about how bad the team really is right now what would change?? You can only hope that by the fans not going and everyone screaming FIRE WADDELL!!! that the owners will finally do the right thing and either sell and have the new owners fire him or finally do it themselves. FIRE WADDELL!!!

    By Anonymous fart sandwich, at 5:01 PM  

  • I feel your pain. I watch them as much as I can now because:

    1. I get in free.
    2. I want to see Kovy while I still can (even in this down year).

    But I just want to yell at the owners when I see them: "DO SOMETHING!"

    lt

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:48 PM  

  • "groing" was a typo on my part should have been "griping"

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:38 PM  

  • -The Thrashers should hold one preseason game in Augusta and one in Savannah every year. Try making it a state team instead of just an Atlanta team. When families from these cities take trips to Atlanta, they might remember the Thrashers playing in their town and try to take in a game during the regular season. Bring the Blue Crew, Thrash, and a trailer(NASCAR style) that has merchandise to purchase. Make these preseason games an experience for fans that might not be familiar with the Thrashers.
    -They should open up press row to legitimate bloggers that follow the team. Become more friendly with this newer form of media.
    -Give better discounts to season ticket holders and 7 and 13 game ticket package holders. Either in ticket prices or vouchers for discounted merchandise in the gift shop at Philips or the official online store.
    -Have better give-aways at the door. Bobbleheads usually bring some interest.
    -Do ticket giveaways on local radio stations and online contests as well. More than what they have done in the past, anyways.
    -Try to increase the Thrashers presence on military bases in the area. Ft. Gillem, McPherson, Benning, and Robins AFB are all a fairly short drive to the Arena. Do some sort of promotion on base with the soldiers.
    -Advertise and promote the Thrashers during the baseball season at Braves games, and during the Falcons games. "If you think the Falcons hit hard, check out Eric Boulton and Garnet Exelby". You get the idea.

    -They may not have a good product on the ice usually, but there are ways to try to get people to come out to the games. Promote the hell out of Kovalchuk, Little, Bogosian, and Hainsey. Good looking young guys that can sell a brand on camera.

    -Putting a better team on the ice would help, too. But, I guess that goes without saying.
    It starts with the actual on ice product, then everything else that I mentioned can fall in line.

    -I live by Savannah and travel through a good portion of Georgia for my job and all I see is Falcons, Georgia Bulldogs, and Braves merchandise. The Thrashers need to get their product out in the public.

    By Anonymous Jay, at 1:25 AM  

  • I agree with you 100% Falconer. I've been following the team since '99, and bought season tickets for the first time when I could afford them for the 2005-2006 season. I'm more apathetic about this team now than I ever have been before. I've focused all of my sports energy on the Falcons, a team with a decent owner, fresh new knowledgeable management, and just a fun team.

    The Thrashers have none of that. There is no compelling reason for me to care at the moment. With all the money I wasted on season tickets this year I actually SAVE money by not going to games that I already have tickets to. I'm certainly not renewing next year, and won't be a STH again until something is done.

    If the team moves because of this mess it will be a trajedy and is no fault of the fans. But on the bright side Atlanta, there is a hell of a football team playing next door to philips on Sundays.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:51 AM  

  • Love the post and your blog. I too have missed more games this year than in the past, and it has become impossible to get my wife to go to games. I just got an email for the best Thrashers ST perk of the year, Hawks tickets! Don can't keep holding on longer, can he?

    By Blogger BBQ Dude, at 3:43 PM  

  • Do you think Kari Lehtonen + Mathieu Schneider = Daniel Briere? The Flyers obviously don't need him. I know he's hurt, so I'm thinking more for next year and beyond than this year.

    By Anonymous Jay, at 8:34 PM  

  • I have three words for the DW and the Thrashers--Goon It UP!
    Ship off Slater, Christiansen, Exelby and that piece of crap Let-'em-in and bring in players like Shane O'Brian, Dan Carcillo, Dave Backes. Hell, hire up some Sean Avery too. Then, roll up to Philly and Manhattan and pound some jaws. I don't care if the Thrash win or lose (they always lose in Philly anyway, so what's the difference), just brawl with some Flyers and Rangers and their fans (a-la Tie Domi) and make the ESPN lead-in story. Then, take the circus to Toronto and Ottawa and repeat. Get the entire Canadian and elitist upper east coast press whining about how the Thrashers have resorted to the lowest of the low and the redneck hicks from down south who know nothing about hockey (that's how they see us all anyway) are such suckers for filling the seats at the Bulb. John Anderson should then use all the negative press to motivate the boys and increase comraderie(sp) by pushing an us-against-them agenda. I guarantee attendance WOULD increase because all the "hockey-ignorant casual southern hockey fans" couldn't refuse a show like that. Also the Thrashers might actually intimidate their way to a few more victories that they would have lost anyway and if they don't make the playoffs...well at least it was an entertaining season--much more interesting than uninspired hockey played by players who are counting down the days to when they can hit the open market and go to a real franchise. I believe a team of mediocre Thrashers battling the rest of the NHL for respect based on two or three good, hard-nosed rivalries with teams in major media markets would bond them together and push them toward more wins.

    By Blogger Thrasher of the Gump, at 10:31 PM  

  • [just visiting]
    Wow, very compelling (and disheartening) read. You make great points. Can't imagine the frustration of putting up with it this long.

    The communication point really resonates -- to all sports management: If you have a plan, COMMUNICATE with fans. Engagement with fans builds trust; secrecy, the opposite.

    Even as an outsider, it's unsettling to think that Waddell will likely be in charge of getting value for Kovalchuk.

    By Anonymous Dominik, at 3:55 AM  

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