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Friday, May 20, 2011

Ben's Sports Take: A Dark Day for Atlanta Sports

This pretty much sums up the past 12 years of Thrashers hockey

With the report surfacing late last night (or early this morning depending on your "stickler-for-detailness") that the sale of our once-beloved, often-neglected NHL franchise has been finalized, it's time for Atlantans to look themselves in the mirror and realize how pathetic they are.

For the second time in the last 31 years, the city of Atlanta stood by and watched as a group of syrup-breathed Canucks snuck across the border to steal an NHL team right from under our feet.

The aptly-named True North Sports & Entertainment Limited, a Canadian-based entertainment group that's been vulturing the Thrashers seemingly forever, finally made things official and will move the Thrashers to Winnipeg according to several reports.

But as much as I'd like to blame the loss of another Atlanta NHL franchise on league commissioner Gary Bettman's lack of action or the city's inability to step up financially a la the Glendale City Council, who put up $25 million to keep the Phoenix Coyotes in the desert, I simply cannot—this one's on us.

The Thrashers haven't ranked higher than 28th in home attendance since the 2007-08 season and besides their inaugural season in 1999-2000, when they averaged 17,206 fans, have never—NEVER—finished in the top-20 of average home attendance.

Although some of you voiced your opinion back in February that keeping the Thrashers in Atlanta was of paramount importance to you, the city's overall Thrasherapathy was too much to overcome.

As pathetic as the fan support has been over the past 12 years, we can't place 100 percent of the blame on the city's inability to keep the turnstiles rotating inside Philips Arena—the franchise didn't give us much reason to.

Sitting behind the NFL, NCAA football, NBA, NCAA basketball, MLB, NASCAR and even the PGA Tour in terms of popularity here in the southeastern U.S., the sport of hockey is a tough enough sell—one that's made even more difficult when a team struggles as mightily as the Thrashers.

In their 12-year history, the Thrashers made only one playoff appearance and never won a postseason game.

For all of the criticism I've handed to the Atlanta Hawks for their habitual ineptitude, going 12 years without a postseason victory and only one playoff appearance is downright indefensible.

Poor on-ice performance and minimal fan support are fairly justifiable reasons to relocate a professional sports franchise, I'd say. But despite all of the rationale, we as Atlanta sports fans should still take a moment to shed a proverbial tear for our lost franchise.

As an inaugural season ticket holder and a fervent Thrashers supporter, it will take more than a handkerchief for me to get over this latest Atlanta sports disappointment.

While we will likely never see another NHL franchise call Atlanta home, it's important that we understand what we did—and, more importantly, didn't do—to drive the Thrashers away.

And hopefully we'll never have to sit back and watch another team get taken away from us.

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