Some fans point to the loss of Dany Heatley, left, as the beginning of the Thrashers' troubles.
In this edition, we have a letter from a family outlining the downward trajectory of the Atlanta Thrashers after a very promising start. The writer brings up several points that are seldom mentioned when discussing this issue: The effect of the NHL lockout on a fledgling market and the impact of losing Dany Heatley, an immensely popular player in the market. In addition, she mentions a lack of marketing to the unique market that is Atlanta and explains the needs (which were unmet) in an up-and-coming market. Let’s take a look:
May 19, 2011 12:44:50 AM
Dear Mr. Bettman,
I doubt I can say anything that hasn’t already been said about my team, the Atlanta Thrashers. I will just say that I feel the city deserves a real chance to succeed. Despite 10-ish years (I am excluding the lockout lost season), the Thrashers have never given fans a chance to love them.
The ownership group has been outstandingly apathetic, never marketing the team well when it did have super stars and just throwing up their hands, letting star after star walk away.
What a Mess!
There are many things that have added up to a perfect disaster for the Thrashers:
Dany Heatley’s departure seemed to start the decline — people here adored him and we lost a relatable, marketable personality when he left town. A personality like this goes a long way in attracting curious would-be fans.
The loss of countess other super stars (Heatley, Marian Hossa, Marc Savard, Ilya Kovalchuk, etc.).
The lockout year killed the excitement and momentum of the early years — a brutal thing to happen just a few years into our franchise. No season, no All Star Game (it was our year that year).
Open hostility on the part of the owners toward the fans (ask any season ticket holder about this).
Inability to sustain any on-ice success.
A mere four playoff appearances. The 2006-07 playoff failure also seems to be a huge turning point in the franchise’s brief history.
Not to mention the economy, which has hit Atlanta harder than many cities.
A fan base that doesn’t know the game as well needs a teacher. I think Nashville and Dallas are two shining lights. Their example was not followed here.
Constant rumors of relocation don’t do anything to help lure fans either. Why come out for a team that won’t be around next year?
The diversity of the city needs a different, unique approach. The ownership group never courted diverse audiences or tailored their marketing message to reach different audiences. The potential is here to have a truly unique team and fan base. The team already boasts the largest number of black players of any team and that’s so perfect for this city! That kind of diversity is one of the foundations of this city. Think what this team could do for would-be players of diverse backgrounds if ownership committed to doing so! What a legacy to leave for generations.
But perhaps above all of this is ownership locked in a battle against itself in court for years and years. What a mess!
All of the above is a recipe for disaster. How could any team in any market succeed like this? Wouldn’t you like to know what solid ownership could do here in this vibrant, now recovering market — the capital of the New South?
Making it Work
With so many examples of how once-troubled franchises turned it around, I — a simple, humble fan — just ask for one real chance with committed, passionate owners. I am a native of Houston, where I have seen the Dallas Stars come to the state and enflame the love of hockey in kids and adults all over our great state. In point of fact, my old high school, just 30 minutes from Galveston Beach on the Gulf of Mexico now has a successful hockey team. Wow! The Stars, and to a lesser extent, the Houston Aeros, made that happen. The Thrashers have done good things for hockey in Georgia, but it could be so much better! I am a journalist in Atlanta and have lived here for 10 years. I truly believe this market can work. It worked early in the franchise’s history with Heatley and Kovalchuk, before the ownership and year after year of dreadful teams made it nearly impossible to lure fans.
I dislike the term “deserve” in reference to any city and a sports team, but I believe you made a visionary plan for expanding into non-traditional markets. This plan can work. The fans that exist in Atlanta — and there are many — will come back, and I truly believe that with the right ownership, new fans can be created thereby expanding the game we so love.
I know you’re very busy and probably do not have time to read messages like this, but should you get it and take the time to read it, I want to thank you. Thank you for reading and thank you for your vision of hockey in the South. You are not wrong to believe in that vision and you would not be wrong to trust in the people and the city of Atlanta.
Thank you again for your time.
The B Family,
Three true Southern hockey fans
* I have replaced names with initials.
** These letters appear as they were sent to me. No editing has been done.
Photo: Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk from atlantathrashers.com.