This could be a blueprint of how not to operate an expansion franchise. General manager Don Waddell is by all accounts a lovely man but he has become the Inspector Clouseau of the NHL. Despite having prime draft picks every year the Thrashers rank even below the much-maligned Maple Leafs in player development.
The Hockey News recently ranked the Thrashers 23rd in prospects. And, when they did get a solid player, Waddell has lost him. In eight seasons, the team still is looking for its first playoff game victory.
The team's fan base has eroded. Attendance dropped another 7.9% the first half of this season -- second biggest drop in the NHL. It has cash flow problems which hasn't been helped by a collective agreement that forces it to spend at least $41-million.
Nobody really knows if Atlanta would support an NHL team because, in all honesty, it never has had one of NHL calibre.
If the NHL bought out the owners and folded the team it would be considered a mercy killing. Or, if a less desperate solution is more to Bettman's liking: Keep the team; fold Waddell.
A 27 % share of the Predators got tied up in minority owner William Del Biaggio's bankruptcy hearings. Del Baggio has been accused in three lawsuits of providing forged documents to financial institutions to land multimillion dollar loans that he has not repaid. Del Biaggio is just the latest NHL owner being fitted for a pinstripe suit courtesy of the U.S. government. The NHL may lead all of pro sports in the number of owners who could audition for a starring role on Judge Judy.
Meantime, the team can't score on the ice, or with fans. Management revealed it considered buying thousands of unsold tickets so it can qualify for a full share of the NHL's revenue sharing plan. Through 22 home games, the Predators' average paid attendance was 256 tickets short of the 14,000 average required for a full share of the revenue-sharing pool that netted the team $12 million last season.
The plan gives small-market clubs money that the NHL collects from the 10 highest-earning teams. The amount franchises receive falls if certain attendance figures aren't achieved.
Predators lead owner David Freeman made an estimated $50 million selling a medical waste disposal business. So, when it comes to waste you'd think an expert like Freeman would recognize it even if it was disguised as a hockey team. But, he says his reputation as a businessman is at stake, and he wants to make hockey work here. So, as for Jim Balsillie buying and moving the team?
"There is no Plan B," Freeman said.
How bad will things get with pro sports? No one knows. My guess is that, in the median-variant scenario a bunch of minor leagues (WNBA, Arena, MLS, MLL) fold, NASCAR retrenches from its quasi-mainstream status, and the NHL loses a franchise (or two).
One of the things that interests me a lot is what happens to the PGA. I don't know a ton about the tour, but it seems heavily reliant on financial services sponsors. If that's true, then that money should dry up pretty fast and, even in an economic recovery, may not return for some time. What does golf do? Cut back tour stops? Cut back purses as they rely more on TV and gate revenue? Is there enough interest in the LPGA to keep that tour going?