It hasn't even been 24 hours since the Atlanta Thrashers signed Dustin Byfuglien to a long-term, big money contract, but thanks to a few comments from one of the co-owners of the team, there are serious questions and doubts that the Thrashers will be in Atlanta when that contract ends in five years.
In an interview with Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, co-owner Michael Gearon said there's a "sense of urgency" surrounding the ownership group, Atlanta Spirit, and their need to find somebody to invest in or purchase the team.
"If we are faced with that as the only alternative, that's what's going to happen," Gearon told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an exclusive interview Tuesday. "I don't think there is an ability to stomach another $20 million in losses. We just can't do it.
"The reality is we need fans showing up and we need investors, or a primary investor."
Gearon repeated multiple times his desire to keep the team in Atlanta and the struggles that go along with that, stating more than once the need for local support and the need for the local community to step up. According to him, that just hasn't happened.
As you can see in the quote above, he put some of the onus on the fans. The fans, on the other hand, blame the ownership. From Laura Astorian at SB Nation Atlanta:
[NHL Commissioner Gary] Bettman is more than aware that the problem in Atlanta isn't the market, or the fans, or the players on ice. It's the ability of the ownership group to effectively manage an NHL business and property. It's embarrassing for the league to have to work with individuals who evidently do not take the business of hockey seriously. Furthermore, it's embarrassing for a major market like Atlanta to lose another NHL team because a competent local investor is unable to be found.
Apparently they have not put money into the ways to get fans into the seats, which is why fans aren't coming. You want season ticket renewals to go up? Don't give an interview to the AJC about how the team could move in a few years. You want people to come to the games? Tell people when they are and advertise the fact that this city has a hockey team.
Despite the in-fighting between fans and ownership, the one true reality does still sit like a giant awkward canopy above them all.
The Atlanta Thrashers could move. Soon. The team is losing money hand over a fist, to the tune of $20 million a season, according to Gearon. If that keeps up, the team will be sold to somebody from out of town. That much seems obvious at this point.
There's still a lot to be written on this story, but it's a lot more plausible today than it was two days ago that Dustin Byfuglien finishes out that contract elsewhere. For more, check our blog, Bird Watchers Anonymous.