As expected, True North Sports and Entertainment announced in a news conference Tuesday that it has reached an agreement to purchase the Atlanta Thrashers and plans to move the team to Winnipeg, Manitoba.
True North Chairman Mark Chipman shared news of the purchase, which is subject to the approval of the NHL’s Board of Governors when the group meets on June 21 in New York. The sale requires a 75 percent approval vote; relocation requires at least a 50 percent approval.
When discussing how the deal was reached, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said he and other officials were on a conference call at 4:30 a.m. EST but that the agreement was not complete at that time. With the deal now in place, Bettman said the NHL is glad to put another team in Canada but that it won’t succeed without a full building.
“We get to be back in a place we wish we hadn’t left in 1996,” Bettman said. “The best way for our fans here in Winnipeg to celebrate the opportunity, is to buy season tickets….To be candid, this isn’t going to work very well unless this building isn’t sold out every night.”
Bettman also said that “selling 13,000 season tickets is the best message” Winnipeg fans can send to the NHL Board of Governors. True North CEO Jim Ludlow went farther and said that 13,000 season tickets need to be sold to ensure approval of the team’s sale and relocation. Winnipeg single-game ticket prices will range from $39-$129 dollars and go on sale to the general public on June 4.
It is believed that the yet-to-be-named Winnipeg team will play in the Southeast Division and Eastern Conference for the 2011-12 season, and the NHL will put off possible division realignment for at least another year. It will make for grueling travel for the Winnipeg club in addition to throwing a wrinkle in the schedules of the rest of the Eastern teams — particularly the Southeast, whose teams will each make three trips to Manitoba.
The length of a round-trip flight to Winnipeg from Dulles airport is 2,460 miles, according to webflyer.com. Other Southeast teams face a longer trip with the Hurricanes looking at 2,680 miles from Raleigh-Durham, Lightning with 3,400 from Tampa Bay and Panthers with a whopping 3,760 miles from Fort Lauderdale.
Winnipeg has been without a team for 15 years, since the Jets were moved to Phoenix for the 1996-97 season. The pending move should signal the start of a long celebration in Manitoba.
Meanwhile, this is the second time an NHL team has departed Atlanta. The Thrashers never won a playoff game in their 11 seasons since the inaugural campaign in 1999-2000, but they lasted longer in Georgia than the NHL’s first attempt to establish a team there. The Atlanta Flames were moved to Calgary in 1980 after only eight seasons. No other U.S. city has lost a professional sports franchise to Canada once, let alone twice like Atlanta.
According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Thrashers owners said in court documents that the team lost $130 million since 2005.