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Thrashers-to-Winnipeg and the NHL’s relocation by-laws

May 26, 2011, 12:07 PM EDT

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It seems like the Atlanta Thrashers’ relocation to Winnipeg is bound to happen at this point, but one cannot ignore a possible hurdle in the process. Even once the details of the sale are finalized, the transaction must be approved by a majority of the league’s owners in a Board of Governors meeting.

Chances are high-to-certain that they would approve that deal, but Laura Astorian of SBNation Atlanta wonders if that would trample upon the league’s by-laws when it comes to relocation. (If you would like to read through all of the by-laws yourself, Astorian provided them in this Google document.)

While Astorian’s account goes into detail about how the move can be construed as a violation of those by-laws, perhaps the biggest theme focuses on the missed opportunity in Atlanta. No doubt about it, that Georgia city has a huge population, though the natural debate revolves around how much of that public would be willing to spend money on season tickets to hockey games.

Here’s one part of the by-laws she pointed to (in bold) and her reaction to that section.

36.5. In determining whether to consent to the transfer of a Member Club’s franchise to a different city or borough persuant to Section 4.2 of the Constitution, each Member Club shall be guided by the following considerations:

(a) Whether the Club in question is financially viable in its present location and, if not, whether there is a reasonable prospect, based on any of the considerations set forth in subsections (b) through (j) below, or for any other reason, that it could become financially viable there, either under its present ownership or under new ownership.

Big question here is not if the Thrashers have made money, but whether they can make money? We’re in the city in the Southeast with the largest population, the 8th largest TV viewing area in the US, and there are 5.5 million people in the metro area. How could anyone state that the team can’t become financially viable under new ownership that correctly runs the franchise? It’s fairly obvious that under a decent business plan the team has a very solid chance of being viable.

It’s tough to argue with the notion that a more successful Thrashers team might have been able to draw more people. As many of you know, the Thrashers never won a playoff game in their franchise history. (They were swept in their only postseason appearance in 2007 against a mediocre New York Rangers team.) In most cases, winning is the best viral marketer and the Thrashers never really had the chance to “hook” people on the game with a big playoff run like, say, the Carolina Hurricanes did.

That being said, it probably doesn’t help the market’s cause that the Atlanta Flames left to become the Calgary Flames. Some owners might hold that against the market regardless of mistakes made by the owners. There’s also the matter of finding a local group to keep the team in Atlanta, something the Atlanta Spirit reportedly failed to accomplish.

Teams in non-traditional markets need a lot of things to go there way to capture the imaginations (and cash) of their potential audience. Star power and success are big factors in that process, but stable management and ownership are probably the most important engines. The Thrashers rarely had any of those things going for them, aside from the star power of players such as Ilya Kovalchuk, Marian Hossa, the ill-fated Dany Heatley era and Marc Savard‘s brief run.

Fair or not, it’s unlikely that the Board of Governors will interpret the by-laws the way Astorian did. Perhaps someone will look to articles like these if the argument is made to take a third swing at bringing an NHL team to Atlanta in the distant future, though.

  1. eyecorporations - May 26, 2011 at 12:29 PM

    Sounds like an extremely biased interpretation to me. Any team that ended up moving had a “potential” to be financially viable.

  2. donttouchthedirtypenny - May 26, 2011 at 10:22 PM

    What’s better a big city with an empty arena, or a smaller city with a full arena?

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