Rally for Thrashers

Fans desperate to keep team

By Charles Odum
Associated Press / May 19, 2011

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ATLANTA — Atlanta Thrashers fans are planning to take advantage of possibly their last opportunity to demonstrate support for the NHL to remain in Atlanta.

Thrashers fans are planning a rally before the team’s annual select-a-seat event for season ticket-holders at Philips Arena Saturday.

Lisa Lewis, the fan club president, said yesterday she expects a “pretty big turnout’’ for a rally she said is being organized by fan Jimmy Parks.

According to reports in Atlanta and Winnipeg, Thrashers owners are in negotiations with True North Sports and Entertainment, which would relocate the team to Winnipeg.

Former Atlanta Braves pitcher Tom Glavine is a high-profile Thrashers fan and former season ticket-holder who last month said he would like to be part of an ownership group that keeps the team in Atlanta.

Glavine said yesterday he feared time is running out on the effort to save the team, especially after the troubled Phoenix Coyotes last week won a one-year reprieve to remain in Arizona. That development shifted Winnipeg’s focus to Atlanta.

“Based on the conversations I’ve had, off and on, I think there was always some sense that we had a little bit of time as long as Phoenix was still in the picture,’’ Glavine said. “Now that Phoenix is out of the picture, that time has kind of gone away and everything is on an accelerated path now.

“There seems to be a consensus there is going to be a team in Winnipeg. The question is who, and unfortunately the bull’s-eye seems to be on the Thrashers’ back.’’

The Thrashers’ average attendance this season was 13,469 to rank 28th out of 30 teams. Attendance has declined as the Thrashers, who made their debut as an expansion franchise in 1999, have made only one playoff appearance and some fans became impatient with team management.

Thrashers fan club member Jessica Moore said Atlanta fans who showed their discontent by staying away from games hurt the city’s chances to keep the team.

“When the energy is not in the arena, that’s an element of the game,’’ Moore said. “I just think that’s a terrible way to show your ire at how an organization is run. I think it backfires and contributes to the situation we’re in now.’’

Moore said she hopes it is not too late for fans to make an impact.

“At this juncture, people are so upset,’’ Moore said. “I think it’s very important for people to show up on Saturday.

“Outsiders say we’re fair-weather fans. If they see we’re giving up, they say, ‘What kind of fans are you?’ ’’

The ownership group, led by Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon Jr., also could sell the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, possibly to John Moores, who owns about 50 percent of the San Diego Padres.

Moores had no comment yesterday about a report in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he is in talks to buy the Hawks and operating rights to Philips Arena.

Levenson also would not confirm the report.

Levenson has said he has been unable to find a buyer to keep the team in Atlanta.

Glavine does not know how much more time remains for a local buyer to emerge.

“The problem now becomes that whatever interest there has been from people to buy the team here, there’s obviously more of a sense of urgency and I don’t know if that can be overcome or not,’’ Glavine said. “It certainly puts it in a much more difficult situation.’’

Lewis said reports of the team’s talks with Winnipeg have “caught us out of left field.’’

“Everybody wants the team to remain here,’’ Lewis said.

“With hockey fans, it’s a little strange. We all consider each other as family. We go on road trips together. This would be almost like losing a family member.’’

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