Thrashers moving to Winnipeg next season
WINNIPEG, Manitoba — The Atlanta Thrashers are moving to Winnipeg.
True North Sports and Entertainment announced Tuesday at Winnipeg's MTS Centre that it has purchased the struggling team and will shift it to Canada next season.
The deal is reportedly worth $170 million, including a $60 million relocation fee that would be split by the rest of the league.
Winnipeg has been without NHL hockey since the Jets moved to Phoenix in 1996. The Thrashers entered the league three years later as an expansion franchise, but ownership problems, a losing team and dwindling attendance doomed the club.
The team ranked 28th out of 30 teams this year with an average attendance of less than 14,000.
The deal still must be approved by the board of governors, which meets June 21, but that shouldn't be a stumbling block.
"I'm excited beyond words to announce the purchase of the Atlanta Thrashers," Mark Chipman, chairman of the board of True North, said during a news conference.
Assuming the deal goes through, Atlanta would become the first city in the NHL's modern era to lose two teams. The Flames moved to Calgary in 1980 after eight seasons in Atlanta.
The deal was completed early Tuesday.
"It's nice to be back in Winnipeg after all these years," said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who attended the news conference.
True North made its announcement one day before the start of the Stanley Cup final, which begins Wednesday in Vancouver between the Canucks and the Boston Bruins. While there was no prohibition on announcing major news during that series, the league preferred to get the Thrashers' sale off its plate before opening its signature event.
For weeks, the two sides had been working through complex legal details on the sale and relocation of the team, while leaving open the possibility that a local buyer would emerge late in the process. No one ever came forward with a serious offer, according to the Thrashers' ownership group, Atlanta Spirit, and the city's mayor, Kasim Reed.
"It is going to hurt the city but we will withstand it just fine and we will get through it," Reed said.
Bettman said the league didn't want to leave Atlanta but had little choice.
"No real local purchasers emerged," he said. "When the Atlanta ownership made it clear they wanted out, we reached outside the Atlanta market."
Team president Don Waddell had said there remains some hope for a late development until a sale is made official and approved by the NHL board of governors.
But considering Atlanta Spirit, which also owns the NBA's Atlanta Hawks and the operating rights to Philips Arena, has been trying for years to sell the hockey team, that seems highly unlikely.
Also, any potential owner would have to agree to become a tenant at Philips Arena, a major impediment because it would cut into potential revenue from sources such as concessions, parking, luxury suites and other events.
"We don't like to move a franchise," Bettman said. "We're not happy about leaving Atlanta. This was never about whether Winnipeg is better than Atlanta. The decision to come to Winnipeg was only made after the Atlanta ownership made the decision they were going to sell even if it meant the team was going to leave Atlanta."
On the move
The most recent franchises to relocate in the four major professional sports leagues:
1997: Houston Oilers to Tennessee
2005: Montreal Expos to Washington, D.C.
2008: Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma City
2011: Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg