Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Thrashers in Atlanta Not the Problem in Atlanta

The Atlanta Thrashers are commonly cited as one of them teams that are NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's biggest mistake.  The poor attendance and seeming lack of interest in the game from the city, one of the biggest cities in the United States, are always brought up when people are listing the faults of Bettman's reign.  It's easy to throw out the lack of interest in the NHL as the reason for low attendance but how accurate is this?

The Thrashers have traditionally had poor attendance.  From their inception in 1999 the Thrashers highest per game attendance average lay at 87.5% in 2006-2007, the only year the Thrashers have made the Playoffs.  This year is no different, with home figures averaging just over 13,000 people per game.  Philips Arena, which seats 18,545 people for hockey, is traditionally rather hollow come game time.  The unfortunate and dirty truth is that the other nights that crowds pile in to Philips Arena for a game night, the outcomes are not much better.

Joe Johnson
For 41 games a year the crew at Philips tears up the ice and puts down the parquet for the Atlanta Hawks.  For several years now the Hawks have been a strong Playoff contender with a three year sum total of 140-95.  With one of the leagues higher tier stars in Joe Johnson and Al Horford, they are always a threat to win any given night, something that hasn't been as easy to say about the woebegone Thrashers.  And yet in those three years of steady contention, they have averaged just over 16,200 people per game, or about 86.6% full.  And the figures have steadily been falling for those three years.

Perhaps the problem is with Philips Arena?  There have been ownership issues swirling around the Thrashers and Hawks for several years now, perhaps people are just leery of getting too invested in something that may not stay or be able to afford to win year after year?  The Atlanta Braves haven't had a back to back losing season since 1989 and 1990, yet recent history shows that the people of Atlanta are not flocking to Turner Field with any regularity.

In the past five years, attendance has not consistently topped 70% in any one season at the home of a team that boasts the historical likes of John Smoltz, Bobby Cox, Chipper Jones, Jason Heyward, Tom Glavine, and Greg Maddox.  Filling in the rest of the decade, between 2001 and 2005, Turner averaged all of 63.2%.  Perhaps a bigger, more unfortunate picture, is developing of the true problem with teams in Atlanta.  They are in Atlanta.

The only team that has any consistent luck with continuous and high attendance figure are the Atlanta Falcons.  In the past five years they only dipped below 90% once, in 2008, where they averaged 89.9% while going 4-12.  The NFL proves it remains king as the Falcons averaged 96.15% attendance fill, blowing away the figures of their three other Atlanta pro sports counterparts. 

Perhaps the people who criticize Atlanta sports fans, voted the 2nd most miserable of all the major sports cities by Forbes, are on to something.  Despite having two teams consistently winning they are having issues with attendance.  In the case of the Atlanta Thrashers, maybe Gary Bettman should get a free pass when the argument is that hockey doesn't work in the South.  Low attendance is just par for the course when it comes to Atlanta and professional sports.
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1 comment:

  1. I agree. You hit the nail on the head with this. I would like to also mention that Atlanta's fans of their respective sports often don't even live in the city of Atlanta. I don't have specific numbers to back it up, but as a Braves fan I'm confident in saying that many Braves fans are in other parts of Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, and Mississippi. Call them "fair-weather" fans, but I wouldn't drive 6 hours to see a poor product on the field when I can watch it on TV. This trend could explain part of what's going on with the other pro teams in Atlanta.