Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thrashers moving to Winnipeg, AEG leaves KC out to dry...again

It has been public knowledge for the past two years or so that the Atlanta Thrashers have been on the brink. The owners, the Atlanta Spririt Group (who also owns the Atlanta Hawks and minority shares in the Braves and Falcons), started quietly shopping the team after the 2008-09 season to local owners. And since Atlanta has a fine, upstanding tradition of supporting its professional sports teams, no one came calling.

So the door was open. The Thrashers waived their 99-year lease at Philips Arena and the team was ready to listen to offers from ownership groups outside of the city of Atlanta.

Before I delve into the more current state of affairs in the ever shifting world of the NHL, let me take you back to the summer of 2004. Kansas City had been begging for a new arena. Downtown was widely considered a joke and the Big 12 Tournament had left for the greener pastures of Dallas, Texas. KC had been passed over by cities like Nashville, Phoenix, Columbus, Atlanta and Raleigh-Durham for NHL franchises from 1995-2001. So Kansas City, the progressive entity that it is, decided it was time for a shiny new arena, smack in the middle of downtown with a planned entertainment district adjacent to the proposed arena. The West Coast-based Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) came calling to our aid. You see, AEG owned a majority share of the Los Angeles Kings and had an "in" with the NHL. AEG offered to operate the arena for the first ten years after construction. Don't fool yourself, Sprint Center was indeed built to attract an NHL team. A slew of teams were looking for new buildings and KC was the apple of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's eye. Any time an NHL team was rumored to be relocating, Kansas City was the first city mentioned.

The Pittsburgh Penguins came calling in 2006. The corporate suites at Sprint Center sold out within a week and people were even calling to see if they could buy season tickets after KC caught wind of the Penguins' interest. They flirted with us and we got played. Here's why:

AEG employee and NHL Hall of Famer Luc Robitaille was named "head of hockey operations" for the mystery team and as of today, I think he still holds that title. Well you see, Luc's best friend is Pittsburgh Penguins majority owner Mario Lemieux. You don't have to look much further than that. Lemieux used his connections with Robitaille and AEG to get his new building. Easy peezy.

So here we are. 2011. The Atlanta Thrashers are pretty much BEGGING someone, anyone to swoop this team up out of Atlanta. AEG promised us a team. So here's the team. We don't have to coax them out of a city where they are entrenched in history and passion. We don't have to negotiate out of a lease. We won't have to do much. Just get an owner.

Instead, AEG sits in their ivory tower, watching down on KC getting passed over yet again by an NHL or NBA team while they collect fat stacks from concert revenue and the Power & Light District hemorrhages money.

The district lost $14 million dollars last year and we foot the bill for that. The entire P&L district and Sprint Center were built for one purpose: to attract and secure an NHL or NBA franchise. Of course, I prefer the NHL, but I wouldn't be too pissed if we got an NBA team either. Just something to put down there!

Some may argue the proposed economic impact of a sports team, but a sports team is what is needed to save P&L.

So we sit here, looking like idiots, while AEG and Tim LIEwicke make money off of concert revenue from artists who are under contract with AEG. You don't have to do much looking. It's just below the surface. Anyone seen Tim Liewicke in KC since 2006? No. AEG owns dozens of arenas around the world. So they'll sit there and tell us that all is well because Sprint Center is the "3rd busiest arena" in North America, when in reality, its a sponge, sucking the life out of the neighboring district and giving nothing in return.

I'm not saying that KC is the best suited city for an NHL franchise, but AEG has a lot of clout in the media. But there wasn't even a WHISPER of Kansas City in ANY of the Atlanta relocation talks. Seems a bit strange.

We were promised an anchor tenant and all we've gotten are crappy concerts and meaningless exhibition games. It's time to start asking what the worth of AEG actually is.

The answer for KC sports fans? Not that much.