By Maria Saporta
As the Georgia World Congress Center Authority lunch board meeting took place Tuesday, the Atlanta Thrashers were announcing that they were moving to Winnipeg — the second time that the city has lost a professional hockey team.
Oddly, the topic of the Atlanta Thrashers leaving the city never came up at the GWCC Authority meeting.
Although there is no official tie to the Thrashers, the hockey team has played in Philips Arena — across the street from the GWCC convention center — for the past 11 years. The GWCC does own and operate the Georgia Dome, the home of the Atlanta Falcons.
“It’s obviously very disappointing,” said William Pate, president of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, after the meeting. “There have been plenty of visitors to the city who would come and take in a hockey game.”
Pate, who remembered when the city lost the Atlanta Flames in 1980, said that there are many “great things that compete for people’s time” in the city.
“I don’t know how big the established hockey base is in Atlanta, but obviously, it wasn’t big enough to sustain the franchise,” Pate said.
State Rep. Billy Mitchell, who was at the meeting, also said it was a shame the team was moving.
“It is disappointing when you think of a city like Atlanta, we can’t keep a hockey team,” Georgia Rep. Billy Mitchell said. “It certainly doesn’t bode well as we sit here today.”
Bob Prather, the past chairman of the GWCC Authority, said it was a loss for Atlanta.
“I hate to see them go,” Prather said. “It’s just part of being a major league town.”
And Prather did not hold out much hope of Atlanta being able to get another pro-hockey team anytime soon.
“It’s getting harder and harder to get these teams back once you lose them,” Prather said, adding that the transient nature of the Atlanta sports fans also makes it a tough market. “People go out to support winners. If they had been a winning team, , the team would still be here.”
Frank Poe, GWCC’s director, also said it was a bit of a blow to Atlanta’s image.
“Certainly when a city loses a major sports franchise, it’s not a good thing,” Poe said. “You really want to make sure you support your franchises because they are tough to get. But it’s not the end of the world.”
The question could come down to the fact that Atlanta is a Sunbelt city that doesn’t have a deep affinity with hockey.
“My opinion is that hockey was a sport that was developed in the northern United States and Canada,” Poe said. “It’s a winter, ice sport, so there’s not a tradition of that in this market. In the South, football is king.”