Hockey fans aren't stupid. (OK, except for that fat guy who takes off his shirt every time he's on Dance-Cam at the arena.) When they see their team failing to do what's necessary to contend, they're going to pull out their financial stakes until conditions change, like with any other investment.
So when Atlanta Thrashers fans took a critical look at the off-season, for a team that 34-40-8 and finished 14th in the conference, they saw little to inspire hope for the 2008-09 campaign under new head coach John Anderson. As The Falconer reports, the season ticket holders have made that clear:
Just how bad were renewal rates? The Sports Business Journal is reporting that as of August 15th the season ticket renewal rate was just 40% for the Thrashers. I have a feeling that many of those who did renew are corporate buyers who don't care all that much about the on-ice product but use the tickets as entertainment for clients. My guess is that among individual fans the renewal rate is probably south of 40%. If my guess is correct, that's quite a statement about what the hockey consumer in this city thinks of the NHL product in this city.
Who can blame them really. The on-ice product has been exceedingly poor for 8 seasons. One playoff appearance and zero playoff wins. There are few markets where hockey would thrive under those conditions. What can a savvy consumer do other than vote with their pocket book? The thing that concerns me the most is the present ownership seems to slow to realize what everyone else knows.
The Falconer rests the blame on GM Don Waddell, and it's hard to argue that his management hasn't exactly brought sustained success to the franchise. But are we looking at a Jay Feaster situation here? As an ownership feud slowly moves through the legal process, could the Thrashers be paralyzed as a franchise much in the same way the Lightning were between owners?
That's hard to swallow when the team was rumored to have been in the hunt for Brian Campbell this summer. It's also hard to swallow when you consider the debilitating missteps in team building for the last several years, which are the real reason Atlanta's such a mess. There are midget basketball teams that are deeper at center than the Thrashers.
Like Dirk Hoag wrote: This is less about a non-traditional market failing than ownership and management repelling fans with inaction or inept decisions. Either way, a 40 percent renewal rate is downright embarrassing.