Mister Levenson, TEAR DOWN THIS CURTAIN!!

On the morning after the Atlanta Thrashers dismissed the New Jersey Devils with a resounding statement of renouncement, and as the beleaguered Blueland Nation savors the spoils of this brief, but glorious triumph over some rather beguiling franchise demons, we must now pause to reflect on what this victorious battle means for the future of hockey in Atlanta. Just how could it alter the fate of a struggling franchise that is trying to climb its way from the depths of darkness, despair and ridicule?

For the first time since March 20, 2010*, more than 17,000 fans desperate to believe in Blueland filled the seats of Philips Arena to not only offer their sarcastic thanks and harsh invective to the once ballyhooed face of the franchise, Ilya Kovalchuk, but also witness what they hoped would be a turning point victory for a team that has historically come up short in big “statement” games. On a night when the team mascot would be released from lawful detention as a symbolic message to the hockey world that Thrasherville CAN and WILL rally to support the attendance cause, the Thrashers’ players responded with a convincing and profound message of restored hope, renewed excitement and fulfilled expectations. *Note: I’m very much aware of the fact the last home game of 2009-10 was a sell-out, but at least 1/3 of the arena was filled with Pens’ fans.

At least for one night were expectations fulfilled. Finally, after two consecutive failed attempts to win in regulation (the Thrashers suffered back to back overtime shoot-out losses against Tampa Bay and Carolina) and earn the coveted second point that would catapult them to the top rung of the Southeast Division standings, the Thrashers elevated their game to match the import level of the prize at stake to dismantle a reeling Devils team by the count of 7 to 1 in front of a boisterous and near-capacity crowd at Philips Arena. Led by the “best 4th line in hockey“, the Thrashers blitzed legendary goalie Martin Brodeur with a 4-goal barrage on just 15 shots. The Thrashers were led by pugilist turned goal-scorer Eric Boulton, who netted his first ever hat-trick (and multi-goal game for that matter) in a 10-year career known solely, if at all, for dishing out punishment as part of a grinding, “energy” trio not expected to score goals.

But just like my good friend, and AJC Fan BloggerBill Tiller said after “Boultsy” put the finishing touches on an amazing feat of crazy, cosmic luck, the Thrashers had officially entered into the “bizarro world” of hockey phenomena, for on the same night, Rich Peverley, known purely for his gifted skating and slick passing, decided he would attempt to one-up Boulton by dropping the gloves and teaching Eric a lesson on how to execute some of the finer points of the “sweet science”. Truly bizarre indeed. Pretty much the entire sequence of unfolding of events made for a surreal outcome as the Thrashers seemingly managed to cast off a galling shroud of bad luck and misfortune with this win over their devilish nemesis. Not only was Boulton’s 3rd goal the result of a strange twist of fate that saw the puck take a random, hard kick off the boards from behind the goal and past a startled and panicked goalie — former Thrasher Johan “Moose” Hedberg was victimized by an even stranger karmic carom in Game 2 of the 2007 playoffs’ series against the New York Rangers — but the final score seemed like a fitting ironic tribute to erstwhile Thrashers hero, Ilya Kovalchuk, who left the ice beneath a scoreboard emblazoned with a score matching the transposition of his number 17.

For the fans in attendance, it was surely a cathartic release of pent-up frustrations, anger and scorn. For years, the fans have been subjected to the fickle and petty whims of a misguided ownership group. And recently, the relentless rumors of relocation fueled by a frenzied Canadian press have been rampant. And with the Canadian, and even the national American, media agenda buoyed by recent comments in the press by NHL Deputy Commissioner, Bill Daly, who continues to question publicly the viability of hockey in the metro Atlanta market, the 7 to 1 spanking of Ilya’s Devils was even sweeter for the citizens of Blueland, who can now enjoy the chance to fire back with a thunderous message of partial vindication that screams out like a chorus of “Mooooooooose” chants at Philips Arena: UP YOURS CANADA!!!

Much work is surely left to be done as the underdog Thrashers attempt to lift up a fan base that has been beaten down repeatedly by a neglectful, often ungrateful and sometimes petulant ownership group. But in the wake of the Thrashers emphatic win over the Devils last night, and their ascendancy into the upper echelon of the NHL standings (did I just type that?), it now seems as though the time is ripe for all fans, both the embittered and unwavering citizens of Blueland, to renew, or solidify their belief in and support of this team. And in so doing, they can convey to the desperate “Octo-cluster” ownership group a powerful and adamant message similar to the one late President Ronald Reagan delivered to Soviet Russia in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin back in 1987:

Paraphrasing of course:

“There is one sign the (dis)Spirit Group can make that would be unmistakable; that would advance dramatically the cause of (passion) and (hope). (Mr. Levenson), if you seek (success); if you seek prosperity for the (town of Thrasherville)…..come here to this gate. (Mr. Levenson), open this gate. (Mr. Levenson), TEAR DOWN THIS (CURTAIN)!<— Click link for a picture of this travesty, um, I mean tapestry.

Yes, for those who are unaware, the upper reaches of the stands at Philips Arena — the 400-level section of seats –has been partitioned off by the Atlanta Spirit Group since the beginning of the season. In an attempt to apparently mask their own embarrassment over dwindling attendance and their methodical dismantling of hope during the past three seasons of failure, the ASG has erected a black curtain of shame to hide the once popular section of $10 seats. Well, I think it’s just about time that our short-sighted owners take down this damn curtain and open up as many reasonably-priced seats as possible so that the thousands of fans, who are still on the fence about financing further ineptitude on the part of the ASG, can come to Philips Arena and pay a guilt-free pittance to watch some of the most exciting and inspiring hockey ever seen in these parts. In fact, the now first-place Thrashers, who overtook, even if only briefly, the free-falling Washington Capitals with their win last night, play some of the most exciting, fun-to-watch hockey in the entire National Hockey League.

So ASG, do what is right and indeed salutary for your benevolent Blueland backers. Come here to the front of this curtain. Come here, with hat in hand, before the masses of hockey fans who want to believe. Come before them and offer up a gesture of good faith to win back the hearts of those who wish to no longer be exploited for their generosity. Come before Blueland and TEAR DOWN THIS CURTAIN!!!

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About the Author: Accountant / Analyst who has a nagging writing addiction when it comes to hockey. I've been a hockey fan since I was a wee tyke and now my allegiance to the Atlanta Thrashers has me "mentally thrashed". My other long-time passion is the game of golf so I'm a glutton for punishment! As a mid to late 30-something, I'm blessed to have a girlfriend who aids and abets my hockey / blogging obsession. Hockey heroes include: Gilbert Perreault, Adam Oates (Go RPI!), Pat LaFontaine and Marty Reasoner. Follow me on the twitter machine @j_barty_party

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  1. GRITS and Pucks says:

    You are so right, we need every seat open for willing and hopeful Thrashers fans! OPEN THE CURTAIN!

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by J.C. Bartholomew and J.C. Bartholomew, J.C. Bartholomew. J.C. Bartholomew said: Finally! A new #Thrashers blog entry @HockeyIndie: http://hockeyindependent.com/blog/?p=28353 Message to ASG: TEAR DOWN THAT DAMN CURTAIN! [...]

  3. Jess says:

    Pretty sure the curtain stays up for Hawks games too. So no, I’m ok with it until we start drawing like 15-16k on average. There’s still $10 seats now in the 300 section, and it’s not like they’re selling out.

  4. JC Bartholomew says:

    Jess, perhaps during the week that is true, but the point goes beyond that. It’s about giving more fans the option of getting a cheap ticket and win them back. It’s more important we have a full building to stir up excitement in the city as THE place to be for sports entertainment. They should open the 400s for both teams. You’re not gonna sell upper level for more than $30 on a consistent basis until you drive up demand with more butts in seats. You’ve got to create a buzz and afford people the chance to go to the game for $10-15 in this sluggish economy. Especially now during and right after the holidays.

    So while you think you’re being a patient fan, you’re in a sense buying into the problem that exists: that hockey doesn’t cater to the average, low-income wage earner who might go to a game on a Wed night for $10 + $5 for parking and a couple of $3 beers and have a good time. Eventually, as more and more seats are taken and supply goes down, then guess what??? I’ll let you figure that out since you’re so smart. ;)

  5. Matt says:

    AMEN! Open the 400s again!

  6. cousin Eddie says:

    Have to admit that I looked into buying 4 tickets for the devils game and it was going to cost $150-not including food, drinks, and parking. Would of liked them to open up the 400 section for that game cause I think alot of people did not go because of the prices of the next available ticket. I told the ball-n-chain we could just watch it at home and save $175 for x-mas gifts.

  7. JC Bartholomew says:

    Precisely cousin eddie!

    Thanks for driving home my point!

    Merry, merry Christmas!

    PS – Don’t forget the tkt special using the promo code “Rawhide”!!

  8. Wayne stuck in AL says:

    Remember when Arthur Blank bought the Falcons? The first thing he did was asking the players what they wanted and was told more fans in the stands. So he reduced ticket prices in certain sections of the Dome just to get more tickets bought.

  9. Badger Bob says:

    Well said, my friend! As for the curtain and those Section 400 seats…

    Roll it back! Fill em up!
    Fill em up! Roll it back! Rawhide!

  10. jwizzle says:

    Excellent posting J, I will be bookmarking this page immediately.

    I am so flippin’ excited that Boultsy had a hat trick!!!

    I couldn’t agree with you more about the 400 section seats. I think that this is particularly ballsy of Atlanta Spirit and not in a good way…I actually told them this recently. They call me almost every week to re-up my package (annoying) so I have lots to say.

    Thanks for leading the charge on this, Tear it Down!

  11. JC Bartholomew says:

    Y’all this is great! Thanks for the support of the blog and keep the comments coming. ASG must feel our wrath! ;)

    But seriously, what is the point of holding back inventory when you’re struggling to gain new fans? If potential new fans are either a) not sure about hockey cuz they’re unfamiliar with the game or b) experiencing some financial hardship in this tough economy, then you need to do whatever you can to get them in the building.

    Of course, don’t get me going on their poor to lame marketing, but the “Free Thrash” campaign was certainly a step in the right direction! Just don’t tell us to “wake up” and thereby insinuate that poor attendance is our fault. Poor product and mistreatment of your fans would be much bigger root causes for that…jacklegs! :)

    JCB

    Go Thrash! Sweep the Leafs!

  12. Badger Bob says:

    Yep, “wake up” is not a positive message. Gotta say I agreed with the curtain at the start of the season – fewer empty seats to look at and get depressed about was a good thing, but now, it serves no purpose.

    Now Mr. Bartholomew, how do we fill the Club seats? You know I hated paying big $$$$ for my STs there and being beside people who got them for cents on the dollar. However, we’ve got to fill them up.

  13. JC Bartholomew says:

    Badger Bob – good to see you over here! Thanks for your participation and support.

    And you pose a very astute question, not to mention thought-provoking. In my opinion, with respect to the Club side seats, perhaps they ought to appease loyal STH who sit in the lower bowl by giving them full Club section access when there is a certain number of corporate / club section seats left unsold?

    Part of the problem (and success ironically) when it comes to sports is the strong reliance on the corporate dollar. But it comes with a price, pun intended. When your team goes in the tank and prices aren’t adjusted accordingly in step with the product on the ice (see Arthur Blank and the Falcons circa 2002-04), then you lose not only a consistent revenue stream from your loyal base, but you also lose advocates of the game who will try to bring newbies to the arena and introduce them to the great game of hockey.

    What the organization has done this season with “market pricing” that is more sensitive to actual supply and demand forces has been a step in the right direction. However, I don’t understand why you also reduce supply (400 level pricing) when that supply was already appropriately priced. Perhaps they didn’t want to have to sell tickets for what an order of chicken tenders costs ($9!, really?) hoping that eventually demand will drive the price of those seats up above $10 when the time is right. But that is purely short-sighted and dumb IMO as a strategy to employ when you need to commit to growing the sport in a market that is still largely unfamiliar with the game.

    Unfortunately, when the ownership is trying to reduce expenses and hopefully ensure an attractive margin for potential outside investors, then I guess this is what you get. In the end though, outside of the product you put on the ice, the other two key components to success in pro hockey are corporate sponsorship / client management and effective marketing and PR to grow the game. Unfortunately for the dis-Spirit Group, the former is affected adversely by a poor product and then that misery is compounded with a bad economy.

    As for the latter, the marketing and PR has been off the mark much, much too often over the years. Having your mascot “steal a zamboni” is a good PR stunt and can help in the short-term, but they need to completely revamp their marketing of this young, exciting up and coming team. They have some charismatic young men who would be quite marketable in this star-driven town, but perhaps they are afraid of looking like copy-cats by adopting a similar campaign to the more effective “Rise Up” one being used by the Falcons.

    Perhaps the HBO documentary special “24/7″ will show them that all hockey teams have character guys who can relate to fans in many ways. The schedule is a lot lighter in January so hopefully the team can afford the time for more PR appearances, talk show visits, radio interviews etc. Time to “engage” Thrasher Nation like a politician and do whatever they can to drum up more support!

    Sorry for the long, rambling diatribe, but sometimes I just can’t help myself!!

    Anyone have any marketing ideas or potential ad campaign slogans that might work other than “A Brutally Good Time”?

  14. Flames says:

    WOW! I have to agree with everybody! Tear Down that Curtain! Mr. Bartholomew I have just place this site in my favorites box.

    Go Thrashers!!!

  15. Red Light says:

    “You don’t have to know the game, to know that it’s exciting!”

  16. JC Bartholomew says:

    R/L – I like that pithy saying and all, but if it were truly the case, why isn’t hockey more popular??

    But it might be a good start for our new marketing campaign for the 2nd half of the season. Or have we already used that in the past? Waaay back when? ;)

    THRASHERS HOCKEY: Tearing down doubt, one game at a time.

    JCB

    Flames – hey buddy!!! Bring the heat baby!

  17. Badger Bob says:

    Good answer, smooth one. I especially agree that there needs to be some Club Section love for long-term lower-bowl STHs – perhaps vouchers to be redeemed for extra seats over there on a first-come first-served basis. I’d have had no complaints about that.

    For marketing in general, I think you need to convey the bad a$$, tough aspect without coming across like WWF or a monster truck event. For that reason I like the Sons of Blueland thing on the screen at the games. I realize our boys have no face recognition in this town, so the outside the arena campaign would need to be adjusted accordingly. Flames, can you run these ideas down to the PR boys?

  18. Badger Bob says:

    Smoothie – thanks for the video from the Blues game on your “other” blog. I sent that link to a couple Canadian friends who think hockey in Atlanta is dead. Just hearing that crowd noise was AWESOME!