In these assumed closing moments of the Thrashers relocation to Manitoba, the AJC's Mark Bradley has provided a serviceable effort to answer the single question this city has obsessed over to the point it's become our actual fan DNA: Are ATLiens bad sports fans?
Throughout this latest examination Bradley plays it surprisingly smart. At first. Rather than go the route of trying to hack out the "hometown without a hometown" theory out of 30 years' worth of out-of-state immigration to the metro area or just lazily throw the "sorry, we're college sports town!" UNO card, Bradley uses the painful math of the city's pro franchise attendance figures to illustrate that while Taco Mac patrons might not ever be confused with Cub fans, it's the ownership souring the city's reputation, not the butts in the seats or lack thereof:
Of note: The 2010 Falcons, who had the NFL’s second-best record, were 15th among 32 teams in attendance and 19th in capacity at 95.3 per cent. But the Falcons’ average gate was 67,850. Put it this way: Over their last full seasons, the average Braves, Hawks and Thrashers crowds together still fell 6,000 below the Falcons’ yield.
Bradley goes to theorize that poor ownership - and in the case of the woefully hapless Atlanta Spirit, very, very publicized poor ownership - combined with a weakened consumer economy turns existing and potential fans away from investing money in tickets or merchandise.
And then he throws the "college town" card. (Draw four!)
Whenever I’m hit with the Atlanta-is-a-lousy-sports-town line, that’s my rebuttal: We might not be the best pro sports city, but we’re the absolute best for college football. All you need do is drive around the Perimeter on an autumn Saturday morning and you’ll see the festooned cars bearing Fulton and DeKalb and Cobb and Gwinnett plates headed for Athens and Auburn and Knoxville and Tuscaloosa and Clemson and Columbia and Tallahassee and Gainesville. (And yes, for North Avenue, too.)
Ah yes! Those revered Atlanta Big Orange Triple-Tiger Yella' TideDawgs! Take that, Boston!
Owning the title of "College Mecca" is all fine and good, except that none of that reverence results in attention (or in many cases not named "Chick-Fil-A," revenue) for the city of Atlanta. Rightly or not, top tier collegiate events like bowl games, conference title games and tournaments and even Final Four bids do little to bolster a particular city's reputation as a "great sports town." Never mind the SEC fanaticism - it's the sparsely populated turncoat crowd at Phillips Arena during a November Hawks game that ESPN pundits huff about.
So ownership sucks, and we're all too in love with the alma mater to bother with pro sports - Bradley didn't really break new ground, but one of his later points, falsely constructed to push pro team managers and marketers to better deliver their product, might prove once and for all this city's fans are as bad as we've been told.
It would be nice if a pro team grabbed us by the lapels and made us care — the Braves did it in 1991, and the Falcons did it with Michael Vick — but that’s the job of the team. It’s not on us.
Say WHAAAAA? If a 13-win NFL franchise, vanilla offense or not, can't grab the "lapels" of a few million locals, then maybe they've been right all along. It's hard to think any columnist in 31 other pro football cities would be ballsy enough to make that claim a few months after the local team posted the second-best record in the entire league.
The Thrashers have done nothing to endear their sport or their team to this town with the better part of a decade-plus to do it. But even with the Falcons' blowout loss in their first playoff game, that tug you feel isn't the Fiesta Chicken Nachos, Taco Mac: it's fandom demanding better.
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