NHL expansion franchise sought for Atlanta


NHL maybe expanding into Atlanta with new arena Image: Atlanta, Georgia - Downtown Skyline, known per ticket, Public Domain

The Alpharetta Sports & Entertainment Group (a hockey-focused ownership team), fronted by the former National Hockey League (NHL) player Anson Carter, has formally requested that the NHL commence with an expansion process aimed at bringing a franchise to the greater Atlanta (Georgia, US) area for a third time.

‘ESPN’ stated that Atlanta was previously home to the Atlanta Flames (1972-1980), who relocated to Calgary (Canada) and are now known as the Calgary Flames, and the Atlanta Thrashers (1999-2011), who moved to Winnipeg (Canada) and is now known as the Winnipeg Jets.

New York (US)-based the National Hockey League (NHL) is a professional ice hockey league in North America comprising 32 teams – 25 in the United States and 7 in Canada.

Anson Carter is a Canadian former professional ice hockey right winger who played in the National Hockey League (NHL) for eight teams from 1996 to 2007, most notably with the Boston Bruins (US), the Edmonton Oilers (Canada) and Vancouver Canucks (Canada).

The Atlanta Flames were a professional ice hockey team based in Atlanta (US) from 1972 until 1980. They played their home games in the now closed 16,378-capacity Omni Coliseum in Atlanta and were members of the West and later Patrick divisions of the National Hockey League (NHL).

The Calgary Flames are a professional ice hockey team based in Calgary, Canada. The Flames compete in the National Hockey League (NHL) as a member of the Pacific Division in the Western Conference. The 19,289-capacity Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary serves as their home field.

The Atlanta Thrashers were a professional ice hockey team based in Atlanta (US). Atlanta was granted a franchise in the National Hockey League on June 25th, 1997, and became the league’s 28th franchise when it began play in the 1999-2000 seasons. The 16,888-capacity Philips Arena, now known as the State Farm Arena in Atlanta served as their residence.

The Winnipeg Jets are a professional ice hockey team based in Winnipeg. The team competes in the National Hockey League (NHL) as a member of the Central Division in the Western Conference. The 16,345-capacity Canada Life Centre in Winnipeg, Canada, serves as their home ground.

‘ESPN’ further stated that the above announcement states that the group is seeking an NHL team for a new arena designed by Architect Frank Gehry (Canadian-American architect and designer) that will be part of a larger development at the North Point Mall site in Alpharetta, Georgia (US) located around 30 minutes from where the Thrashers used to play.

Commented Carter, “I have no doubt that the best league in the world will thrive in its return to Metro Atlanta. I have been in dialog with the NHL Commissioner [Gary] Bettman since 2019 about an expansion team returning to the Fulton County Metro Atlanta market, knowing that the franchise decisions are exclusively decided by the NHL Board of Governors.”

Among the partners mentioned in the announcement is Neil Leibman of Houston-based Top Tier Sports (holds equity positions in professional sports teams throughout the United States), Peter Simon of Birmingham (US)-based Simon Sports (a sports management group and investment firm), Aaron Zeigler of Kalamazoo (US)-based Zeigler Automotive Group (a privately-owned car dealership group), and the New York Life Real Estate Investors (an investment division of NYLInvestors LLC, a subsidiary of the New York Life Insurance Company), who is a partner in the mixed-use land development.

In a statement sent out on March 12th, the NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the league appreciated the enthusiasm from the Carter’s group – “The league appreciates Anson’s passion for bringing NHL hockey back to the Atlanta area, and he has certainly kept the subject on our radar screen for several years running. While, as we have made clear, we have no expansion- oriented process in place currently, it’s always good to know there is bona fide interest.”

Carter is a part owner of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) Atlanta Gladiators hockey team. Carter previously attempted to purchase the National Basketball Association (NBA) team Atlanta Hawks, Thrashers and their arena in 2011 with a group called Atlanta Sports and Entertainment, but they were declined by Atlanta Spirit, which owned the teams.

There are other groups interested in bringing the NHL to Atlanta. Vernon Krause, a businessman, who has proposed building an 18,000-seat arena in a mixed-use development in Forsyth County, Georgia, said that he met with Bettman in New York. Krause says he believes that if the NHL approves expansion, a team could play in its arena beginning in the 2027-2028 seasons.

Daly said last September that he was optimistic the third time could be the charm for Atlanta – “I think some of the challenges that we’ve seen in the past in Atlanta can be overcome. I think times have changed pretty dramatically and the market demographics have changed pretty dramatically since the first time we went there and then again in 1999. I think a lot of bigger businesses are in Atlanta [now].”

Daly said the location of the rink will be a key to the success of any potential Atlanta franchise. The Thrashers played in what’s now known as the State Farm Arena, home of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, which is located in the City of Atlanta – “I also think that rink location will be important with any decision to locate a franchise in Atlanta. I think if you use the Major League Baseball (MLB) team Atlanta Braves as an example, they struggled, as I understand it, attendance-wise for years, even though they had a very successful team on the field. Their latest stadium is in a perfect location and sells out regularly.”

Bettman has said that expanding beyond 32 teams isn’t a priority for the NHL. But Cities continue to show interest in joining the league.

The NBA team Utah Jazz Owner Ryan Smith and The Smith Entertainment Group announced in January that it has formally requested the NHL to start an expansion process for a potential Utah franchise.

Bettman said at the NHL All-Star Game last month, “We have no formal expansion process set up. We’re listening to the expressions of interest and I think it’s fair to say that the Utah expression of interest has been the most aggressive and has carried a lot of energy with it.”

Tilman Fertitta, Owner of NBA’s Houston Rockets, said he’s had discussions with the NHL about bringing a team there.

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