Atlanta Thrashers moving to Winnipeg

Tue May 31, 2011 3:11pm EDT
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By Rod Nickel

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Canada reclaimed one of its lost NHL franchises on Tuesday when the Atlanta Thrashers were sold to True North Sports and Entertainment and relocated to Winnipeg, triggering wild celebrations in the Prairie city.

The announcement ended an agonizing wait for Winnipeg hockey fans as rumors of the sale dragged on for weeks before True North, led by partners Mark Chipman and billionaire David Thomson, were finally confirmed as the new owners by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman at the MTS Center where the team will play.

Thomson is Canada's richest man and chairman of news and information company Thomson Reuters, while Chipman's family owns auto dealerships and real estate in the Western Canadian province of Manitoba.

The sale agreement will still need approval by the NHL's board of governors at its June 21 meeting. The price was not released, however numerous reports have said True North will pay $170 million, including a $60 million "relocation fee" to the NHL.

"It is nice to be back in Winnipeg after all these years," Bettman told reporters. "I want to start out by thanking Mark Chipman and David Thomson for their patience, their professionalism, their perseverance and persistence.

"True North and Atlanta Spirit early this morning reached an agreement that would bring the NHL back to this city."

Before the NHL gives final approval, True North will look to sell 13,000 season tickets with multi-year commitments to signal that the franchise will be stable.

"Selling 13,000 season tickets will send a message to the NHL board of governors," Bettman said. "And, to be candid, this isn't going to work very well unless this building is sold out every night."   Continued...

<p>NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman (L) shakes hands with True North Sports and Entertainment Chairman Mark Chipman as they attend a news conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba, May 31, 2011. REUTERS/Fred Greenslade</p>