Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Transition game

True North has hands full, but not overwhelmed

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The True North to-do list in the relocation of a NHL franchise from Atlanta to Winnipeg is long and extensive.

But president and CEO Jim Ludlow did confirm this Thursday: prospective Zamboni drivers need not apply.

"We have one," said Ludlow with a chuckle. "And I'd guess no Zamboni driver is going to move from Atlanta, Georgia, to Winnipeg, Manitoba."

Moving the Thrashers to Winnipeg in time for the 2011-12 season -- lock, stock and skate sharpener -- isn't as simple as packing up boxes and renting a U-Haul trailer. But it might not be as overwhelming a chore as some might think, either, as True North is already an established hockey outfit.

"We are already a very strong operation. We are already in the sports and entertainment business and have been running a hockey operation relatively successfully for quite a few years," said Ludlow. "It's not like we're a new market that has just acquired an expansion franchise and wants to drop it, for example, into Kansas City or Oklahoma City. We're quite a bit further ahead than that. There's lots of work to do in order to transition, but we're not starting at ground zero.

"We've been here for a long time. We've played host to 6.5 million visitors and 1,100 events, lots of NHL exhibition hockey and 300 Moose hockey games. We've been through this. There are things that we have to ramp up for, but we are in transition mode from the start with a plug-and-play operation."

That said, there are a number of issues to resolve quickly. There is the hot-button issue of what to name the team, a decision on which won't be made until after the ticket campaign is completed. And aside from the 'Drive to 13' season-ticket campaign, the hockey operations department needs to be settled, TV/radio rights must be negotiated, the draft is in three weeks and players need to be re-signed.

But there will be no wait-and-see approach to any issue while the ticket campaign unfolds.

"We're moving forward with some confidence," said Ludlow. "And as we move forward there's always an element of triage and priority of what we need to do. This list is long. There's a couple of things on it that we're stroking off as quickly as we can or dealing with as quickly as we can. It's a lot easier said than done. But the key revenue items like ticket sales, corporate sponsorship and suites we're dealing with immediately.

"The hockey operations transition we're dealing with immediately because those things need to be in the saddle as quickly as possible."

Now, because True North is already so established, Ludlow did hint it is unlikely any member of the administrative staff in Atlanta would be offered the opportunity to head north.

The Atlanta Spirit Group still owns the NBA's Hawks and operates the Philips Arena and the hope is the staff there can keep their jobs.

"The blanket answer to that is in this business everybody is market specific to their knowledge," said Ludlow. "An operations person, an administration person, an accounting person, marketing or sales person from down there doesn't make any sense in this marketplace.

"There's still a building down there and a basketball operation. There's not really a need to acquire most of those people and most of those people remain in that marketplace." Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 3, 2011 C3

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