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Filmmaker, Atlanta native Stephen Rollins: Interested in Thrashers, has well-funded support

ATLANTA - Los Angeles-based filmmaker and Atlanta native Stephen Rollins said Thursday he has well-funded support in his ongoing interest to purchase the Thrashers.

Rollins said he is working with a large investment firm which has interest in "various teams," including the Thrashers. He didn't name the firm.

"We do have a group that's assembled and we're looking at all of our options, including Atlanta," Rollins told The Associated Press. "We're looking at various teams. ... We're hoping to move forward in the near future. With the state of the economy, nobody wants to rush into anything."

The cautious approach of Rollins' group could be a problem, because Thrashers' co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. said this week the ownership group urgently needs new investors and improved fan support if the team is to remain in Atlanta. The Thrashers rank 28th in attendance.

Gearon and the other owners, who also own the NBA Atlanta Hawks and operating rights to Philips Arena, claim to have lost more than US$130 million since 2005.

Gearon didn't return calls to the AP on Wednesday and Thursday.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Thursday there are no plans to do anything with the Thrashers right now. He said the situation might have to be dealt with in the future.

"It's a struggle right now for them with respect to both of the franchises," Bettman said in a conference call. "The basketball team isn't in much different shape than the hockey team. With all the problems that they've had and the ownership issues that they've had, maybe it's not a surprise.

"Hopefully they can find a way to right it, but it has been a struggle for them."

Rollins said he has met with Bettman and said the commissioner stressed he wants the team to remain in Atlanta. Rollins said he also met with a group representing the Thrashers' owners.

When Rollins first expressed interest last year in purchasing the Thrashers, he spoke of himself as the potential lead owner. On Thursday, he said he has added "one of the largest investment and hedge fund groups around" to his efforts.

While Rollins said his primary interest is the Thrashers, he said the investment group has a broader focus.

"My heart is with Atlanta, being my hometown team," Rollins said. "We're just looking at all the options, talking with various people around the league about teams. I've been keeping my ear out on the situation in Atlanta. I know they're wanting to do something pretty quickly."

Rollins, the head of Lightning Pictures, said he wants to see the Thrashers remain in Atlanta. As an Atlanta resident in the 1990s, he was part of a grass-roots effort to bring the Thrashers to the city as an expansion franchise. He said he remains a fan and often wears his Thrashers jersey to meetings in Los Angeles.

"I don't want to see them leave and I would love to do anything I can as one of the owners," he said. "I want to see that situation be turned around. Atlanta has shown you give them a good product on ice, they'll come out and support the team. I have that firm belief and I've had that conversation with the league."

Rollins said his group is cautiously seeking "adequate data" on the team's finances.

"The only issue now is getting correct numbers because we've gotten like five different sets of figures," Rollins said, adding the investment group's "CEO wants the numbers certified."

He has said he would be interested in remaining part of a new ownership group.

Gearon and Bruce Levenson are the lead owners in the ownership group after the two bought out Boston-based Steve Belkin's 30-per cent share late last year.

When asked if he is optimistic a local buyer for the Thrashers can be found, Bettman said "I'm hopeful."

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