The Atlanta Spirit ownership group has been disputing reports that it is seeking to sell the Thrashers and that the NHL team might be on the move to another city. Now comes a report that the Hawks also might be on the market.
A New York Times story on sports ownership during the recession references both the Hawks and Thrashers as being among franchises that might be for sale. The paragraph in question reads:
Now that the economy seems to be on the mend, owners who held off selling during the downturn are seeking to unload their teams. According to sports bankers, the teams thought to be for sale include the Atlanta Hawks, the Memphis Grizzlies, the Golden State Warriors and the Detroit Pistons in the N.B.A; the [Dallas] Stars, the Atlanta Thrashers and potentially the Columbus Blue Jackets in the N.H.L.; and baseball’s Houston Astros.
E-mails this morning to various club officials seeking comment have not been immediately returned.
(UPDATE: Despite emails and phone requests, the Hawks/Thrashers/Spirit have yet to issue a statement, either confirming or denying the New York Times story. Draw what you will from their silence. For what it’s worth, the Thrashers have been quick to deny past stories of the franchise’s possible sale and/or move.)
There had been no indication in the past that the Spirit is looking to sell the Hawks. However, the potential exit of partner Steve Belkin is expected to prompt the group, led by Michael Gearon and Bruce Levenson, to seek a new partner. Belkin and the other owners have been in litigation for about five years. Both the Hawks and Thrashers are struggling in attendance. The Thrashers rank 28th out of 30 teams in the NHL, averaging 13,397 announced per game. The Hawks rank 21st in the 30-team NBA, averaging 16,092 announced, despite having the third-best record in the Eastern Conference.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman recently told the Journal-Constitution that the squabbling among owners has affected the Thrashers’ operation and product: “Ultimately, the ownership situation has to be straightened out. It’s difficult to operate a franchise when owners aren’t getting along. It’s even more difficult in a recession climate. A team has to be at its very best. Issues have to be resolved and everybody has to be together so they can interact with fans. But that’s difficult when the owners aren’t together.”
The Times story addresses how devalued pro sports franchises are in today’s economy, and how new owners like Michael Jordan of the Charlotte Bobcats “are facing a future without the near-certainty of making up for any short-term losses by selling their teams for hefty profits later.”
“It used to be you got bailed out when you sold your team even if you lost money year after year,” said Marc Ganis, president of SportsCorp Ltd., a consulting firm. “Now, you’re no longer assured of cashing out to cover your capital costs and losses.”