Report says Hawks and Thrashers may both be for sale (UPDATE: Spirit responds with silence)

The Atlanta Spirit has always been one big happy team. OK, maybe notsomuch.

The Atlanta Spirit has always been one big happy team. OK, maybe notsomuch.

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.”

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227 comments Add your comment

SOUTH GA DAWG FAN

March 17th, 2010
9:13 am

wonder what the hawks are worth

SOUTH GA DAWG FAN

March 17th, 2010
9:14 am

Oh my and FIRST!!! I might need to take another look at my bracket I am on a roll

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

March 17th, 2010
9:15 am

please forward this email to Blank & Turner, they know what to do with struggling organizations.

SSI FAN

March 17th, 2010
9:24 am

If the Hawks, Thrashers, and the arena are not for sale, then the Atlanta Spirit group needs to tell Goldman-Sachs to get back all the portfolios that have been distrubeted soliciting a buyer for all their assets.

So, why not just sell...

March 17th, 2010
9:25 am

…them to the Belkin guy and end both his and their misery…how stupid are those guys??????

Gilley

March 17th, 2010
9:29 am

I wonder how Hawks fans would feel if we moved to another city due to poor attendance. I would be PISSED!!!!!!!!!!!!

Otto

March 17th, 2010
9:43 am

Hope the Thrashers can get new management and stay. Could really care less about the Hawks. Hockey is on their way to dead last and less than 3k in attendance below basketball?

Jeff Schultz

March 17th, 2010
9:45 am

South Ga Dawg — In order of worth, it goes 1) Arena; 2) Hawks; 3) Thrashers. Actual value of teams is difficult to say in this economy.

Nelson Skalbania

March 17th, 2010
9:45 am

Hey! I’m interested…….Again!

ThrasherFan

March 17th, 2010
9:45 am

Get these owners out of here as soon as possible. They have run the Thrashers into the ground and kept an incompetent GM in place who will see this team miss the playoffs again.

Also, move the teams to the burbs – nobody wants to be downtown in the stinkhole of Atlanta on a Tuesday night.

Jeff Schultz

March 17th, 2010
9:46 am

Dr. Kenneth — Even AMB isn’t looking to buy another team right now. Home Depot stock took a major hit with the rest of the market and getting new stadium for Falcons is a bigger priority.

Bryan G.

March 17th, 2010
9:48 am

It’s pretty sad the lack of attendance at Hawks games. However, I think ThrasherFan may be right…a lot of people are leery of going to downtown Atlanta on weeknights.

Leroy Powell

March 17th, 2010
9:48 am

I love it when these people proclaim they are the FIRST!!! one to post, only to find out they are not…

IRON CITY

March 17th, 2010
9:50 am

I live in Goergia, but about 4 hrs from ATL. I will never understand why the city doesnt support its teams any better than this. The Hawks have the 3RD best record in the east, but are 21st in attendance. That doesn’t make any sense?!? Falcons have had 2 straight winning seasons, but regularly dont sell-out?!?

ThrasherFan

March 17th, 2010
9:50 am

Jeff, the Falcons will get a new stadium once the World Cup is confirmed as coming to the United States and Atlanta is chosen as a city.

newkid

March 17th, 2010
9:53 am

Could this be JJ gamesmanship by the NY press? Plant the seed – with JJ and his agent – that the Hawks ownership situation is a rapidly sinking ship, and trust that JJ will quickly conclude that a safe and secure financial future awaits him in Manhattan with the Knickerbockers. I’d have thought this story would have shown up first in the Post (rather than the NY Times).

ThrasherFan

March 17th, 2010
9:53 am

Bryan G.,

It’s not just being leary of going downtown, it’s the heavy volume of traffic, getting home late, etc. It’s stressful getting down to a game to watch the Florida Panthers for the 4th time this year. Sports in this city aren’t well attended because nobody ever planned city wide for people to get there in a reasonable fashion.

PMC

March 17th, 2010
9:54 am

Urban Sprawl majorly effects attendence to most of the weekly sporting events in the city. Sure wish the Braves were on the market.

Also, I don’t think star power gravitas can be underestimated. Do these teams have guys that bring you to the arena to see in person?

PMC

March 17th, 2010
9:55 am

If there is one thing this city has proven time and time again it’s that they could care less about the name on the front of the jersey. It’s the name on the back they care about.

Otto

March 17th, 2010
9:59 am

Iron City, You have a few things in Georgia. 1st the natives are college fans. Look at how much money is spent on getting UGA football tix or for that matter just about any SEC team and their Football program. College is supported more than Pro in the south

Next many natives do not like going into downtown. Baseball is the exception to college rule in the south. The Braves have plenty of fans hours away from downtown but these fan can not make weekday games and do not like fighting to get downtown and then risk their car getting broken into a worse.

Finally Atlanta is largely a transient population with most remaining fans of their home team.

ThrasherFan

March 17th, 2010
10:00 am

PMC,

Well, since the Thrashers lost Dany Heatley, Marc Savard, Marian Hossa, Ilya Kovulchuk, Kari Lehts, etc, there is really nobody left with a name to care about on the Thrashers. Their marketing campaigns were built on these guys so the billboards are now defunct.

Oh, and they were swept in the first round of the only playoffs they made it to in 10 years. And Don Waddell still has a job why?

Otto

March 17th, 2010
10:02 am

Thrasher fan, I’ll be at the game Turs. night. Traffic is hardly a problem taking 400 or 75 South into the city.

ThrasherFan

March 17th, 2010
10:03 am

Otto,

I never get the college football fanbase arguments. There are what, 6-7 games a YEAR that they go to? The economy is down, Atlanta government is incompetent and our teams have been losing for a few years.

Your argument about transience hits a big nail on the head though. We don’t have local fans, we have Cubs fans, Mets fans etc. Just listen to the sportstalk radio locally, most of the talkers root for other teams.

Andre

March 17th, 2010
10:03 am

I’m tired of people saying this “leery of downtown.” Afraid for your life. When was the last time you heard a Hawks/Thrasher/Concert attendee was assaulted? Or is it that you’re scared of some homeless man asking you for money? Is that traumatizing? Where are you going to move these arena’s to? Didn’t you see the story in the AJC recently that stated that homelessness is reaching the suburbs? Any arena that is moved that far out, will definitely bring the “wrong” following. Let’s say the arena is where the Gwinnett Arena is for example. Could you imagine if fans from Douglas County, Fayette County, Henry County, Paulding County, wanting to drive all the way to that game. That would be horrible, the traffic is bad, attendance would be a staggering low. AT LEAST, the arena is centrally located. If you have a problem with that, there’s a state law that allows you to bring your arms out, so bring it!

Telfo

March 17th, 2010
10:04 am

the Thrashers getting sold to someone that actually cares to build a good team would be the best thing that can possibly happen!(assuming it is someone that will keep the team here, but i doubt Bettman would let the team move anyway)

ThrasherFan

March 17th, 2010
10:05 am

Otto again,

It depends on when you leave for the games. I usually leave work at 4 pm to miss the mess from Perimeter but then you’ve got 2.5 hours to burn. I’ve figured out every shortcut possible, believe me. But for fans who have kids in school and live in Gwinett County, it’s hard to get to the games, or find a babysitter, etc.. I may be mistaken, but those 3 and 5 pm Sunday family games are usually well attended.

Nick

March 17th, 2010
10:07 am

You want better attendance? Drop the prices. The Braves are offering season tix as low as $3 a game! You can not see a Hawks or Thrashers game for less that $10!

I would love to go watch the Hawks, but their sked is full of prime time games which they raise ticket prices for or crap teams which you are lucky to see 5,000 people attend. When you have to go to ebay to get decent prices for seats there is a problem.

I would love to go see the Hawks on a regular basis, but for the worst seats in the house it costs double what you can get at the Braves and for half the games. $250 for 83 games or $500 for 41? Does not sound too hard to me…

ThrasherFan

March 17th, 2010
10:09 am

Andre,

I’m not leary of downtown, but I would say that some people may be. Didn’t you hear all the news out of Georgia Tech regarding crime? GA Tech isn’t very far Phillips… My arguments revolve mostly around a bad product that isn’t cheap to attend and traffic sucking.

litz

March 17th, 2010
10:10 am

Can ASG even *sell*, with their current legal wranglings?

Or will they be forced to wait until all the Belkin legal mess is sorted first?

tony t

March 17th, 2010
10:11 am

are you people going to be hicks forever. don’t you have any pride.lets support these teams. i moved here because i thought this was a great city but i see you are just a bunch of country ass hicks. if we lose two teams we might as well change the name atlanta to hooterville. quit complaining about being leary to come downtown and the traffic, this is a city you know.

Dawggy Style

March 17th, 2010
10:13 am

Winning is still, and always will be, the best way to put people in the seats! The Thrashers have done woefully little of that in 10+ years, and the Hawks need a strong playoff run this season to finally shed their loser image. High costs (tickets/concessions/parking), lack of convenience getting downtown, horrible economy and pressure on household budgets, inconsistent and lackadaisical play by millionaires, etc. – Gee … really wish I could put my finger on the attendance problem!!

Jason

March 17th, 2010
10:15 am

There is no where in the suburbs you can move the teams. The density out there is too low. You’d pull in people from five miles around but for anyone else, it would be even worse than trying to get downtown. Try going from Woodstock to Suwanee sometime. Even without heavy traffic it takes forever. In metros that have a natural barrier that downtown sits against, such as the ocean, moving into the suburbs pretty much has to happen since connectivity is better out there (no ocean/lake/mountain/whatever blocking an avenue of approach). In Atlanta all of the major roads go through downtown. I tried going to the Gwinett Arena once and it took longer to get out of the parking lot after the concert than it ever has downtown. The roads out there can’t handle even that small arena, forget a much larger one.

Jeff, isn’t the value of the arena heavily dependent on the very large amount of money that Philips pays for the naming rights? Money that according to the contract that Philips would no longer have to pay if either the Hawks or the Thrashers move?

Since either team moving would create a large loss in the value of the arena, the price of the team would have to be much higher than the normal market value to compensate. There is lots of talk of a second hockey team for southern Ontario so maybe the Canadians would be willing to pay a huge premium over the market value of the Thrashers to get them to move, but I’m doubtful. More likely some other city without such a complicated arena agreement will lose their team while ours continues to limp by with poor attendance and a huge subsidy from Philips Electronics.

All I'm Saying...

March 17th, 2010
10:16 am

Per Forbes magazine,
Hawks are worth $306 million (purchased for $208 million) and
Thrashers are worth $143 million (purchased for $80 million).

The Memphis owner is looking to bail on his b-ball team and has been for years so that’s not a rumor but legit.

The Detroit Pistons owner Bill Davidson died in the past six months and his widow is open to selling so she can move on with her life.

I think Spirit simply wants to get rid of Belkin and bring in another minority partner. Those guys love hoops and realize the importance of having another tenant at Philips and will stick with the Thrashers as they can only get better at this point.

fes

March 17th, 2010
10:17 am

A sale is not going to happen anytime soon. It would have to be a package deal (Philips Arena, Hawks, and Thrashers) and no one is ponying up that kind of money in this economy. I can’t speak to the Hawks attendance woes, but for the Thrashers, it’s mostly a boycott of the product by some people that think not attending will get Waddell fired. Face it folks. He’s been at the helm for over a decade and attendance has been bleak many times over that period…he’s still here. There seems to be no accountability for him, especially in regards to attendance. I don’t think that the NY Times source could be more vague or speculative.

Tiger In the Back Woods

March 17th, 2010
10:17 am

They’re for sale…. They’re not for sale…. They’re for sale again……

BigBlue

March 17th, 2010
10:20 am

Georgia is simply put…a horrendous sports town! Top 10 media market with a bottom ten fan base for professional sports. Even UGA has problems. They sell out the games but tend to have 5 to 20,000 fans not show up on gameday. Tech has difficulties selling out its smaller stadium, etc. For whatever reason….Southernors overall just are not willing to attend games. Poverty? Culture? Who knows???

Najeh Davenpoop

March 17th, 2010
10:21 am

I would like to see the ASG choose one team or another and devote 100% of their resources to them. They have proven with the Hawks that they can, if they want, allocate enough resources to produce a winner. I don’t care anout the Thrashers, but I want the Hawks to be in the hands of an ownership group that can assure fans that they can commit the resources necessary to contend over a long period of time, and I’m sure Thrashers fans feel the same. That would be much more likely if they only owned one team.

Mr. Kiffin

March 17th, 2010
10:21 am

So the Hawks and Thrashers move, big deal. I don’t care. Neither wants fans, they only want money.

Mark

March 17th, 2010
10:22 am

Going to a game downtown is not a problem – when you drive down for a 7 PM game you are actually going against the flow. Parking is right across the street for $12 and Marta comes up right to the door. Find another excuse for not going – the teams are not kept together to build fan support and the ownership has insulted the fans time and again. ‘nuf said. The Hawks GM issue went on too long and the Thrashers GM issue is long overdue for a solution – that’s why fans aren’t going.

Mr. T

March 17th, 2010
10:25 am

Bright to think hockey would work a second time around. Wondder how long it will take for them to win a playoff game in their nes city. No doubt, less than 10 years!

BobbyH

March 17th, 2010
10:28 am

Andre,
You hit it dead on the nose. Let one of those arenas move to the suburbs and it will definitely be the beginning of the end for that franchise. Those arenas need to be centrally located acessible to everyone in the metro area

Najeh Davenpoop

March 17th, 2010
10:30 am

Co-sign Andre’s 10:03 post to the fullest. I’ve been to 10-15 Hawks games evey year for the last 6 years or so, not counting playoff games. I usually either take MARTA or park for free at Centennial Place Apartments (across Ivan Allen Boulevard from the aquarium) and walk. I have never once been in an unsafe situation. And considering that Gwinnett has pretty much become the epicenter of metro Atlanta drug smuggling, I don’t think you are any safer on Sugarloaf Parkway at 10 PM than you are near well-lit, well-policed Philips.

Mo Wanchuck

March 17th, 2010
10:30 am

Mr T…..You should have stayed in school….You spell like a 7 year old.

Hawks Fan

March 17th, 2010
10:32 am

ESPN live broadcast…”We’ve live at the “Atlanta” Hawks game tonight in downtown Kennesaw…

Gwinnett Mom

March 17th, 2010
10:33 am

No way is downtown Atlanta better than Gwinnett. For one, there are no queers here like there is downtown.

Greg

March 17th, 2010
10:39 am

I love sports, but I’m not the target demographic for either the NHL or the NBA. I just don’t have any interest in either. So don’t try to browbeat me into “supporting” these teams just so they’ll stay. If the people who like hockey and pro basketball can’t drum up enough money and attendees for these teams, I say let them go! Attendance figures suggest than only about 29,000 people in this city of 4 million will even care.

SimpleDawg

March 17th, 2010
10:41 am

Hey, put me down for the Thrashers. I’ve never owned a hockey team before….matter of fact, I’ve never coached or played hockey. I have seen a few hockey games…..

Hey, I’m as qualified as those who have owned the team, and I certainly can’t do any worse than those who have been managing and coaching the team.

By the way, how much are they asking for the team?

Ghost of O.J.!!!

March 17th, 2010
10:41 am

Gwinnett Mom

March 17th, 2010
10:33 am

You must be C R A Z Y !!!! I live and work here in Gwinnett, and there are tons of gay folks everywhere from Norcross to Buford!!! But what does the have to do with where the Hawks and Thrashers play????

SportsGuru

March 17th, 2010
10:42 am

Very few people will go downtown for anything. They keep putting attactions and sports teams down there, but the fans with the money to buy the tickets live north of town and don’t like the unsafe surroundings of downtown. One day they will get smart and put one of the teams in Gwinnett, North Fulton, or East Cobb and it will sellout.

Matt

March 17th, 2010
10:48 am

Big Blue, That was nonsensical. UGA NEVER has 5 to 20,000 not show up. Now there is always a few thousand who might not show up for the 1 game a year versus your NE Lousiana St.s of the world but that’s it.