This is what we have known about the owners in the Atlanta Spirit for some time.
♦ They are losing money, lots of money, the amount of money that tells you, “I just don’t think Turbo Tax is going to get the job done for all of these write-offs this year.”
♦ They are a dysfunctional ownership group, as evidenced by the fact that one of the primary owners (Steve Belkin) is STILL on the outs with the rest of the group.
♦ They do things on the cheap, as evidenced by the Hawks and Thrashers’ payrolls and recently making new Hawks coach Larry Drew one of the lowest-paid head coaches in the NBA (and with only two years guaranteed on his contract).
♦ They are looking for “investors.”
The only new thing the New York Post brought to the table this morning was its report that both teams and Philips Arena are all for sale in their entirety. Similar stories have surfaced before. Each time the Spirit ownership has issued denials (once all could finally sign off on a statement, which took hours to days).
So it should not come as a surprise that the Spirit just emailed the following statement:
ATLANTA – (June 18, 2010) – Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon, two of the principal partners of Atlanta Spirit LLC, the parent company that owns the Atlanta Hawks, Atlanta Thrashers and Philips Arena operating rights, have released the following statement regarding the rumored sale of the teams and arena:
“As has been shared publicly for more than a year, we are interested in finding minority investors and have engaged a firm to assist us in that effort. We have no plans to move either team, and remain committed to the Hawks, the Thrashers, Philips Arena and the city of Atlanta.”
Read into those words what you like: Truth, half-truths, or go-away-you’re-not-entitled-to-the-truth.
But know this: Until the Spirit spends and operates like solid ownership, every day will be perceived as amateur hour and stories like this — factual, fictional or somewhere in between — will constantly come up.
For what it’s worth, some numbers — also factual, fictional or somewhere in between — from the Post story:
The Hawks posted an operating loss of roughly $20 million last year before servicing debt. Philips Arena made $10 million.
That means the package together is losing money, and if one bought the Hawks and tried to move them out of Atlanta it would trip a clause in the financing deal that would accelerate the remaining debt payments owed on the 11-year-old arena.
As for the Thrashers they are being sold separately and lost about $30 million in the last 12 months, according to figures compiled by the Spirit, the source said.
This dilemma is part of a deeper problem the NBA faces in that its teams posted an overall loss of $400 million, according to Commissioner David Stern.
The Spirit owners can complain all they want about what they perceive as unfair coverage. But until they actions project something more solid and positive than what we’ve seen, there’s nothing unfair about this.