Whether Spirit is selling teams or not, scrutiny is justified

Can we really know what Michael Gearon Jr. (left) and Bruce Levenson are going to do?

Can we really know what Michael Gearon Jr. (left) and Bruce Levenson are going to do?

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.

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105 comments Add your comment

Big Fred

June 18th, 2010
12:40 pm

Nice truthful picture of the owners in Thrashers uniforms with an empty arena behind them!

virgil leonard

June 18th, 2010
12:41 pm

see this is why I question the direction of the Hawks. If Management is in shambles what are we really expecting from the team? This is a disaster of a situation to be in if your a Hawks player or fan. Would it be to much to ask Arthur Blank to make move to buy the Hawks?

Big Fred

June 18th, 2010
12:41 pm

Dang – and FIRST too!

Ted M

June 18th, 2010
12:42 pm

The ship is sinking. We’ll lose Joe and we won’t sigh even mid level free agent.

Ted M

June 18th, 2010
12:43 pm

GTFan

June 18th, 2010
12:43 pm

First, and the Thrashers and Hawks stink

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Sage of Bluesland

June 18th, 2010
12:46 pm

I don’t wonder at all why these franchises are where they are…Exhibit A to the incompetence is allowing that blustering buffoon Don Waddell to not only keep his job after embarking on his third “Five-Year Plan”–but PROMOTING him in the process.

This utter incompetence isn’t worthy of the dollar in your pocket. It’s way past time to send the only message ownership will listen to…

mark

June 18th, 2010
12:46 pm

The Spirit Group is a joke, it is a shame in a town as big as Atlanta that this is who owns two profosional teams. Sports fans in this town never new how well they had it when Ted owned the teams. As crazy as he is, walking around picking up trash and all, he cared about the teams and wanted to see them be successful. These guys could care less, even Micheal Gearon Jr. with all his empatic we care can not change my mind. I love the Hawks, but if they are run by this group we will never hold up a championship trophy.

F-105 Thunderchief

June 18th, 2010
12:56 pm

We’ve got some nice players on the roster, but that’s about the only bright spot here. Drew was promoted because he is cheap. I really don’t see this disjointed “organization,” in the current economic climate doing anything of significance to upgrade the team. This year was probably the peak … unless a majority owner … a single majority owner … with deep pockets buys the team. Won’t hold my breath for that one.

Spud Webb

June 18th, 2010
12:58 pm

When you don’t put money into things and build a solid fan base, you usually don’t make money. These &ss clowns are classless liars, have no idea how to run a sports franchise, much less 2 and an arena.
If this city is lucky and us as sports fans are lucky, all will be sold. God would I love it if Blank put a group together!!
@ GTFAN, it’s funny to hear you say both teams stink, as you’re a tech fan, you know all about teams stinking!

Wayne stuck in AL

June 18th, 2010
12:58 pm

Well, I guess neither the Hawks nor Thrashers will attract any free agents this Summer…

F-105 Thunderchief

June 18th, 2010
12:58 pm

And, yes, Jeff, the scrutiny is definitely justified.

Sonny Clusters

June 18th, 2010
1:07 pm

The AJC has an article about soft drinks and calls them “sodas” . . . Ralph McGill would not approve of that . . . neither would Mr. Woodruff. Could use some scrutiny. We was always taught it is not soda and it’s not pop. Of course, we was born in Atlanta where they invented Coca-Cola and call it Coke. Not soda. Not pop. Pop goes the weasel.

Jeff Schultz

June 18th, 2010
1:09 pm

Virgil — Pretty sure AMB isn’t interested. If I were to buy any other team, it would be the Braves.

JC

June 18th, 2010
1:09 pm

Agree with all of the above statements, but please don’t take this out on LD. ASG may have signed him for cheap, but he’s still a solid head coaching prospect. Better give him a shot here than see him, and his price tag, mature somewhere else.

Jeff Schultz

June 18th, 2010
1:11 pm

JC — Trust me, I’ve been one of the few defending Drew’s hire. But his contract speaks volumes. How does a team guarantee only two years for a new coach? Sends a bad message.

the TRUTH

June 18th, 2010
1:12 pm

My source who knows the Carolina Hurricane management is indicating smoke. The sale of the Thrashers is close. The question to the other ownership of NHL teams is how to do the divisional realignment. Expect an announcement at any time that the Thrashers are being sold. I can’t speak for the Hawks.

JC

June 18th, 2010
1:12 pm

Can we send our international scouts to look for a Russian billionaire? We can just tell him Slava Medvedenko still plays for the Hawks.

Fat Alligator

June 18th, 2010
1:13 pm

Enter your comments here

Bhorsoft

June 18th, 2010
1:22 pm

Now I haven’t been smokin’ or drinkin’ nothin’ (yet), but maybe Drew is a “bridge” coach. They guaranteed him only two years because ASG thinks they can get Doc Rivers in 2 years.

Naaahh, they wouldn’t spend the money.

TONE

June 18th, 2010
1:23 pm

I thought that the drew hire was just a stop gap to allow the Hawks to go after Rivers in a year or two , but now i know they are just cheap and petty . A 2 year contract for an NBA coach that you claim you wanted over higher profile (expensive) coaches . I hope Drew does a great job and breaks their bank in two years. if the same group still owns the team.
isnt there a third year option in drews contract ?

gcs

June 18th, 2010
1:26 pm

ASG keeps complaining about bad press coverage. No offense to the AJC and other local news outlets but we fans don’t need them to tell us this is a poorly run company that does not know what it takes to win.

You guys can forget Blank or Ted Turner coming to the rescue. Atlanta needs a new white knight.

.

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rob

June 18th, 2010
1:31 pm

I would like to see the FANS of both teams come together and begin to PUBLICLY denounce the ASG. And no I am not talking about saying it on a blog. Go to the games, and have a sign that says they suck. Cheer loud for the team, because as FANS we enjoy the game they are playing, but let it be known at the VENUE that we are unhappy with 10 years of pisspoor ownership/management of 2 teams that play in one of the biggest markets who can do ABSOLUTELY no right due to incompetence. Bettman is already looking at it from the NHL side….now get the NBA to look at the Octotards too and we may get somewhere because while we as FANS can be displeased with the way they run things, only the LEAGUES can have sayso over them actually making change.

Herschel Talker

June 18th, 2010
1:32 pm

Atlanta Spirit = Clown circus

Astro Joe

June 18th, 2010
1:35 pm

It’s cute that they stopped by the Lexus dealership (Avery Johnson) but ultimately, they went shopping for their new head coach at the Kia lot in West Bubkist, GA. Let’s go Hawks and Coach Drew, shock the world and defeat the odds. And so long, Joe, no one can blame you for your lack of faith in this franchise.

wxwax

June 18th, 2010
1:36 pm

I’m sure you’re right, that Drew’s two year guarantee is a money saving measure.

But it could also be another sign of the ownership’s disfunction. Given that he was apparently a compromise choice for head coach, the ownership and GM’s lack of unanimous belief in Drew might be reflected in the nature of his contract.

I can’t see the ownership situation improving anytime soon. This economy isn’t conducive to financial saviors.

Leon "Pooch-Kick" Trotsky

June 18th, 2010
1:40 pm

Jeff, I have obtained for you a sneak peek of the new Nick Saban statue to be unveiled this fall at Bryant-Denny stadium in Tuscaloosa!

http://cdn2.sbnation.com/imported_assets/481021/sabanbrinksstatue.jpg

northcyde

June 18th, 2010
1:40 pm

Fans kill me, taking no responsibility whatsoever in all of this. The Hawks are 65 – 17 ( 79% winning percentage ) in the last 2 years at home. Add the 2007 – 08 season, and they’re 80 – 33 ( 71% winning percentage ) in Philips Arena over the last 3 years.

Yet because of tremendous fan apathy in Atlanta, fans still don’t go to the games like they should. Instead, they cry about this team not being a “championship level team”, before supporting them and use excuses like traffic and rare bad losses as justification for them not supporting the team.

Be careful Atlanta . . . you may find yourself one day WITHOUT the Hawks. Championship caliber product or not, this team deserves more support than it has been getting. People actually came out to Hawk games LESS last year, than they did in 2008 -09, despite us having a better team.

Yeah, the owners are cheap. But some of you fans are cheap as well, in your unwillingness to support this team like they do in other cities when they start to become good.

TONE

June 18th, 2010
1:46 pm

nick saban statue now thats funny Leon .

The Ayatollah

June 18th, 2010
1:48 pm

Rich people do not care what we think.

"Chef" Tim Dix

June 18th, 2010
1:49 pm

Want to become a millionaire and buy the Hawks and Thrashers?

First, start with a billion dollars…

jlewis1333

June 18th, 2010
1:53 pm

And JJ becomes the scapegoat for an organization that didnt win because they got him no help. The teams in the final four all had a legitimate 3 options, a center and a backup center. Kobe stunk it up but the other guys and bench pulled him up, it wont happen here. For his own sanity, JJ has to leave here.

moorman

June 18th, 2010
1:54 pm

the fans aint slow. they see cheap ownership, thus, they know the hawks aint serious about a title. if its true the nba is losing money at the rate david sterns said, the hawks aint gonna be ALLOWED to win anything anyway by the nba, not being a nationally known money making product for them. now we know why the lakers got the referee help.

The Truth

June 18th, 2010
1:56 pm

To be fair to the Hawks, this problem is a much deeper problem throughout the NBA league. According to the commissioner, David Stern, the sum total of all NBA teams posted an overall loss of $400 million. So the problem is not unique to the Hawks. In fact, the Hawks problem is a typical situation within the league during an economical recovery. So let’s give the owners/management some credit for putting a competitive product on the court with one of the league’s lowest salary. Yes the owners are on the cheap for sure in this market, but at least give management a shout-out for operating efficiently on a tight budget.

"Chef" Tim Dix

June 18th, 2010
1:58 pm

jlewis1333 : JJ catering the D. Wade Summit will do wonders for his id.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

June 18th, 2010
2:03 pm

ASG has been in shambles for a long, long time. why hasn’t someone from the Atlanta Sports Council got involved earlier? No offense JS- but it’s as if the Count and his Crew were running ASG.

CrazyDiamond

June 18th, 2010
2:04 pm

The NHL in Atlanta is a losing business deal. The NHL by and large cannot support teams in non-traditional hockey markets. No national TV contract – why? Because there is not a national fan base to watch all the lousy games between bad teams. The Thrashers will be successful when the move to Canada. Or Green Bay or Boise Idaho. Sorry to see the Thrashers go, but if I really want to see NHL hockey I should move to Boston or Montreal.

Can’t sell both teams to one owner because the hockey team is not lomg for Atlanta.

Rich

June 18th, 2010
2:05 pm

If the Smiths were the Clampetts, what does that make this bunch?

Jeff Schultz

June 18th, 2010
2:12 pm

Wxwax — Agreed. Nobody is buying franchises right now, let alone two franchises and an arena.

Jeff Schultz

June 18th, 2010
2:12 pm

Pretty funny, Pooch.

Hillbilly Deluxe

June 18th, 2010
2:16 pm

If the Smiths were the Clampetts, what does that make this bunch?

Mama’s Family from the Carol Burnett Show?

Hillbilly Deluxe

June 18th, 2010
2:17 pm

Of course, we was born in Atlanta where they invented Coca-Cola and call it Coke.

Actually it’s the younger folks who call it Coke. To us old timers, it’s Co-Cola.

gdawginkalamazoo

June 18th, 2010
2:22 pm

Personally, I think they need to tear down Phillips and put the Omni back up. I remember how the curtains to the breezeways held the dope smoke in the arena. Kind of like a foggy room at the Grateful Dead concerts.

Boone7

June 18th, 2010
2:23 pm

How about David McDavid buying the team? He has additional cash from the lawsuit…

gdawginkalamazoo

June 18th, 2010
2:27 pm

Rich, I don’t know but that looks like a Timex Ironman watch with all the fixin’s on it that Michael is wearing.

tom

June 18th, 2010
2:28 pm

The NBA and NHL executives need to find a way legally to take ownership of the Hawks and Thrashers. Neglect and incompetetence hardly define the owners of these two clubs. While your at it, find a way to get rid of Waddell. A cancer that needs elimination.

cheshire

June 18th, 2010
2:49 pm

This is too great a city with too many sports fans to keep putting up with stuff like this. Both of these franchises have built a tradition of losing and until someone steps in and takes control the way Arthur Blank did with the Falcons, we are going to continue to have two embarrassing franchises representing us in the NBA and NHL.

I am so sick and tired of incompetence in Atlanta sports, and the ASG just fuels my frustration unlike anyone else. They are blowing a golden opportunity in a city that could be such a great NBA town, and a city that has enough Northerners and Southern interest to be a solid NHL town.

If you didn’t have the money to do this, you should never have done it. It takes someone at a certain socio-economic status to run a sports team, and these guys aren’t there. I’m sure they’re nice guys (at least i think they are), but all they are doing is wasting everyone’s time and holding hostage everyone who wants to support these teams.

Why is it too much for us to ask to have teams that are just occassionally competing for basketball and hockey championships????

Rich

June 18th, 2010
2:49 pm

I remember being excited that a group of fans was going to take ownership of these entities of corporate folks who didn;t understand sports and the Atlanta fan base. I hereby rescind my belief in the theory that fans would do a better job.

Spirit has sucked the spirit out of this fan.

I do truly hope they sell it all, and soon, to someone who has the resources to improve upon both the Hawks and Thrashers organizations, and this time I won’t care how corporate they may be.