New CEO and Minority Owner Brings Hope to Hawks

(Credit: Larry Busacca/Getty)
(Credit: Larry Busacca/Getty)

The Atlanta Hawks’ ownership just scored a big win.

Turner Entertainment Network’s president and entertainment chief Steve Koonin was named CEO and minority owner of the Atlanta Hawks last weekend and will commandeer all business, financial and strategic operations of the Hawks and Philips Arena.

As the former president of Turner Entertainment, Koonin oversaw cable networks TNT, TBS, and TruTV. Prior to Turner, Koonin was a top executive at Coca-Cola overseeing sports and entertainment marketing among his many responsibilities.

Bruce Levenson will remain the Hawk’s controlling owner with Koonin serving as the team’s lead executive. Bob Williams will remain with the organization to operate Philips Arena while Danny Ferry will remain president of basketball operations and general manager.

Hawks’ Rocky Ownership

By 2005, Time Warner had sold the Hawks to the Atlanta Spirit LLC ownership group— a collection of executives located both in Atlanta and Washington DC.  The deal also included the Atlanta Thrashers hockey team and operating rights to Philips Arena.

The Atlanta Spirit’s tenure as owners has been rocky, marred by lawsuits and infighting that resulted in the ousting of Spirit co-owner Steve Belkin and the highly criticized sale and relocation of the Thrashers to Winnipeg.

As a minority owner, Koonin will share in the failures and successes of the ownership group.  More importantly, as the clear operator of the basketball team, Koonin appears to have the necessary authority to perform his duties without falling into the drama or quibbling from the ownership group we’ve seen over the years.

New Hope for the Future

Despite their playoff push, the Hawks finished the regular season 28th in the NBA in home attendance, with only the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks drawing worse.

Over the past decade, the Hawks have never ranked higher than 18th in attendance and have been an afterthought in a town that has NFL, MLB and major college football teams.

Koonin knows a thing or two about re-branding.  Historically known for airing re-runs, TBS and TNT was transformed under Koonin’s leadership by launching successful original programming and making TBS a destination for comedy and TNT a place for drama.

The NBA approved the Koonin’s ownership and foray into basketball, with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver saying he was “thrilled” by the move.

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