Atlanta Hawks Sold To California Businessman

hawks_logoIn a deal that will be officially announced tomorrow and is still subject to NBA approval, The Atlanta Hawks have reportedly been sold to a California businessman.

The Hawks and Philips Arena will be sold to California developer and pizza chain owner Alex Meruelo, but the NBA team will remain in Atlanta, a person familiar with the deal said Sunday.

[…] The Hawks ownership group, led by Michael Gearon Jr. and Bruce Levenson, also recently sold the NHL Atlanta Thrashers to a group that has moved the team to Winnipeg. The Thrashers deal was for a reported $170 million.

Meruelo, who will have controlling interest of more than 50 percent of the Hawks, founded La Pizza Loca. It has over 50 franchised and company-owned restaurants in Southern California.

The Hawks aren’t moving, which we can classify as good news.  However, having seen some of the lack of interest shown by fans during the regular season, I wouldn’t be shocked to hear grumblings about the team moving somewhere down the line. 

The facts are the facts:  The Hawks were 22nd overall in average attendance last season.  That’s down from 18th the season before.  That 18th spot is the highest spot they’ve been this millennium.  Remember, the Hawks have been a good team over the past few seasons.  Before that, they had a stretch from 2001 through 2006 where they were somewhere in the bottom three in terms of average attendance.  

Get it?  The fans aren’t exactly showing up, even in the good times.  The playoffs are a different story.  The building is packed come playoff time.  But that’s not enough to get the job done.  It’s a good thing the new owner bought a stake in the arena, too, or else we might not have the guarantee of the Hawks still nesting in Atlanta. 

And this sale raises a different question.  If the NBA’s finances are as horrible as the league wants us to believe, why have FIVE teams changed hands since last May.  In 15 months, the New Jersey Nets, Golden State Warriors, Detroit Pistons, Philadelphia 76’ers and Atlanta Hawks will have been sold to new owners.  If the NBA’s business model is as bad as we’ve been told, then why would five different groups of highly successful businessmen choose to get into the game?  I can understand an ego-boosting purchase made by a billionaire who just wants to show off.  But FIVE teams sold under the umbrella of impending doom?   

I just don’t buy it. 

I can’t swallow a scenario where nearly 20% of the league is turned over to new hands if owners are staring at mounting losses year after year.  These guys do their due diligence.  They are fully aware of the financial situation before they make the deal.  So either the line the NBA is feeding us is bull, or all five of these groups have bought into the promise of a new, more lucrative system.  

I don’t know what the truth is, but it probably lies somewhere in between.  These guys are expecting a system that is more profitable than the last one, and they know the paper losses don’t reflect what the real numbers are.  And what’s infuriating about that is the scenario lends itself to a quick, equitable resolution to this labor mess.  If so many owners are lining up to get into the game, then the financial outlook has to be good enough for both sides to hammer out a deal.

David Stern and some hard-line owners are sticking to their overhaul plans.  But this summer, and the sales of these franchises, has shown that overhaul isn’t necessary.  I just hope we don’t have to lose too much of the season before they realize the same thing.