Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin dropped a few hints last week about what he and his fellow team execs are seeking in a renovated arena and new practice facility, though most of it comes down to “we’re working on it”:
- Arena renovations would take place in phases so that the Hawks could keep playing there throughout the process. No word on how much it would cost, but Koonin made clear he’s expecting public money, saying, “We want the city to do its fair share, and we plan to do ours.” (Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed previously floated $150 million as the city’s share, but that was a while ago now, before the new owners even bought the team.)
- There’s no one site being targeted for the practice facility, but it’s planned to open for the 2017-18 season, which is soon. And Koonin said team execs are “talking to public officials about collaboration,” so expect more taxpayer cash there as well.
It’s all pretty nebulous for now, but will likely get more concrete in the coming weeks and months. And it makes even clearer that asking for separate practice facilities is becoming a thing for team owners seeking new ways to ask cities to buy them crap: We just saw this with the Washington Wizards, and Koonin said not having a separate practice space puts teams at “a competitive disadvantage” — which on the face of it sounds pretty silly (really, free agents won’t sign with your team if they have to practice where they play games?), but certainly sounds better as a reason to ask for public cash than “all the other kids are getting them this Christmas.” Though why being at a competitive disadvantage should be Atlanta taxpayers’ problem and not the Hawks’ owners is another question that isn’t asked often enough.
WABE radio in Atlanta kicked off a week-long series yesterday on the metro area’s multiple new stadium and arena deals for the Falcons, Braves, and possibly Hawks, and I had the honor of being one of the first guests, pointing out that while there are certainly cities that got worse deals (hello, Indianapolis!), that’s not really something to brag about. You can listen to the whole interview here.
More interesting to me (since I know what I was going to say already) is Thursday’s upcoming appearance by Cobb County Commission chair Tim Lee, who will try to explain why it made sense to throw $300 million at the Braves to get them to move to a new stadium in the suburbs, plus maybe what’s up with that pedestrian bridge that won’t be ready in time to get fans from their cars to games, plus maybe the soaring ticket prices planned for the new place, plus even maybe why he secretly hired a lawyer with county funds to negotiate the Braves deal without even telling his fellow commission members, then lied about having done so. Come to think of it, I would have rather skipped my appearance yesterday and instead gotten to interview Lee. Now that would be some must-see radio.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed says he’s met with the new owners of the Hawks about their stated desire for a new or renovated arena, and any hopes you may have had that he was going to tell them, “Fine, you want to replace your 16-year-old arena, do it on your own dime,” you can forget about that:
Reed said he’s met once with the team’s new owners and repeated his willingness to consider a deal involving the use public funds. The mayor first indicated that option last year in the wake of controversy involving the team’s previous leadership.
“What I’m willing to do is come to the table with a plan that makes sense and is fair to the people of Atlanta,” Reed said. “I’m not closed to participating in a reasonable plan to make sure that the Hawks remain in the city and that’s what I expressed in our meeting.”
Mayor Reed has a bit of a weird history with sports subsidies, being a prime mover behind giving hundreds of millions of public dollars to the Falcons for their new stadium, then declaring offering the Braves money to keep their from moving to Cobb County to be too rich for his blood, then offering $150 million for the Hawks to extend their lease when they weren’t even threatening to break it. There’s also the little matter that the Hawks couldn’t leave without paying off about $100 million in remaining bonds on the Philips Arena (and couldn’t leave before 2018 without paying an additional $75 million in penalties), but that’s apparently not going to stop Reed from leading with his wallet.
Possible sites for a new arena would be the Atlanta Civic Center (the current filming site for Family Feud, according to Wikipedia), a rehab of the existing Philips Arena (which the Hawks own), or a third, undisclosed site. Total cost: Who knows?
Prediction: This is not going to end well.
The Atlanta Hawks have a new owner, because the old one got caught complaining too many black fans were going to games and had to go. What do you have to say to your new team’s fans, leveraged buyout king Tony Ressler?
Ressler allowed that there were three things the new owners could do about Philips Arena, which opened in 1999: Nothing, remodel or rebuild. And the first, Ressler said, “isn’t an option.”
(Ressler also described Philips as being “not in the upper quartile of arenas.”)
Now, I know we’re in an age where sports venues are declared defunct after only a couple of decades — especially in Atlanta, for some reason — but declaring that your arena is obsolete because it’s 16 years old and there are seven nicer ones elsewhere is pretty ballsy.
And upping the ballsy quotient: For his reported $850 million purchase price, Ressler (and his co-owner, former NBA star Grant Hill) go not just the Hawks, but Philips Arena itself. So he’s not actually in a position to threaten anything if he doesn’t get a new arena, unless he’s prepared to attach his old one to balloons and fly it to Seattle. (Which, come to think of it, would defeat the point.) [CORRECTION: Ressler only bought operating rights to the arena, which is owned by the state stadium authority. So, sadly, no balloons.]
The hope is that Ressler won’t be looking for any public subsidies (ha ha ha!), and if he decides a new arena really is needed, will just spend his own money on building a new one. This time one that won’t start to look obsolete to its owner as soon as the shrink wrap is off, okay?
Bill Simmons’ invisible friend may or may not be right that some rich guys are interested in buying the Atlanta Hawks and moving them to Seattle (okay, he’s right about Chris Hansen, because Chris Hansen would buy his own grandmother and move her to Seattle if he could clone her four times and get her to suit up for NBA games), but the Hawks are indeed for sale, as announced yesterday by the team’s owners. And not only that, but the lucky winner will be buying not just the team, but operating rights to Philips Arena, which was built way back in 1999 when the team was still owned by Ted Turner. (The county paid most of the construction cost, though most of that the team is paying back in rent; though the county owns the building, so Turner got a tax break … I’m not going to start calculating subsidy totals for a 16-year-old arena deal, sorry, not on a Friday.)
Anyway, the interesting bit here is: Does including the arena in the deal make it less likely that a new owner could try to move the Hawks? (The NBA actually released a pretty strong statement on Wednesday that the team isn’t going anywhere, but it’s a sports league’s prerogative to change its mind.) After all, if Hansen, let’s say, were to buy the team and move it to Seattle, he’d have to pay a premium to get the arena as well, then would have to figure out what to do with it with no sports team to play in it. (I guess it would still have the Dream, which is separately owned by two women who share the same hair.) They could try to fill dates with concerts, I suppose, but even a guarantee of 41 sparse Hawks crowds a year might be better than starting from scratch with empty dates and hoping that Ariana Grande has a sister.
Without seeing how the internal finances of the Hawks/Philips Arena management structure look, there’s no way to tell, and don’t hold your breath waiting to see that. Unless … I bet they’d have to open their books to qualified bidders, right? So if we said we wanted to buy the Hawks… Quick, who has a few hundred million dollars free on their AmEx?
Being a team exec who gives a speech isn’t the only way to get the media to broadcast your message verbatim, not these days. You could also be, oh, a rich-and-famous sports editor who decides to post some gossip on Twitter one day:
No sourcing, no details, no nothing, right? (It’s 140 characters, who has room for “facts”?) But look at poor Chris Daniels of KING-TV in Seattle, forced to write an entire article checking whether Tull and Hansen are actually planning to buy the Atlanta Hawks and move them. (Tull’s spokespeople: Nuh-uh. Hansen would presumably buy anything that moves, but that’s not news.) And that was just one of many articles yesterday sourced entirely to some kinda-famous guy sitting down at his keyboard for 10 seconds to show off how he gets to hear rumors that you don’t.
Anyway, the Hawks are for sale, and Hansen does still want a team, so even if this is based on nothing but complete speculation, maybe it’s worth investigating a bi—
FOR PETE’S SAKE, SIMMONS, STICK WITH ONE RUMOR AT A TIME, WOULDJA?
Man, did everything in the stadium and arena world happen yesterday, or what? Well, let’s get started and see how far we get:
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed says he’s getting involved in negotiations over who will buy the Hawks now that majority owner Bruce Levenson stepped down over revelations that he ordered staffers to fire black cheerleaders and play less hip-hop music in order to placate racist white fans. And by “involved” he means “offering them public money to insure they stay in town“:
Reed said the city will likely be willing to offer concessions to any new owner to ensure the Hawks commit to remaining in Atlanta for another 30 years. He said there could be as much as $150 million available after the city sells Turner Field, the current home of the Braves, though the mayor said that process has been held up by the baseball team’s refusal to set a definite date for its departure.
Now, nobody involved with the Hawks has said boo about moving the team, but apparently Reed is concerned enough to throw $150 million on the table without even being asked. It’s especially dubious given that the Hawks’ lease requires them to pay off the remaining bonds on their arena (around $100 million at this point) before they could leave, plus another $75 million in an early termination fee if they left before the 2018-19 season. Plus, of course, they’d have to have somewhere to move to that would be more lucrative than Atlanta.
Reed is talking about asking any new owner to commit to staying in town for another 30 years, which, given that the arena bonds will currently be paid off in 2028, really amounts to a 16-year extension on their lease. $150 million in exchange for staying put for 16 years … I guess it could be worse, but it still amounts to paying the Hawks almost $10 million a year just to keep on doing what they’re doing already. This negative rent trend is really starting to get out of hand, though I guess in a world where the NFL expects musicians to pay to play at the Super Bowl halftime show, it’s not entirely unexpected.