Mike Check

Michael Cunningham’s ramblings from the world of sports
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Another sweet deal for Hawks owner Tony Ressler

I thought the Hawks and State Farm reached an agreement on naming rights for the team’s arena. I was mistaken. What really happened is the basketball team and the insurance company reached an agreement to transform the city of Atlanta. 

Seriously, that’s what they said. The subject line for the media release that arrived in my inbox blared: “STATE FARM AND ATLANTA HAWKS BASKETBALL CLUB ANNOUNCE GENERATIONAL COLLABORATION TO TRANSFORM CITY OF ATLANTA.” 

They say they will accomplish this with “new community engagement programs and philanthropic initiatives.”  In the release, Hawks principal owner Tony Ressler declared: “Generations will be positively impacted by the work we do throughout Georgia, and we could not be prouder to have the State Farm name on our new arena.”

Details on those plans presumably will be shared at the news conference this afternoon. I’m sure they will be nice programs that help people. That’s a good thing. 

But I’ve got to be honest: transforming the city of Atlanta sounds like a very arrogan . . . um, ambitious proclamation for a basketball team and an insurance company. 

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Ressler said that he and his partners consider the team to be a “community asset.” That must mean, after spending $142.5 million in public money on the $192.5 renovation, the community should be expecting a check from the Hawks for appreciation on the value of its asset. And surely citizens will get a piece of the $175 million State Farm is paying the Hawks for naming rights. 

Listen, I’m being snarky but I don’t blame Ressler for taking handou . . .  um, incentives from the government. Socializing costs and privatizing profits is good business for sports franchise owners who can get away with it, which is most of them. 

Sure, it would be nice if Ressler did so without the audaciousness to say he and his partners “invested a lot of capital” in the arena renovations, and then declare they are transforming the city of Atlanta when they get cash for arena naming rights. But more humility from the Hawks won’t get taxpayers any return on their investment, so it hardly matters.

Ex-mayor Kasim Reed authorized tax money for the arena renovation, not long after he gave Arthur Blank what likely will end up being $700 million in public money for Mercedes-Benz Stadium. To be fair, Reed is not the first politician to spend tax money for stadiums, despite the consensus among independent experts that they do not provide commensurate financial benefit for the public. There is a seemingly limitless supply of feckless politicians willing to giveaway money to billionaires. 

On that topic Keisha Lance Bottoms, Reed’s successor as mayor, is scheduled to attend the news conference today at State Farm Arena. The AJC reported in June that her office was secretly negotiating to end subsides for struggling Eastside neighborhoods so those tax dollars could be used for the proposed redevelopment of the Gulch, near the Hawks’ arena. 

That project, with a potential taxpayer cost of $1.75 billion, surely would increase the value of Ressler’s franchi. . . er, community asset. Los-Angeles based CIM is the developer for that proposed project. The founder of CIM: Richard Ressler, Tony’s brother. 

Ressler’s Hawks may not transform the city of Atlanta with these community programs, but the city of Atlanta certainly is transferring a lot of public money to him. At least the city can look forward to getting lots of losing basketball out of it.

About the Author

Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010. 

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