The Hawks are for sale – as in 100 percent of the franchise.
According to person familiar with the situation, agreements have been reached between all three ownership groups to sell their complete stakes in the team. Those agreements have been approved by the NBA.
The team will be officially on the market next week, according to a league source. The investment banking firm Goldman Sachs and Inner Circle Sports has been retained to handle the sale process. The firm can now begin the process of gathering and vetting prospective buyers. Estimations are the franchise could be sold for upwards of $600 million dollars.
The Washington-based group, led by controlling owner Bruce Levenson, announced in September that it would sell its 50.1 stake following the discovery of a racially inflammatory email that rocked the franchise. An independent investigation discovered an e-mail Levenson wrote in 2012 that included racist remarks about the fan base and game operations. Levenson’s partners Ed Peskowitz and Todd Foreman are also stakeholders in the original group known as the Atlanta Spirit.
Agreements are also in place for the Atlanta-based group, Michael Gearon Jr. and Sr., Rutherford Seydel and Beau Turner, to sell its combined 32.3 percent of the franchise. In addition, the New York-based group, led by Steven Price, has agreed to sell its 17.6 percent stake.
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The sale process has been on-going since September as the ownership groups worked on how much of the franchise would be made available of an organization with a tarnished image.
“At this time, the team is not commenting of the report of the sale of the franchise,” Hawks vice president of public relations Garin Narain said.
The NBA has preferred a high percentage of the team be available, considering the sale of as much of the team as possible in the best interests of all parties and the city of Atlanta.
Part of the sale of the Hawks includes the remaining $124 million debt on Philips Arena. Technically the debt is owned by the Fulton County Recreation Authority but payments were made by the Atlanta Spirit.
Several people have expressed interest in being part of an ownership group soon after the controversy came to light. Former NBA players Dikembe Mutombo and Chris Webber and New York entertainment lawyer Doug Davis are known to have interest. Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed has said numerous parties have expressed interest.
The independent investigation was conducted after general manager Danny Ferry made a racially insensitive remark about free-agent target Luol Deng in a June conference call with ownership and management. Gearon Jr. requested that Ferry resign or be fired for cause in the days following the conference call.
During the investigation into that issue, the Levenson email was discovered. On Sept. 9 he announced his intention to sell his controlling interest in the franchise. Days later, although the investigation did not find cause for termination, Ferry asked for and requested an indefinite leave of absence. He has remained away from the team and his ultimate fate will likely be decided by new ownership.
In his email, Levenson wrote of the Hawks’ poor attendance: “My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a signficant (sic) season ticket base.”
The issue surfaced just months after the NBA had to deal with racist comments made by Clippers owner Donald Sterling. He was forced to sell the franchise, which sold to Steve Ballmer for a reported $2 billion.
The Milwaukee Bucks were sold in April for a reported $550 million.
The Hawks are unlikely to be sold and moved, as the Atlanta Spirit did with the NHL’s Thrashers in 2011. Reed said the city is committed to keeping the Hawks in Atlanta. In addition, the NBA would not want to lose a franchise in a Top-10 market.