Turner Entertainment Networks President Steve Koonin has been approved by NBA owners to join the Atlanta Hawks as part-owner and will be named the team’s new Chief Executive Officer, according to Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Koonin will be a minority owner of the Hawks and serve as CEO while Bruce Levenson will remain the team’s controlling owner, reports Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com.
Shortly after both reports, the Hawks organization made the move official Sunday night.
“Steve Koonin’s reputation as a game changer in both marketing and media makes him the ideal leader to usher the Atlanta Hawks into a new era. He has created a legacy as an expert in sports marketing, television, branding and digital media,” said Hawks Majority Owner Bruce Levenson. “The Hawks are thrilled that Steve is joining the ownership group as both our CEO and a partner.”
According to the official press release, “Koonin will oversee all business, financial and strategic operations of the Atlanta Hawks and Philips Arena.”
New NBA Commissioner Adam Silver also had nice words about Koonin saying, “I have known Steve for more than two decades and based both on first-hand experience and his stellar record of accomplishments, he is one of the very best executives and creative minds in the entertainment industry. I am thrilled that he is joining the Hawks and bringing his expertise and passion for the game to the team and its fans,” said Silver.
Koonin, an Atlanta native, has been the President of Turner Entertainment Networks since 2000, overseeing TNT, TBS, TruTV, and Turner Classic Movies. Prior to that, he spent over a decade as Coca-Cola’s vice president of sports and entertainment marketing and was named Sports Executive of the Year by Sports Business Journal.
“It is no secret that I have a passionate love of sports, particularly for our local teams,” Koonan wrote in a heart-felt exit letter to Turner employees. “In the past few months, I was invited to become an investor in the Atlanta Hawks. During our investor conversations, it became quickly apparent that the Hawks needed local leadership as well as a face and voice for the franchise. I have accepted the position of CEO and Part-Owner of the Atlanta Hawks. The job is consistent with my desire to make a difference in my community and finish my career in Atlanta.”
You can read Koonin’s full letter to Turner employees on AJC.com.
The Hawks have been undergoing organizational changes the past couple of years, starting in 2012 with the hiring of Danny Ferry as the team’s President of Basketball Operations / General Manager. Since then, Ferry has been through two rosters overhauls — executing a block-buster trade with the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Joe Johnson’s albatross of a contract and unloading failed first-round draft pick (#2 overall) Marvin Williams to Utah for the expiring contract of veteran combo guard Devin Harris two weeks after being hired, and then the next off-season deciding not to re-sign face of the franchise Josh Smith, instead electing to bring in free-agents Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll to fill the void — as well as a new coaching change, bringing in a first-time head coach in longtime Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer.
However, those were all decisions made by Ferry himself — this newest change was not his decision, it was made by Ferry’s superior in controlling owner Bruce Levenson and approved by the other NBA owners. Although, this was not a basketball move, this was a business move, and frankly, over Ferry’s head.
Ferry will continue to serve in his role as President of Basketball Operations / GM and make all the on-court decisions for the Hawks. According to the AJC, Ferry is said to be “ecstatic” by the addition.
Bob Williams serves as the President of the Hawks and Philips Arena, and will remain with the organization operating the arena, reports Vivlamore.
The ownership group has been trying to re-brand the team and have made efforts to bring in more Atlanta natives in some capacity to help draw in more attendance. Back on November 9, 2012, the Hawks brought in Atlanta rapper T.I. to serve as a color man alongside play-by-play guy Steve Rathburn and analyst Duane Ferrell during a Hawks-Heat game, and also had T.I. back on Dec. 22 for a special halftime performance during a Hawks-Bulls game.
The Hawks also brought in Atlanta native players such as Anthony Morrow and Lou Williams last season to try to add more “home cooking” so to speak and garner more excitement.
However, none of the efforts seemed to really make a difference.
Despite tenured success which includes seven straight seasons reaching the playoffs — the longest active streak in the Eastern Conference — the Hawks still struggle to bring fans into Philips Arena and ranked 28th in attendance this season.
Koonin was brought in to change that. I mean, he is the person credited for bringing late night talk show host Conan O’Brien to TBS — if he could do that, imagine what other miracles Koonin could do.
“I have a deep commitment to Atlanta – my family has been a part of this city for nearly a century. I have watched the excitement and potential of the entire city growing together as our sports teams achieve success,” said Koonin. “I couldn’t be more excited to join the Hawks organization. We have a lot of work to do, but I believe my professional experience, my passion for this team and the NBA, as well as the Hawks’ great existing executive talent, including our President of Basketball Operations/General Manager Danny Ferry and President of Business Operations for the Hawks and Philips Arena President Bob Williams, make this organization’s future very bright.”
You can follow the Hawks’ new CEO on Twitter @SteveKoonin.