Atlanta Hawks Announce Sale of Franchise to Ownership Group Led by Tony Ressler

Posted on April 25, 2015


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Tony Ressler and Grant Hill have reached an agreement to purchase the Atlanta Hawks from the franchise’s ownership group led by Bruce Levenson.

The Atlanta Hawks today announced that a definitive agreement has been signed for the purchase of the NBA franchise by an ownership group led by Tony Ressler, co-founder of Ares Management.  The group also includes seven-time NBA All-Star Grant Hill, Clayton Dubilier & Rice partner Rick Schnall, and Spanx founder Sara Blakely and Marquis Jet co-founder Jesse Itzler, who are married.


The transaction, which includes operation of Philips Arena, requires the approval of the NBA Board of Governors. Terms of the sale were not released.


“We are honored and thrilled to have been chosen to become the new stewards of the Hawks,” said Ressler. “We respect the NBA’s approval process and, accordingly, can say no more other than we are incredibly excited by the Hawks’ success and wish them luck in the playoffs.”


“We are excited to welcome this new ownership group and are deeply gratified by its commitment to the Hawks and the Atlanta community,” said Hawks CEO Steve Koonin.  “We are pleased that the group is committed to continue building on the franchise’s storied history and recent success.”


The sellers were advised by Goldman, Sachs & Co. and Inner Circle Sports, and the buyer by Moelis & Co.

The Hawks released a statement confirming the news!’s Kevin Arnovitz and Ramona Shelburne reported on the financial details of the potential sale:’s David Aldridge noted that the “Hawks’ sale price to Tony Ressler group for $850M includes debt on Philips Arena.”   

Ressler is a businessman best known for his work with Apollo Global Management and Ares Management. lists his net worth at $1.43 billion, which the outlet notes places him within the top 500 billionaires in the United States.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the rest of the owners group that will be joining Ressler:

Holding smaller ownership stakes will be former NBA player Grant Hill, co-founder of Marquis Jet Jesse Itzler and his wife Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx and Richard Schnall, according to the team. The current Atlanta ownership group, led by Michael Gearon Jr., will also retain a percentage of the franchise, the AJC has confirmed.

Hill, 42, played 18 seasons in the NBA and made seven All-Star appearances. He won the Rookie of the Year award in 1994-95 and ranks 85th on the league’s career scoring list.  

The sale process has been ongoing since Levenson, the controlling owner, announced his intention to unload the franchise in September.

Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted in early January that all three groups involved with the team struck a deal to sell a 100 percent stake. The league approved the plan, which also included two other groups that held nearly half of the organization. Vivlamore wrote, “Agreements are also in place for the Atlanta-based group of Michael Gearon Jr. and Sr., Rutherford Seydel and Beau Turner to sell its stake. The group owned a 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.”

The decision to sell came after Levenson came forward in 2014 about a racist email he sent in 2012 to the NBA, which was already dealing with the tense situation concerning Donald Sterling and the Los Angeles Clippers. Adi Joseph of USA Today provided a statement he made at the time:

I wrote an e-mail two years ago that was inappropriate and offensive. I trivialized our fans by making cliched assumptions about their interests (i.e., hip hop vs. country, white vs. black cheerleaders, etc.) and by stereotyping their perceptions of one another (i.e., that white fans might be afraid of our black fans). By focusing on race, I also sent the unintentional and hurtful message that our white fans are more valuable than our black fans.

Mike Ozanian of Forbes reported in late October that Goldman Sachs was hired to represent the group and noted the goal was to collect more than $1 billion for the asset. That would place it between the recent sales of the Milwaukee Bucks ($550 million) and the Clippers ($2 billion).

He also stated it would represent a strong return on investment:

The group that owns the Hawks paid $250 million for a 93% stake in the basketball team, the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers and operating rights to Philips Arena in 2004, have been trying to find investors or sell their teams outright for years. In 2011, the group sold the Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets) to True North Sports & Entertainment for $110 million (the new owners paid the league an additional $60 million relocation fee).

Zach Lowe of Grantland wrote earlier in the year that insiders believed $1 billion represented the absolute top-end projection for the Hawks:

Of course, the biggest question now is how the sale will impact the long-term status of the franchise. By selling the full stake in the team rather than just a percentage, the ownership duo of Ressler and Hill would wield complete power when it comes to future decision-making.

More information on that front should become available rather quickly. Beyond that, it would mark a new era for a franchise that’s made itself a constant presence in the postseason recently, including earning the top seed in the Eastern Conference this season.   

Winning the Hawks’ first title since 1957-58, when they were the St. Louis Hawks, is now a task placed squarely on the plate of the prospective new ownership.


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