It looks like the Atlanta Spirit — a consortium of owners for the Atlanta Hawks and NHL’s Thrashers — are getting out of the sports ownership business.
The Spirit is in talks to sell the Hawks and Phillips Arena to John Moores, the former San Diego Padres owner, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. These talks parallel the Spirit’s effort to sell the Thrashers to an ownership group out of Winnepeg.
Two people familiar with the situation, both of whom asked not to be identified because of the ongoing talks, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the Spirit and outgoing San Diego Padres owner John Moores are in an exclusive negotiating period regarding the Hawks and the Philips Arena operating rights. Both people said a deal is not close and that it’s far from assured one will get done.
The exclusive negotiating period means the owners agreed not to pursue the sale of the Hawks to any other prospective purchaser for a prescribed period of time. It is not known when Moores’ exclusivity expires.
That sound you just heard was cheers going up from Hawks fans, who see the Spirit group as an impediment to success. This was a consortium of owners with different agendas (some just to cut costs) and that left general managers and others trying to sell and marshal support among various owners for the direction they wanted to go.
This will not end in the team being moved. San Diego does not have anywhere near an NBA-ready arena. The San Diego Arena where the Clippers played was outdated when they moved in the mid-80s. Also, Atlanta is the eighth-largest television market in the nation, San Diego is 28. The league is not looking to shrink right now.
Moores was generally seen as a good owner, according to Hardball Talk’s Craig Calcaterra. He stayed out of the baseball side of operations and largely out of the spotlight. He spent when the Padres had a chance to be good. He got San Diego’s beautiful new PETCO Park built downtown. He’d still own the team if a messy divorce had not forced him to sell. (What is it with messy divorces and MLB owners in Southern California? Taking cues from the governor?)
Forbes estimates the worth of the Hawks to be $295 million, that is without Phillips Arena, which is part of this negotiation. The Spirit recently refinanced $123 million of debt on the arena (and the team is no longer collateral on that debt). The team is estimated to have lost $7.3 million last season.
Bottom line, this may be a long ways off but it is reason to hope. Moores would be an upgrade to the current ownership group. This would be good for the Hawks.