Originally created 04/01/04

Time Warner's sale of Hawks, Thrashers finalized



ATLANTA -- The $250 million sale of the NBA's Atlanta Hawks and NHL's Atlanta Thrashers from Time Warner Inc. to a nine-member group was completed Wednesday.

Atlanta Spirit LLC officially took control of both teams and operating rights to Philips Arena, where they play. Time Warner sold the teams to reduce its heavy debt.

The first order of business: longtime sports executive Bernie Mullin was selected chief of operations for both teams, and former Atlanta star Dominique Wilkins was elevated to vice president of basketball for the Hawks.

Mullin said the ownership group of investors from Atlanta, Boston and Washington are committed to reversing the teams' losing records and making the franchises profitable.

But he would not say how that might be achieved, beyond a goal of signing more free agents. One of the new owners referred to the teams' plans as "secret strategies."

The Hawks and Thrashers share woeful histories of losing.

The Hawks have never won a championship since moving from St. Louis in 1968, and they haven't been to the playoffs since 1999. The Thrashers are now in their fifth season but still haven't made the postseason.

The new owners said they will emphasize marketing and use their business experience to fill the downtown arena.

"There are those in the industry who don't think Atlanta is a good sports market," Mullin said at a news conference. "Well, they are wrong and we are here to prove it."

The change in ownership completes a sale process that had dragged on for nearly a year. Dallas auto dealer David McDavid began exclusive talks to buy the teams last April, but could not close the deal.

With McDavid still believing his offer would work out, Time Warner suddenly changed course in mid-September. The media conglomerate announced it was selling the teams to a group headed by Steve Belkin, founder and chairman of the Boston-based marketing and investing company Trans National Group.

The other owners are Michael Gearon Jr., Bruce Levenson, Ed Peskowitz, Rutherford Seydel, Todd Foreman, Michael Gearon Sr., Bud Seretean and Ted Turner's youngest son, Beau Turner. Ted Turner previously owned the teams and baseball's Atlanta Braves but lost control through a series of corporate mergers.

The owners are split into three groups based on their home cities. Operational control of the partnership will be evenly divided between the three groups, with one-third voting power going to each.

Turner Broadcasting, a Time Warner subsidiary, will retain 15 percent ownership of Atlanta Spirit, but will have no say in operations. Time Warner has retreated from trying to sell its baseball team, the Braves.