Atlanta Spirit LLC and Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. on March 31 closed the sale of the National Basketball Association's Atlanta Hawks franchise, the National Hockey League's Atlanta Thrashers franchise and operating rights to the Atlanta sports and entertainment venue Philips Arena, it was announced by Steve Belkin and Bruce Levenson, two of the nine partners of Atlanta Spirit. The close of the sale follows the approval of TBS, Inc., parent company Time Warner Inc.'s Board of Directors and the NBA and NHL Boards of Governors.
"We are so thrilled to bring this deal to a close and thank the employees of all three entities, Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., and especially our fans, for being so patient and supportive during this process," said Spirit partner and Atlanta businessman Michael Gearon Jr. "We're also excited to put in place today a very talented management team that will serve as a wonderful complement to the existing strong staffs at both teams and the arena. We pledge to our fans, sponsors, and this community a total commitment to winning, and we'll do everything in our power to bring success to these two teams while making your experience with us at every level the best it can be."
The Atlanta Spirit LLC is a partnership whose principals are Steven Belkin, Michael Gearon Jr., Bruce Levenson, Ed Peskowitz, J. Rutherford Seydel, II, Todd Foreman, J. Michael Gearon Sr., Bud Seretean, and Beau Turner. Operational control of the partnership is divided evenly, with one-third voting power going to each of the three--Atlanta, Boston and Washington--groups. In addition, Belkin will serve as the Hawks Governor to the NBA and Levenson the Thrashers NHL Governor.
As part of the announcement, Atlanta Spirit named the NBA's former senior vice president, marketing and team business operations, and longtime pro sports executive Bernie Mullin as the group's president and chief executive officer. As such, he will head all entities of Atlanta Spirit, including basketball, hockey and business operations for both teams, as well as arena operations and Philips Arena Sports Marketing.
"As a group, we first came into contact and worked closely with Bernie throughout the league approval process which began last September," said Gearon Jr. "He has very impressive credentials and we see him as a strong leader who can interpret exactly what we're looking for while balancing the strength of our great partnership."
Mullin, who hails from Liverpool, England, has more than 25 years of experience as an executive in sports marketing and business operations with the NBA, Major League Baseball's Colorado Rockies, Coors Field and Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Denver Grizzlies, formerly of the International Hockey League.
"This city has shown that it can and will support winning franchises," said Mullin. "Billy Knight and the Hawks have done a great job of clearing cap room and we'll aggressively pursue free agents to make a championship-caliber team. Don Waddell has assembled a core Thrashers product that is the envy of the NHL and we have every intention of making this team a Stanley Cup contender. We (Atlanta Spirit) represent a total commitment to win and I welcome the opportunity to strengthen our business and provide Billy and Don with the necessary resources to build championship teams that our fans and all of us will be proud to support for a very long time. "
Other key executive announcements made by Atlanta Spirit include Bill Duffy, former CFO with the NHL's Florida Panthers, being named executive vice president and chief financial officer, and Ailey Penningroth being named vice president of strategic planning/special assistant to the president & CEO. Duffy and Penningroth, who most recently served as the WNBA's director of fan development, will report directly to Mullin.
As previously announced, TBS, Inc. will maintain a passive equity stake in the Atlanta Spirit venture that includes licensing the teams' programming rights to the TBS, Inc. entertainment networks.