ATLANTA — The Hawks took a major step in their effort to re-brand their franchise.
Steve Koonin, currently the president of Turner Entertainment Networks, was named a co-owner and Chief Executive Officer of the Atlanta Hawks.
The Hawks announced the move late Sunday night, hours after the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported the move was to be made.
According to the team, Koonin will oversee all business, financial and strategic operations of the Hawks and Philips Arena. He will also acquire an equity position within the ownership group, and represent the owners as the head of the organization.
At Turner, Koonin oversaw programming, marketing, scheduling, strategy and operations for TNT, TBS, Turner Classic Movies and truTV. He also oversees Atlanta-based Peachtree TV. He joined Turner in 2000, first in charge of TNT and later the other networks.
The Hawks have long been trying to improve their image, tarnished with an ownership lawsuit that lasted several years and the sale and relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers NHL franchise. Koonin led network re-brandings with TNT: We Know Drama and TBS: Very Funny. He is credited with bringing late-night talk show host Conan O’Brien to TBS in a surprising move.
Koonin wrote a letter to Turner employees Sunday, a copy of which was obtained by the AJC after it reported his involvment with the Hawks.
“It is no secret that I have a passionate love of sports, particularly for our local teams,” Koonan wrote. “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.”
The NBA approved Koonan’s addition to team ownership. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement he was “thrilled” with Koonan’s involvement.
Koonin added in the lengthy letter (which can be read in its entirety): “I learned many lessons in my 14 years at Turner that I will take with me to my new position as CEO and an Owner of the Hawks. I look at this new opportunity as the chance to be a steward of another Ted Turner legacy. As a native Atlantan, I vividly remember being at one of the first Hawks games after they made the move from St. Louis. The Hawks came to life when Ted took over the team in the 70’s. Over time and under Ted’s leadership, the Hawks were the class of the Atlanta sports scene. I am hoping that we can reignite that spark and help the Hawks bring an NBA Championship to our hometown of Atlanta. I keep telling myself that I am not leaving Turner, but rather I have chosen a transfer to another division.”
The Hawks are currently 28th in the NBA in home attendance. The have an announced total of 576,009, an average of 14,400 in 40 games. Only the 76ers and Bucks report lower numbers this season. NBA teams can count tickets distributed in reported attendance figures.
“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,” Hawks co-managing partner Bruce Levenson said in a statement. “The Hawks are thrilled that Steve is joining the ownership group as both our CEO and a partner.”
Bob Williams, who serves as President of the Hawks and Philips Arena, will remain with the organization operating the arena. Danny Ferry remains President of Basketball Operations and General Manager. Ferry is said to be “ecstatic” by the additon.
The Hawks hired Ferry in 2012 to run the basketball operations. Ferry has completed two roster makeovers and hired head coach Mike Budenholzer before this season. The team clinched its seventh straight playoff appearance Saturday despite a sub-.500 record.
The Hawks also recently added five minor investors to their ownership group. The investors did not have a significant ownership in the team nor did their additions change the current structure. More investors could be added in the future. Michael Gearon Jr. remains as a co-managing partner.
In a 2010 Forbes article about the TBS signing of O’Brien, Chief Executive Philip Kent said of Koonin: “One of the things that we loved about Ted [Turner] was that he was just audacious. He had big ideas, and he wasn’t afraid to try big things — and Steve completely lives in that tradition.”
The Turner networks deal in several sports, broadcasting NBA, Major League Baseball and the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Koonin, an Atlanta native, spent 14 years at Coca-Cola as the vice president of consumer marketing.
According to his network bio, Koonin studied marketing at the University of Georgia. He serves on the boards of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, the Georgia Aquarium, the Fox Theatre, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and GameStop. He is a trustee of the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta.
Koonin attends many Hawks game and sat at a courtside table during Saturday’s playoff-clinching win over the Heat.