Plan to sell Hawks approved

ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Hawks are on the market.

The team's owners said Thursday they have unanimously approved a plan to sell all shares. The sale would include operating rights to Philips Arena, the Hawks' home.

The sale "will commence immediately," and the team is expected to remain in Atlanta.

Mayor Kasim Reed has said the city might offer concessions to any new owner to ensure the Hawks commit to remaining in Atlanta for 30 more years. The Hawks would have to pay a $75 million early-termination fee if they leave Philips Arena before the 2018-19 season.

Hawks chief executive officer Steve Koonin had no comment.

The announcement was expected after reports last week that the full ownership group would join co-owners Bruce Levenson and his Washington partner, Ed Peskowitz, in the sale. Levenson and Peskowitz control 50.1 percent of the team.

The ownership group has reason to believe the market is ripe for a big profit.

The Clippers, estimated by Forbes one year ago to be worth $575 million, sold for $2 billion last year. The bottom value for a franchise may have been set when the Milwaukee Bucks sold for about $550 million last year. Forbes valued the Hawks at $425 million before the sale of the Clippers and Bucks.

The group bought the Hawks, NHL's Thrashers and operating rights to Philips Arena for $250 million in 2004. The Thrashers were sold for $170 million in 2011 and relocated to Winnipeg as the Jets.

Based on the Hawks' play, the timing for a sale couldn't be better. Attendance is up with the Hawks (27-8) off to their best start in franchise history and holding the best record in the Eastern Conference.

In 2011, the Hawks' owners made an unsuccessful attempt to sell to California developer and pizza chain owner Alex Meruelo. The deal fell through after Meruelo was introduced as the new owner.

Levenson announced in September he was selling his stake in the team after the disclosure of an email he wrote two years ago. The email contained inflammatory racial comments, including his theory the team struggles with attendance because "the black crowd scared away the whites."

Levenson's email was uncovered in the Hawks' internal investigation of racial comments by general manager Danny Ferry, who remains on an indefinite leave. Ferry's future with the team is expected to be determined by the new owner.

To assist with the sale, the Hawks have retained investment management firm Goldman Sachs & Co., which has an Atlanta office, and investment bank Inner Circle Sports LLC.

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