SBD/November 7, 2011/Franchises

Hawks Sale to Meruelo Falls Through; Atlanta Spirit Takes Team Off The Market

Meruelo and Spirit declined to answer questions about specifics of sale’s collapse
L.A. businessman Alex Meruelo’s deal to buy the Hawks “is off,” according to Tim Tucker of the ATLANTA CONSTITUTION. The agreement between Meruelo and Hawks Owner the Atlanta Spirit Group, signed in August and “contingent on NBA approval, was mutually terminated Friday after Meruelo would not meet economic conditions placed on the deal by the league.” The termination of the agreement “means Atlanta Spirit -- a group led by Bruce Levenson, Ed Peskowitz and Michael Gearon Jr. -- will remain the Hawks’ owner.” Atlanta Spirit said that it “now plans to take the for-sale sign off the franchise and continue to own it indefinitely.” Levenson in a statement said, “The Atlanta Hawks are no longer for sale. We’re excited to remain as owners of the Hawks and are committed to building on our string of four straight playoff appearances.” Tucker noted the approval process was “bogged down” in the past month because the league “required additional funding from Meruelo that was not contemplated in his original deal.” Meruelo in a statement Friday said, “Although all parties negotiated in good faith, we were not able to reach a satisfactory agreement on some key issues, given the current uncertainty surrounding the labor issue.” He added, “I ... remain committed to fulfilling my dream of owning an NBA team. I look forward to that opportunity in the future.” Both Meruelo and Atlanta Spirit “declined to answer questions about the specifics of the sale’s collapse, citing a confidentiality provision in their agreement to terminate the deal.” Nine days earlier, with the deal “clearly in jeopardy, Meruelo said he had ‘more than ample resources’ to operate the Hawks ‘in a first-class manner’ and that he was committed to completing the purchase.” The value of Meruelo’s original deal to buy the team “was estimated by sports-business experts in August at $300 million-plus” (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 11/5).

THAT'S THE SPIRIT: In Atlanta, Jeff Schultz wrote the collapse of the sale means there is “nobody minding the office.” Meruelo “presumably never had the funding and/or wouldn’t provide the financial guarantees as laid out by the NBA to purchase a franchise.” Schultz sarcastically wrote of Levenson saying the team is no longer for sale, “Why shouldn’t we believe Levenson? Doesn’t he always speak the truth?” The Spirit “basically has gone from bad ownership to relative absentee ownership because their primary objective now is to sell the team, not improve it” (, 11/4). YAHOO SPORTS’ Eric Freeman wrote this is “horrible news for Hawks fans, especially because they had their hopes raised over the past few months.” But the “good news for Atlanta is that the group's decision to take the team off the market may be related to the lockout, if only because it's hard to convince a potential buyer a team is a good investment when the financial future of the league is up in the air” (, 11/4).
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