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Volume 24 No. 156
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Hawks CEO Koonin Dishes On Philips Arena Upgrades, Enhancing Event Experience

The ’17 AXS Ticketing Symposium closed out last night with a candid conversation with Hawks and Philips Arena CEO Steve Koonin, with the discussion ranging from his venue’s massive renovation to the NBA schedule to protests during the national anthem. On the venue’s transformation: “We’re in the live entertainment business, and that means a great night out. Millennials are looking for more than a seat, a hot dog and a beer. So when you do these types of things with your buildings, you’re making a bet on the future. We have to build a building with multiple things to do and with multiple attractions. Our building wasn’t conducive to the social experience of today. It was built, as were a lot of venues, where you go, you get a hot dog in aluminum foil, and you watch a game. That just doesn’t make sense anymore.” Koonin also expects the demographics to change at a renovated building. He said, “Today we’re around 82% fans and 18% business. I think you’ll see the business side rise, especially with these new hospitality spaces where you can buy two, four, six, eight or 20 tickets. ... And more women. We’re currently around 34% women, and I’d like to get that to 40%.”

TOUGH GIG: Koonin, who had previous stints at Coca-Cola and Turner Broadcasting, called the team business the toughest he has been in. Koonin: “We’re in the food service business. We’re in the media business. We’re in the ticketing business. We’re in the sponsorship business. We’re in the music business. We’re big time in the security business. I think we counted 14 business that we’re in. ... We feed more people under one roof than any restaurant in Atlanta. I think there is a little naivete when you work on the periphery of sports. When you’re an operator, there is a complexity that requires great expertise and great people.” He said of Hawks Owner Tony Ressler, “Tony is what an owner should be. He is a very successful businessman. He owns hundreds of companies and he understands it’s the people that work for him that have to be empowered, have to have the resources, have to be used as a sounding board. ... I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to work with him.”

PLAYER SUPPORT: As to whether Hawks players may protest during the national anthem, Koonin said, “The NBA has a policy, and they’ve been very clear on the policy. Our players know they have our support. We have ongoing dialogue with them, and I think our players will stand for the national anthem. But I think our players believe the best way to demonstrate unity is to link arms. And I think LeBron James said it, but our players have a platform before and after games.”

Quick hits:

  • On the cable bundle, “How people here buy 100 products each month and use only 12 of them? Now how many of you subscribe to cable? Well, you do that.”
  • On millennials, “ADD used to be disease. Today it’s a life skill.”
  • On the changing media landscape, “The world is changing, and we don’t know where media is going. And if anyone says they do, they’ve been drinking all day, because it’s very complex.”
  • On real estate development plays for NBA owners, “When we grew up, the anchor store in every market was the mall. Mass traffic to the mall. Today, malls are in trouble. What’s the new anchor store? Where do people want to spend money? Sports facilities. Our friends at the Braves crushed it.”