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Volume 26 No. 178
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Hawks Owner Tony Ressler Talks Up His Team In Rare Public Address

Ressler admitted that buying an NBA franchise has come with a steep learning curve
Photo: TONY FLOREZ
Ressler admitted that buying an NBA franchise has come with a steep learning curve
Photo: TONY FLOREZ
Ressler admitted that buying an NBA franchise has come with a steep learning curve
Photo: TONY FLOREZ

Hawks Owner Tony Ressler does not speak publicly very often, but his passion for the team, the NBA and the game of basketball were on full display at the '19 AXS Sports Facilities & Franchises conference. While Ressler has been a lifelong hoops fan -- and still plays Sunday pickup games -- he admitted that buying an NBA franchise has come with a steep learning curve. “We did feel a little bit like the deer in the headlights when we first bought the team," he said. "It's not a traditional business, because you're buying a community asset -- whether you know it or not -- and you should learn it early. ... It's a lot more time and presence than I anticipated." Ressler says his ownership group is now up to speed. He also had a clear message -- the Hawks will spend money to engage fans and win games in a quest to secure the franchise’s first title.

BEING INVOLVED LOCALLY: The Hawks under Ressler have already upgraded the team's facilities, including a massive renovation to State Farm Arena and new practice facility/team HQ -- both regarded among the league’s best. Ressler: “We have re-energized the community relationship and built basketball courts all around Metro Atlanta and re-energized the function of the Hawks Foundation." Ressler notes that running a basketball team is a complex business. He has found that requires special skill sets, especially on the team level. Ressler feels the roles of head coach and head of basketball operations should not be held by the same person. “A great coach wants a win that day no matter what. And a great head of basketball operations is planning for the present, the medium and the long term. Most coaches don’t make capable basketball executives at the same time. After their career, sure,” he said.

GETTING YOUNGER: Oliver Ressler, Tony’s son, was also on the panel and talked about the Hawks' innovations with premium areas that are targeting millennials. He said, “We have a younger demographic coming to our games very consistently. They want more alcoholic offerings. They want more bars close by. They want better food options all within a place that feels private and it feels upscale.” Oliver also mentioned how the team has worked with the city to improve traffic on game days: “We worked with city to change train times to help ingress and egress.”

WHAT'S NEXT? Tony addressed the areas he sees for potential growth: “Global media rights and sports betting. Over time, I think sports betting is going to enormously benefit global media. ... It’s taking time, understanding over-the-top (services) or direct-to-consumer versus what we have today.” He also discussed shortening the NBA season, asking, “Should we explore less regular season games? The answer is obviously less. Replace the All-Star game with a tournament fans could appreciate? There’s revenue impact if you go to fewer games. If the players believe it’s important to their health and futures, then everything’s on the table.”

QUICK HITS:

  • Tony Ressler, on when he was a kid: "We thought if you had the money to buy leather sneakers that was definition of success."
  • Ressler, on his family buying the Hawks: "We didn't buy a basketball team to get closer to my kids."
  • Ressler, on the role his wife -- actress Jami Gertz -- plays with the team: "She’s very active in our marketing and is a face of our franchise, for obvious reasons. To me, the players and coaching staff should be the face, nobody cares about the ownership. We make decisions."