Turner Entertainment Networks president Steve Koonin is joining the Atlanta Hawks ownership group, which hopes he can raise the profile of an NBA team that has struggled to draw fans or lure big-name free agents.
The Hawks announced late Sunday that Koonin would take an ownership stake, serve as chief executive officer, oversee all business operations and represent the ownership at league functions.
Koonin comes to the Hawks after 14 years with Turner Entertainment Networks, where in his most recent role he led the division that included TNT, TBS, TruTV and Turner Classic Movies. He previously spent more than a decade as a marketing executive at Coca-Cola.
”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,” said Bruce Levenson, the team’s majority owner. ”He has created a legacy as an expert in sports marketing, television, branding and digital media.”
The Hawks clinched their seventh straight playoff appearance this past weekend but perennially rank among the worst teams in attendance.
The team is hoping Koonin can change that after his stint at Turner, where he was involved in programming and media rights acquisition with both the NBA and the NCAA. At Coca-Cola, he served as vice president of sports and entertainment marketing.
Koonin is a lifelong resident of Atlanta, headquarters of Turner and Coca-Cola.
”My family has been a part of this city for nearly a century,” Koonin said in a statement. ”We have a lot of work to do, but I believe my professional experience, my passion for this team and the NBA, as well as the Hawks’ great existing executive talent … make this organization’s future very bright.”
Under general manager Danny Ferry and first-year coach Mike Budenholzer, the Hawks are in the midst of a major rebuilding effort. Only two players, center Al Horford and point guard Jeff Teague, have been with the team longer than two years – and Horford missed most of this season with an injury.
Koonin’s focus will be off the court. Heading into its final home game Monday night, the Hawks were averaging crowds of 14,400 a game – 28th out of 30 NBA teams. The actual turnouts are generally much lower, with thousands of empty seats a trademark of games at Philips Arena, where capacity was actually reduced by curtaining a section of seats at the top of the upper deck. Over the past decade, the team has never ranked higher than 18th in attendance and is largely overlooked in a market that also has the NFL, Major League Baseball and a passion for college football.
”I have known Steve for more than two decades and based both on firsthand experience and his stellar record of accomplishments,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. ”He is one of the very best executives and creative minds in the entertainment industry.”