By Maria Saporta
At long last, the Atlanta Hawks have retained an investment banking team to sell the team.
The only problem is no one is exactly sure how much of the team is for sale.
Bruce Levenson, the managing partner of the Atlanta Hawks who represented an ownership group with 50.1 percent interest in the team, is definitely selling that share.
Levenson has retained Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Inner Circle Sports to sell at least his share of the Atlanta Hawks, according to a published report in Bloomberg, which was confirmed by team spokesman Garin Narain Friday morning.
But what is less clear is whether any of the other owners are willing to sell their share of the team.
In fact, the Atlanta owners are on record saying that they are not interested in selling their interest in the Atlanta Hawks.
The Atlanta owners — Michael Gearon Sr., Michael Gearon Jr. and Rutherford Seydel — own 32.3 percent of the team. They are part of the original Atlanta Spirit group of owners that bought the team in 2004 for about $190 million.
Seydel, in a telephone interview Friday afternoon, said their position has not changed.
“It is our goal and our desire to stay partners in the Atlanta Hawks and to partner with a really good group of like-minded owners who will get us to our ultimate goal of getting us a championship,” Seydel said.
Gearon Jr., contacted by email, said he was in Europe and that he would be in touch when he returned. Gearon Sr. did not return either a phone call or email.
The rest of the Atlanta Hawks is owned by a couple of New York investor headed by Eric Schwartz and another low-key executive with Atlanta ties. Together they purchased about 17.6 percent of team in March.
It is unclear whether they would be willing to sell their share of the team.
According to people who are familiar with sports business, Levenson likely would be able to get much more for his 50.1 percent share if the entire team were to be for sale. So right now there appears to be some behind the scenes jockeying and negotiations to get the other owners to sell.
But so far, that effort has not been successful because people close to the Atlanta owners say they love basketball and enjoy being owners of the Atlanta Hawks.
According to the Bloomberg article, sports bankers have estimated that the Hawks might fetch as much as $750 million if the entire team were for sale.
Earlier this year, Forbes magazine valued the Hawks at $425 million – the 27th among the 30 NBA teams. Given the recent renegotiations of the television contract and the sale of the L.A. Clippers, it is widely viewed that Forbes low-balled the value of the Hawks.
The hiring of an investment banking team, however, is an important step in selling at least part of the team and getting Levenson interests removed from the team. At a press conference more than two weeks ago, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed had expressed a growing frustration about the lack of movement on Levenson’s part in selling his share of the Atlanta Hawks.