Atlanta Hawks Sell NBA Franchise to Group Led by Entrepreneur Alex Meruelo

The owners of the Atlanta Hawks agreed to sell the National Basketball Association franchise to a group led by Los Angeles pizza franchiser Alex Meruelo, the team said in a news release.

Financial terms of the deal, which will keep the Hawks a long-term tenant of Philips Arena, weren’t disclosed. The franchise has been owned by Atlanta Spirit LLC since 2004.

If the sale is approved by the league’s Board of Governors, Meruelo would become the first Hispanic principal owner of an NBA club. It’s expected to close in late 2011, according to the release.

Meruelo is scheduled to speak at an arena news conference this afternoon. The 48-year-old was born in New York to Cuban parents and raised in California, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“I am a lifelong basketball fan, a student of the NBA game, and this is a dream come true for me,” Meruelo said in a statement. “I am committed to winning and look forward to engaging with our wonderful fans, our dedicated season-ticket holders, our committed corporate partners and this passionate community. I believe that both the Hawks and Philips Arena have unlimited potential for the future. I am honored to be a part of that future.”

The Meruelo Group has holdings in banking and finance, restaurants and food services, construction and engineering, real estate, hotel and casino operations, and private equity.

Lower Value

With an operating loss of $7.3 million on sales of $105 million last season, the value of the Hawks dropped 4 percent to $295 million, the seventh-lowest among the NBA’s 30 franchises, Forbes magazine said in January. The club’s average home attendance of 15,648 ranked 22nd.

The sale ends Atlanta Spirit’s involvement in major-league sports in the Georgia city. The group sold the National Hockey League’s Atlanta Thrashers in May to a company that moved the franchise to Winnipeg and renamed it the Jets. Atlanta Spirit purchased the Hawks, Thrashers and Philips Arena from Time Warner Inc. for $250 million in 2004.

The Hawks, who moved to Atlanta from St. Louis in 1969, ended last season with a 44-38 record and beat the Orlando Magic in the first round of the NBA playoffs before losing to the Chicago Bulls. The team has reached the postseason in each of the past four years.

The agreement comes about a month after the Philadelphia 76ers were sold by Comcast Corp. to a group led by Joshua Harris, the co-founder of Apollo Global Management LLC.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mason Levinson in New York at mlevinson@bloomberg.net. Dex McLuskey in Dallas at dmcluskey@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net.

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