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New Hawks CEO: Team to tap into city’s businesses
by Everett Catts
August 14, 2014 01:21 PM | 3515 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Steve Koonin
Steve Koonin
Officially one month into his new job as CEO of the Atlanta Hawks, Steve Koonin has big plans for the NBA team.

“Of the 16 Fortune 500 companies in [metro] Atlanta, only three are doing business with us. I want to tap into that potential,” he told the Buckhead Business Association during its weekly breakfast meeting Thursday at City Club of Buckhead.

Koonin, whose hiring was announced in April, said he has been working with the Hawks for the past 10 weeks but did not officially start until July. Before taking the Hawks job, Koonin spent 14 years with Turner Entertainment Networks, most recently serving as the division’s president.

The Buckhead resident came to the Hawks after rebranding TNT from a network whose highest rated show was WCW Wrestling to one whose tagline is “TNT: Drama,” punctuated by new, original programming, NBA game telecasts and movies.

While with Turner Koonin was named to the Power List by TV Guide and chosen One of the Smart-est People in TV by Entertainment Weekly magazine. In the 1990s, while working as a Coca-Cola’s vice president of sports and entertainment marketing, he was named Sports Executive of the Year by Sports Business Journal. Koonin will tap into that marketing success and experience to try to get the Hawks on more people’s minds and build its fan base in the nation’s fifth largest national TV market.

Under new coach Mike Budenholzer, the Hawks went 38-44 last season, advancing to the postseason with the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The team lost 4-3 to the Indiana Pacers in the first round.

But last season the Hawks’ average home attendance was only 14,339, which ranked 28th in the 30-team league. In 2012-13 the team averaged 15,125 fans per home game, ranking 26th. The Chicago Bulls were No. 1 both seasons. When asked what he planned to do to increase fan interest, Koonin only scratched the surface.

“It’s not an overnight thing,” he said of the turnaround. “It’s doing the fundamentals and building the team. We’re doing a full litany of different things, but I’m just not prepared to talk [in detail] about it right now.

“We’re extraordinarily optimistic. All of the preseason pundits are pointing the arrows high. So we’re excited about it. We can’t wait to tip it off.”

The Hawks open the season Oct. 29 against the Toronto Raptors. Koonin also said part of the team’s marketing strategy is to tap into the city’s younger generations, adding the team will also target all races in its attempts to draw more fans.

“It’s a new Hawks team; it’s a new day,” he said.

Koonin had some experience with basketball marketing early on in his days with Coca-Cola.

“On my first day, we had the chicken crisis of [the late '80s],” he said, “[At that time] McDonald’s [re-]introduced the McChicken Sandwich and there was high demand, and Church’s Chicken, which had little prices for big pieces, had chicken prices go up tenfold.

“I came up with an idea for a way to use the chicken’s thighs and the wings, which people did not want to eat then.”

Next Koonin pitched the idea to Coke executives, one of at least three people presenting plans.

“The first two presenters, they made them cry,” he said. “I said, ‘I see something in the market place.’ So I created the Manute Bol/Spud Webb Biscuit Box [named after then the NBA’s tallest and shortest players] with wings for Spud and legs for Manute.

After the executives approved the plan, Koonin was ordered to take a flight to San Antonio that night so he could pitch the idea to the Church’s board the next day.

“[Before taking off], I called my wife [Eydie] from a pay phone and said, ‘I’m on my way to San Antonio.’ She said, ‘Get home. The kids are crazy.’ I called back with the last dime I had and she asked me to come home. Then called my own house collect and told her I was serious. … We grew the business 35 percent.”

Brian McGuire, the association’s president, said Koonin’s speech was educational to members and guests.

“I would say I was strongly encouraged by his presentation,” McGuire said. “I think his background in both marketing and TV is going to really benefit the Hawks and ... the community. I really like his emphasis on community involvement as well.”

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