ATLANTA (AP) — Steve Koonin has cheered on the Atlanta Hawks surrounded by thousands of empty seats. He's cheered them on when the place was rockin'.
The new CEO of the Hawks has no doubt the latter can become the norm at Philips Arena.
A lifelong resident of Atlanta, Koonin left his job as president of Turner Entertainment Networks to take a lead role with the Hawks, who hope he can transform a downtrodden franchise into one of the NBA's must-see teams.
"There's no magic beans," Koonin told The Associated Press on Monday, after he was introduced as the newest member of Atlanta's ownership group. "I think a big piece of what's needed here is the confidence to know that we are Atlanta, and this a great opportunity. We need to shout that. That's what we're going to do. We're going to shout it from the rooftops."
In addition to taking an ownership stake in the team, Koonin will serve as chief executive officer, oversee all business operations, and represent the ownership at league functions.
"We've got to broaden our fan base," Bruce Levenson, the team's majority owner, told the AP. "I think Steve is going to be the gasoline that accelerates that process."
Koonin comes to the Hawks after 14 years with Turner Entertainment Networks, where he led the division that included TNT, TBS, TruTV and Turner Classic Movies. He previously spent more than a decade as an executive at Coca-Cola, focusing on sports and entertainment marketing.
The Hawks are counting on Koonin to raise the profile of a franchise that has struggled to draw fans or lure big-name free agents.
"We need to create an emotional connection between the city of Atlanta and the team," he said. "I've seen it done in other cities and we're going to do it here."
At Turner, Koonin was involved in programming and media rights acquisition for both the NBA and the NCAA tournament. He helped build strong brands with "NBA on TNT" and "Inside the NBA," which he quipped was nothing more than having the foresight to use Charles Barkley in a format that is essentially "a comedy show."
Over the past decade, the Hawks have never ranked in the top half of the league in attendance and are largely overlooked in a market that also has the NFL, Major League Baseball and a passion for college football. Heading into their final regular-season home game Monday night, the Hawks were averaging 14,400 a game — 28th out of 30 NBA teams despite making the playoffs for the seventh year in a row.