76ers new ownership takes stage
Today was an important day in the history of the 76ers franchise. Comcast-Spectacor has officially sold the team to a new ownership group, which is led by New York billionaire Joshua Harris and includes a handful of other investors including David Blitzer, Art Wrubel, Jason Levien, Martin Geller, David Heller, Travis Hennings, James Lassiter, Marc Leder, Michael Rubin, Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, Handy Soetedjo, and Erick Thohir.
That's a lot of names on the ownership group list, but there are some key ones to remember: Harris is the managing owner of the team. Blitzer will serve as co-managing owner. Adam Aron is the new chief executive officer of the team. And Levien provides some of the basketball insight because he's a former NBA agent and assistant general manager of the Sacramento Kings.
A lot of the info covered during today's press conference has been known for the last three months as we awaited closure of the sale of the team (approximately $280 million for 100 percent of the franchise, not including the Wells Fargo Center). But the new ownership group did make a splash with a few changes, price reductions on tickets, as well as expressing their focus on open commmunication with the fan base.
Harris and Aron, who were on stage answering questions during the press conference, made it a point to highlight president Rod Thorn and coach Doug Collins, both of whom were present. Harris called Thorn the captain of the ship on the basketball side, Collins the captain of the ship on the basketball court. Harris also publicly confirmed that general manager Ed Stefanski would not be moving forward with the franchise. This last bit of info was assumed, given Stefanski's recent dealings with the open GM positions for both the Toronto Raptors and Portland Trail Blazers, but Harris confirmed it on Tuesday morning.
The press conference was held at The Palestra, which this group hoped would demonstrate a dedication to Philly history (many within the ownership group, including Harris himself, are grads of UPENN). Aron announced a few major news items:
1. The Sixers announced lower single-game ticket prices for the upcoming season. Over 8,800 seats will be significantly reduced for single-game tickets during the 2011-12 season. The new single-game structure results in 51 percent of seating being recuded. Certain lower-level seats that were $54 last season will be $29 this upcoming season.
"We are committed to providing our fans with the most entertaining in-game experience in the NBA, and also one of the most affordable," Aron said. "At the Sixers, we want to be on the side of the fan, so in these tough economic times when family budgets are strained, we decided to dramatically lower ticket prices."
Aron also alluded to a number of future change announcements.
2. The Sixers announced a new marketing campaign: "Passionate. Intense. Proud."
The tag line will be one part of an aggressive marketing campaign that will highlight the history of the franchise in those three areas.
"The words contained in our new slogan have been circulating around the Sixers for many years," Aron said. "It is no coincidence that we are reaching deep into the heritage and tradition of the 76ers. After all, over the years, the Sixers have been one of the NBA's most elite teams."
3. The new ownership also repeatedly referred to their desire to maintain open communication with Sixers' fans. The ownership will launch a website, www.newsixersowners.com, where fans can submit ideas and communicate openly their feelings about the team and its progress. Aron said he's dedicated to reading each and every submission. Aron said 1776 fans who pass along comments the team finds intriguing, will be rewarded with game tickets.
The team also will be printing a full-page "Open Letter" ad in tomorrow's Inquirer, addressing fans in the city.
What follows are a few choice quotes from today's events (if I gave you the entire transcript it would be novel-like in length).
Harris: "I can assure you we will be active, long-term owners who care deeply about this team, its performance, its fans, the city of Philadelphia. We think the team is moving in the right direction and we're very excited about it. Our goal, make no mistake, is to create a world-class franchise and win an NBA championship."
Aron: "It's a hard task to bring that enthusiasm in the city of Philadelphia back into the Wells Fargo Center and Philadelphia 76ers. There are a lot of things we can do differently if we're to succeed going forward: lower ticket prices, which should be meaningful to Philadelphians. Secondly, we have committed ourselves to game experience, fan experience on game nights."
Harris, when asked about his experience working with "distressed properties", answered the following: "I wouldn't call the Sixers a distressed property because that has a negative connotation."
Both Aron and Harris wouldn't say the Sixers were "distressed" or "failing" but that the new ownership believed the franchise had more potential -- certain improvements would yield results. That's a nice way of saying they thought they could do more than the old ownership.
Harris made it clear that this is a personal investment for him. He will continue to live in New York, but he will be down in Philly for the games and is excited about being involved with the city and growing his relationship with the city.
Harris on the NBA lockout situation: "We're going to get right to work. And we need to develop an open relationship, and with the media, so you all understand what we're doing. The fact that there is this situation, that's not something we can control. What we can control is what we do. We're busy at work. Months before this press conference, it was clear we had a shot at getting this done. As you know we signed this deal in early July and we've been hard at work since then ... there will be a lot more stuff that's going to be out there that we see as positive in terms of the fan experience and our connection to the city of Philadelphia."
When asked if they would be willing to pay the luxury tax (assuming there is a luxury tax with the new collective bargaining agreement), Harris said they wouldn't comment on specifically what might be in the next CBA, but he did allude to the fact that the new ownership wants to put a winning team on the floor and is prepared to do what it takes to make sure that happens.
Here's his exact quote: "As I said, that would be Rod's job primarily, with Doug. Having said that, we're here to do what's best for the team and create winning basketball. Our goal is to win championships. I think obviously we're willing to invest and that's one of the things you need to be willing to do to have a shot at our goal."
Aron: "Our sales organization and our whole executive group is very focused on making sure the season ticket holders are happy about their relationship ... we intend to step up, intensify, the relationship the season ticket holders have with the team."
Doug Collins: "Anytime there's a change made, the first thing is you always look at: How does it affect me, how does it affect my family? ... As we move forward, I think this ownership is very committed to really doing the little extras. You'll see around our practice facility we've sort of gone through that. I sat down with Adam two months ago and I said, 'We have to make this a better place for our team.' They're doing a better job with the locker rooms, they're doing a player lounge, the training room, film room. They're upgrading that as best as we can have it until we can get our own. Every feeling that I've gotten from this ownership is that they feel like I'm important to what they're doing. I think my family and I feel this way. I'm excited, I'm excited to get started again."
More from Collins, on Stefanski: "I think the way they explained it best was they sort of felt they had two guys filling the same role as being president. I know Eddie's title was GM, but basically Eddie and Rod are both qualified to be presidents of organizations. What my hopes and prayers are is that Eddie is going to land on his feet and he's going to get a great job because somebody out there is going to get a heck of a basketball guy. I know he had some ups and downs here ... sometimes we focus on one or two mistakes a guy has made."
Collins on team, preparation, lockout: "I can't go into names, but we want to be able to keep our team together and then get in and get ready to start the season ... I've never been in this experience where the season hasn't started on time so this is new for me. I want to be ready because we can't start out 3-13 this year."
Collins on being a Sixer, talking about Jimmy Rollins in USA Today story: "I think he was talking about 2000, 2001, walking around the city with his head down: 'Oh, you play for the Phillies, that's an embarrassment.' You know, we shouldn't be embarrassed playing for the Philadelphia 76ers. You see those banners up there."
Rod Thorn: "I think they're going to be terrific owners. I think they are fans of basketball. I think they have Philadelphia connections, at least a lot of them do. I think they want to win and I think they're going to give us everything we need in order to be successful."
More Thorn: "I think anytime there is a change in ownership -- and I've been through four of them now during my long career -- that you always wonder. First meeting that I had with Josh Harris, one of my first questions was, 'Do you want me to stay?' At that time he said he did. There has been a lot of speculation since then about what may or may not happen, but as I said the first meeting we had he said he'd like me to stay. And I said if that's the case I'd like to stay because I think we have a nice young team and I think we have a chance to get better. So I'm looking forward to it."
Jason Levien on being a "conduit" between ownership and front office: "I think I feel like the analogy I would draw is we just bought a restaurant and I've worked in the kitchen, I've worked as the maitre de, I've worked in all of these different capacities. So hopefully I bring some perpective from all of that to the table. That's what I'm hoping."
Levien on whether he has any official capacity/role: "I grew up playing basketball. I played in college. Sometimes I play point guard, sometimes I'm at small forward, sometimes I wave the towel: I'm ready to do any of it. I am. I just feel like I want to contribute, I want to help. I think I have some great guys that I've bonded with over a year of this process. There is a lot of opportunity. I don't know if I'll be waving the towel, I don't know if I'll be getting the water, I don't know if I'll be thrown into the game, but I'll be ready to help."
Takeaway from this press conference: This new ownership group isn't messing around. They've pinpointed what they felt were weaknesses from the previous ownership and they want to flip that on its head. It remains to be seen if some of these "great ideas" will actually lead to different results, a better experience for fans and ticket holders, but they are opening doors that haven't been opened in the last decade-plus. They're focusing on incorporating fans and ticket holders and communicating openly about their decisions and game plan. We've yet to see how this will operate in live-time, but on paper, it's a new game plan and a welcomed one.
Each week, Kate will check in from the road and answer fan questions about the Sixers. Click here to ask Kate a question or e-mail her at email@example.com.