Past, future of 76ers ownership group comes into focus

Doug Collins and Rod Thorn pose with managing owner Joshua Harris and CEO Adam Aron as the Sixers new ownership group is introduced to the media on Tuesday, October 18th at the Palestra in Philadelphia. The sale of the Sixers, agreed upon in July, became official yesterday. (SBN Philly Photo/Derek Bodner)

The new 76ers ownership group met with members of the media for the first time Tuesday at the Palestra, discussing how the group was formed and what changes are ahead, including slashing ticket prices and a change in the front office.

The Sixers ownership group came into focus Tuesday afternoon as the new ownership group met with members of the media for the first time since coming to an agreement to purchase the team from Comcast-Spectacor in July.

Some revelations, like the surprise inclusion of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith among the group of owners, generated excitement, but will be largely inconsequential in the long run as they are unlikely to have influence in the day to day operation of the team.

The announcement of the slashing of ticket prices, the dismissal of Ed Stefanski becoming official, the new website to spur fan communication and the new roles the individuals will have in the organization going forward will have much more far reaching ramifications.

Before analyzing the future changes the ownership group will bring, let's take a look at how this new ownership group came to be.

Started by Jason Levien

According to Jason Levien, he got the ball rolling a little over a year ago.

Levien, a former player agent, gave up his clients to join the Sacramento Kings organization as an assistant general manager back in 2008.  Levien had just represented Kevin Martin, who signed a $55 million extension in 2007, and Luol Deng, who signed a $71 million extension in the summer of 2008, to long term deals.  At one point, it didn't seem like a leap to assume Levien had a fair chance of being the successor to Geoff Petrie in the Kings organization.  For reasons still not entirely known, that didn't come to fruition.  Petrie signed an extension in late 2009 and Levien left the organization in July 2010.

Levien knew he wanted to get back into the NBA in some capacity, and began kicking the tires of being in an ownership group about a year ago.  The first man he reached out to was David Blitzer.

Blitzer, who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, had moved out to London as the Blackstone Group expanded its presence out to Europe, and was looking to return to the United States.

Blitzer then recruited fellow University of Pennsylvania alum Joshua Harris and the principles of the new ownership group began to form.

According to Levien, the Sixers were the target from early on in the process.

"I felt like maybe there was an opportunity [with the Sixers]," Levien told SBN Philly.  "I love the city, I think it's a great market.  I have a lot of friends from here, and some family in the area."

"I felt like lightning struck," he said.

Comcast-Spectacor had entertained the idea of selling the Sixers before, most notably back in 2006 when it hired a sports investment firm to investigate selling the team before eventually taking it off the market.  This time, the conditions were right.

New roles coming into focus for ownership group

The ownership groups roles continued to be fleshed out Tuesday, as they were finally able to comment after months of silence.  

"My partners and I are committed to doing everything we can to return the Sixers to their historical greatness," managing owner Joshua Harris said. "I can assure you that we will be active, long-term owners, who care deeply about this team, performance, its fans and the city of Philadelphia."

"Our goal, make no mistake, is to create a world-class franchise and win NBA championships."

The main core of the group remains the same as has been reported for months.  Adam Aron, former CEO of World Leisure Partners and Vail Resorts, and director of Norwegian Cruise Line, was confirmed as being the CEO of the organization.  Joshua Harris, with an estimated net worth of  $1.45 billion, primarily as the cofounder of Apollo Global Management, is the managing owner.  David Blitzer from the Blackstone Group is the co-managing owner.  Jason Levien, long rumored to become part of the front office, will only be a part of the ownership group, at least presently.   Other co-owner's include Martin Geller, David Heller, Travis Hennings, James Lassiter, Marc Leder, Michael Rubin, Handy Soetedjo, Eric Thohir, Art Wrubel, and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith.

Of that group, Jason Levien's position, or lack-thereof, is perhaps the most surprising.

Levien seemed to have clear ambitions during his brief front office career with the Kings, having given up a lucrative career as a player agent to join the organization.  He was then rumored to be in the running for the open position with the Hornets last summer.  For now, at least, he will only be involved as a part owner.

"I grew up playing basketball.  I played in college.  Sometimes I played point guard, sometimes they put me at small forward, sometimes they asked me to wave the towel," Levien said about his role.  "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 in the game.  But whatever I do, I'm just going to try to help."

Regardless of his official capacity, the diversity of his basketball experiences should help this new ownership group, who outside of him is largely lacking experience in the basketball world.

"The analogy I would draw is we just bought a restaurant," Levien explained. "I've worked in the kitchen and I've worked as the maitre d' and I've worked in all these different capacities. So hopefully I bring some perspective from all of that to the table."

It doesn't sound like Levien would completely rule out a changing role in the future.

"I don't know [what the future will hold], because I didn't mean to be an agent. I played, I thought I was done with basketball outside of maybe coaching my kids. I went to practice law and I sort of fell into being an agent, and loved it," Levien described.  "I didn't mean to go work for Sacramento. I got close to the Maloofs and they sort of asked me to come there. I think it's all a journey. I want to contribute. I don't have some end goal in mind."

Front office changes

One who definitely won't be part of the future front office is former GM Ed Stefanski.  

Stefanski, former President and General Manager of the 76ers who was demoted to General Manager when Rod Thorn was hired in August 2010, will not be back with the club.  

"There was no butting heads or anything like that [in regards to Stefanski's departure]," Sixers coach Doug Collins said. "I think we sat down as an organization and I think they felt like they wanted to streamline things a little bit. I don't think they wanted too many voices in the decision making end of things."

The rest of the higher ups in the personnel department appear to be unchanged, with President Rod Thorn, Senior Vice President and Assistant General Manager Tony DiLeo, and Director of Player Personnel Courtney Witte remaining with the team.

"We'll have Tony [DiLeo] and Courtney [Witte] that worked very closely with Ed [Stefanski] and I," President Rod Thorn told SBN Philly after the press conference. "They certainly are very competent and very willing and able to take on more [responsibility]. So all of us will do a little more."

Both Rod Thorn and Doug Collins received effusive praise from new ownership.

"Rod [Thorn] is the captain of that ship," Harris said.  "It's Rod's show."

"I told my co-investors, I said 'listen, I think this guy is a terrific coach', and this was a year ago and they hadn't played a game yet," Levien said about Doug Collins. "I said 'Doug can do some great things'. He's great with young players, he inspires people, he has such passion, and he wants to win."

"Rod and Doug are tremendous assets to this organization, and we expect they will continue to play key roles in our team's success going forward," Harris said. "We look forward to partnering with them, as we move into this new era of the Sixers."

The group was unable to talk about players or potential personnel changes due to the rules of the NBA lockout.

Ticket prices slashed

The announcement likely to have the most immediate impact on fans, at least assuming there is a season any time soon -- a big assumption, especially considering little progress was reportedly made after the two sides met with mediator George Cohen for a marathon 16 hour session on Tuesday -- is the drastic reduction in single-game ticket prices in many seats.

According to a press release SBN Philly obtained, ticket prices on over 8,800 single-game seats per game at the Wells Fargo center will be greatly reduced for the 2011-2012.  With the Sixers already struggling to sell seats -- the team was 25th out of 30 teams in the NBA in attendance last year -- combined with a potential drop in league wide attendance as a ramification of the lockout, which is now guaranteed to lose at least the first two weeks of the regular season, demand could be low to start the new owners tenure.

"We are committed to providing our fans with the most entertaining in-game experience in the NBA, and also one of the most affordable," new CEO Adam Aron said in a press release given to members of the media. "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, in many cases lowering ticket prices in half. We want to make the Philadelphia 76ers as accessible to our fans as possible. "

With the new pricing, fans will be able to get into the Wells Fargo Center for as little as $15 per ticket, and down in the lower level for as little as $29.

New website to communicate with fans

The team also announced a new website, available today, to facilitate communication with the fans.  The website, www.newsixersowner.com, will allow fans to submit their ideas to the new Sixers ownership group, and will award 1,776 individual game tickets to the most intriguing comments.

"We want to hear directly from the most passionate fans in the country about every aspect of the Philadelphia 76ers," Aron said.  "There is no issue too big or small -- whether it be how to improve the team, enhance the gameday experience or whatever else might be on our fans' minds -- because if something is important to our fans, by definition it is important to us."

Aron stated he personally looks forward to reading each comment.

Video Interviews

SBN Philly conducted video interviews with Rod Thorn and Doug Collins, where they discuss the departure of Ed Stefanski and the new ownership group.

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