Harvey Lister, center, CEO of AEG Ogden, bounces around the idea of owning a basketball team with Sydney Kings Managing Director Jeff Van Groningen, left, and Phil Hudson, chairman, Sydney Kings.
The Sydney Kings have a long and winding history. The Australian National Basketball League (NBL) squad has passed through a number of hands since its founding in 1988 before its acquisition by AEG Ogden last week. Now, that company's chairman and CEO, Harvey Lister, says he plans to take the Kings to the next level.
“The [team's chairman] told me he really struggled to get all the shareholders to agree on everything,” Lister said of the 16 “very successful” businesspeople who took over the team after it had fallen into receivership in 2008. “We didn't particularly want to own a basketball franchise, but the reality is that there are eight or nine teams in the league in this market and four of those are playing in our venues, so I felt we had no option but to step in and help make this happen.”
Though Lister would not discuss the terms of the deal, he did say AEG will take a 100 percent stake in the team that will add veteran Australian sports figure Jeff Van Groningen (former GM of the NBL's Melbourne Tigers and Brisbane Bullets) as their GM for external relations and corporate strategy.
“I will hit the ground running in identifying the best head coach and, now having the resources to attract the best basketball talent to ensure Sydney has one of the most dynamic teams in the league, I can guarantee that we will be competitive, and aim to present an exciting brand of basketball for the Sydney fans,” Van Groningen said in a statement.
The Kings played at the Sydney Entertainment Centre (known as the Qantas Credit Union Arena), which was demolished last week. With the current NBL champs, the Perth Wildcats playing Perth Arena and two other NBL teams in AEG-managed buildings, Lister said it was vital for the league to have a strong Sydney team to be viable. “We thought we needed to step in and take control and we told the current owners we will eventually sell this team once it's turned around,” he said. “And when we sell the business we would be happy for the existing shareholders to share from any upside of that sale with us.”
Other than that, AEG Ogden will take on all responsibility for funding the team and keep any profits, with a benefit of 14-15 events per year at the 21,000-capacity Allphones Arena (which is about to announce a deal for new naming rights.) “We think it supports AEG Ogden's mantra that we're in the content business and we try not to compete against our clients that deliver content, but where there is no one to do it, we will.”
The Sydney Kings play ball at the Sydney Entertainment Centre, which was demolished last week.
One of the other benefits of being part of the joint venture with AEG is that during the Kings' offseason (March-October), Lister said there is talk of taking the team on the road. “We're very keen to take this team into Asia, maybe China, to play some round-robin or invitational tournaments,” he said, noting that AEG has “fantastic” arenas in Beijing and Shanghai. And, if all goes well, somewhere down the line the Kings might also travel to the U.S. to play some invitational games.
“I hope it helps the league, but I wouldn't be arrogant enough to say that it will,” Lister said, noting that Australia's sports-crazed, Manhattan-sized population is spread out over a space the size of North America, with abundant soccer and rugby leagues that often take top headlines from the less traditionally popular hard-court sport.
The good news is that last year the owner of the Melbourne NBL team, businessman Larry Kestelman, acquired a controlling stake in the league, made a deal with Fox Television and pledged to turn the NBL around. “That was encouragement for us, but the other positive is as venue operators I think it's a really good thing for our management staff in our various venues to occasionally get a sense of the responsibility and stress of being a promoter,” Lister said, putting the annual operating costs, plus venue costs for the Kings, at around $12-million (AUS) per year.
In fact, Lister spoke to Venues Today enroute to Sydney, where he planned to give the staff at Allphones Arena a briefing on the Kings deal and introduce them to the “concept of buying the team, explaining to them what their responsibility is now to make this work. I want them to think like a fan, like a promoter, as opposed to just thinking like a venue.”
Contacted for this story: Harvey Lister, (011) 617-3363-3666