Atlanta Hawks CEO shares winning strategies with KSU students

Steve Koonin stresses that success extends beyond the court KENNESAW, Ga. (March 16, 2016) –…

Georgia (Mar 16, 2016)

Steve Koonin stresses that success extends beyond the court

KENNESAW, Ga. (March 16, 2016) – The Atlanta Hawks have become a trendsetter among pro sports franchises with their innovative marketing strategies. Hawks CEO and part-owner Steve Koonin told Kennesaw State University students that they too should set themselves apart if they’re interested in a career in the entertainment industry.

Koonin explained “building a winning brand” during a lecture Tuesday hosted by the Joel A. Katz Music and Entertainment Business (MEBUS) program at KSU. He also encouraged students to take advantage of MEBUS internships and other opportunities to make themselves more marketable.

“Differentiate yourself. It wins,” Koonin said. “If you want to be in content, write compelling and differentiating content. If you want to be in production, study and be a fan of production. Have a point of view.”

In Koonin’s first full year as CEO, the Hawks had the highest attendance increase in the NBA and set franchise records for season ticket sales, game sellouts and retail sales. One way the Hawks made their merchandise accessible – and affordable – was to become the first team to create and license 16 different shoelaces, Koonin said.

“Any kid who wants to have authentic NBA gear can wear Hawks shoelaces, and we’re giving them out all over town,” he said. “It’s a huge success for including people into the program.”

The Hawks became the first of North America’s 122 pro sports teams to hire a chief diversity and inclusion officer, according to Koonin. He added that the team also is active in the community; the new Junior Hawks program will allow thousands of children to attend basketball camps and clinics – most at no cost – and the Hawks are in the midst of building 25 basketball courts in Atlanta communities.

“We’re doing it in neighborhoods that, quite candidly, will never buy a season ticket,” Koonin said. “We’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do. We’re trying to affect communities every day through our mantra to build bridges through basketball.”

The audience for the lecture included two Kennesaw State alums who now are working for the Atlanta Hawks and Philips Arena. Sasha Gwin, a 2014 graduate, credited the three internships she had through MEBUS with helping her land her position as the assistant to the booking department.

“I love it,” Gwin said. “MEBUS was a really good opportunity to focus in and figure out what I really wanted to do.”

Haley-Kate Daykin also had three internships through MEBUS prior to graduating last May. She majored in international business, but has remained close to home as a fan-experience assistant for the Hawks.

“My internships were probably the biggest help,” Daykin said. “I definitely like the entertainment industry, and I would like to stay within entertainment, sports, music – I love all of that.”


–  Paul Floeckher

Photo by Dave Caselli


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit