Ori Allon has been a fan of Israel's Hapoel Jerusalem basketball team since he was 12. So when New York Knicks star Amare Stoudemire asked if he was interested in owning their home-town team, Allon jumped at the chance.
Allon is well-known in the tech world as an engineer with a Midas touch. He sold his first company to Google and his second to Twitter. His third company, Urban Compass, just raised an over-subscribed $8 million seed round to make apartment hunting and local social networking easier.
He, Stoudemire, advertising executive Eyal Chomski and famous sports agent Arn Tellem just spent 20 million NIS (about $5.6 million) buying a 90% stake in the team.* They're committed to shelling out the 20 million annually for the next three years, then support the team every year after providing similar funds on a regular basis. Stoudemire has stated that eventually, he'd like to move home and end his career playing for Hapoel Jerusalem.
Allon, who visits Israel about six times per year, sees it as a fun chance to entangle the worlds of tech and sports. "Obviously our goal is to improve the team on the court, but we also want to improve the team's social media," he says. "It's going to be a great platform to experiment with how the digital age can improve the fans' experience and improve the basketball team as a result."
Allon describes the fan base as extremely enthusiastic and "on their feet the whole game." He knows because he was one of them. He still recalls celebrating late into the night during one game in the mid-90s when Hapoel Jerusalem beat Tel Aviv. And since the team does a lot for his home town, Allon hopes his partial ownership will help them give back to the community.
"Our goal is to make sure we have a good team that everyone is going to be proud of," he says. "Having a good basketball team brings a lot of fun and happiness to the community."
Of course, investing in a sports team is also fun. A number of entrepreneurs own sports teams including the Tische family, which owns the New York Giants, and Mark Cuban who owns the Dallas Mavericks. "It's a good example that engineers don't have to be dorky!" Allon says.
Fans at a Hapoel Jerusalem basketball game.
*The original version of this article stated the price as 15 million shekels or $4.2 million for a 60% stake in the team. Allon says the amount is actually closer to 20 million NIS for a 90% stake in the team. They will pay that amount for at least three years to maintain their ownership.
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