The ball’s in his court

Ori Allon, head of Hapoel Jerusalem’s new owners the Allon Group, looks forward to bringing the fans back to the stands

Ori Allon 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ori Allon 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
After years of disarray, Hapoel Jerusalem’s future suddenly seems brighter than ever.
Decades of fruitless chase of Maccabi Tel Aviv, combined with ever-changing eccentric owners of the likes of Arkadi Gaydamak and Guma Aguiar, left many Hapoel fans disillusioned, resulting in halfempty stands in numerous games at Malha Arena last season.
Not only has Hapoel not managed to win a title since lifting the State Cup in 2008, but it has also failed to even reach the league or cup final since.
However, far more disconcerting was the way the club had been managed over recent years, with owners coming and going and infighting threatening to tear up the team.
That all seems set to change now, at least according to Ori Allon, head of the new ownership group.
The 32-year-old businessman put together a star-studded lineup of investors, including New York Knicks forward Amar’e Stoudemire, advertising bigwig Eyal Chomsky and American sports agent Arn Tellem.
They officially bought a 90-percent stake in the club last week.
“Stoudemire doesn’t need the recognition in Israel and Tellem doesn’t need it either.
and I certainly don’t need it,” Allon told In Jerusalem after clinching the deal. “We have all succeeded in our fields. So no one can think that we have any other interest, apart from wanting the team to succeed and helping Jerusalem. I’m a fan. I sat behind the baskets when I was a kid. I’m here to give back to the team and we are here for a long time. The fans have really welcomed us with open arms and I’m very proud of that. They feel that there is something different here and that we aren’t just interested in what will happen in the next year or two, but in where the team will be in five and 10 years.”
Following Aguiar’s disappearance off the coast of Florida a year ago, his 60% stake was put up for sale and the Allon Group was awarded his shares by the administratorgeneral.
after promising to invest NIS 15 million in the club over the next three seasons.
The Allon Group officially took charge of the club last Friday, when the Hapoel Jerusalem organization approved the deal.
The organization, which had owned 40% of the club, was given 90 days to match the Allon Group’s offer and seize complete control of the club.
However, the two parties reached an agreement to cooperate after several days of negotiations, with the organization to name three of the eight board members and also having the right of refusal should the Allon Group choose to sell its stake.
The Allon Group also bought a further 30% from the organization, taking its stake to 90%, with the organization maintaining the remaining 10% of shares.
Allon, who was born and raised in Israel but left for Australia after his IDF service, made his fortune by selling hi-tech startups to both Google and Twitter. In 2011, he sold his company, Julpan, to Twitter, going on to work as the director of engineering at the company’s New York office. Previously, Google acquired his patented thesis work called Orion. During his time at Google, he led a search quality team that integrated the Orion technology and algorithms with the Google search engine. Allon, who earned his PhD in computer science at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, recently raised an over-subscribed $8 million seed round for his third company, Urban Compass, which is aimed at making apartment hunting and local social networking easier.
However, starting from last weekend, Allon has also got his sights set on resurrecting a floundering Hapoel Jerusalem.
“The measure of success for me will not be to win the championship,” he said. “The measure of success will be to see Malha full, and then the new arena full with people who love the team and come every week to have a good time. If we win the championship, that would be great – but that’s not the essence. The essence is that there will be a team we will be proud of.”
Allon has no illusions that he will see a profit from the club, but he believes far more can be done to strengthen Hapoel’s financial situation.
“We need to set up a stable foundation that will last for years,” he explained. “We need to see how we can build a team that will succeed in Israel and in Europe in the next five years, how we can harness the new arena and attract long-term sponsors, how we can make the most of new media.
The connection with the fans is very important. The management needs to have an understanding and caring attitude towards the fans and let them be involved.
It is important that we aren’t a mess like other teams.”
“The club can create nice amounts of money and with the new arena and with success, it will be able to create even more,” he added. “Besides, we have announced that we will invest at least NIS 15m. over the next three years.”
Allon, who currently resides in New York, says that his long-term aim is for Hapoel to be “a leading team in Israel and Europe,” but he plans to let the professionals do their jobs while overseeing matters from afar.
“None of the owners will be involved on a daily basis. There will be a CEO and a coach, and we will not be involved during the season,” he said. “There is going to be a total separation between the ownership and the management and the professional staff.
Each person has his authority and serves a different function.”
Allon’s broader vision for Hapoel will delight the club’s fans and should please anyone who cares for local basketball.
“Results will not only be judged on the court. We will judge success according to the club’s relationship with fans and with the community,” he stated. “Clearly, our position in the league and the cup is important, but it is just as important, if not even more important, how the team is being run and what moral standards it is setting.”
However, Allon has no inferiority complex towards Hapoel’s illustrious rival Maccabi Tel Aviv, and he has every intention of taking his new team to the very top.
“We will not compare ourselves to Maccabi or any other team,” he said. “We are focusing on Hapoel Jerusalem. We are a team that represents the capital of Israel and we will do the best we can to put together the best team possible.
With all due respect to Maccabi, Jerusalem is second to none. Jerusalem has always been the place that everyone else looks up to.” •