Sinai Says: Hapoel Jerusalem on upward swing under ownership of forward-thinking Allon

Part of what has made Ori Allon a highly successful high-tech entrepreneur is his talent of selling a vision.

Hapoel Jerusalem basketball owner Ori Allon (photo credit: ODED KARNI/BSL)
Hapoel Jerusalem basketball owner Ori Allon
(photo credit: ODED KARNI/BSL)
Part of what has made Ori Allon a highly successful high-tech entrepreneur is his talent of selling a vision.
At the age of 33, he has already sold start-ups to Google and Twitter, currently achieving even greater success with his third company, Urban Compass, which has recently been valued at more than $360 million.
He has also breathed new life into what was a depressed basketball club, turning more and more people into believers as he continues to rebuild Hapoel Jerusalem.
Despite the inevitable learning process that accompanies the first season of any owner, Allon was delighted with what he saw and experienced over the past year.
Jerusalem’s campaign ended on a sour note after it failed to reach the BSL final for a seventh consecutive year, despite leading the league standings for much of the season and only missing out on the No. 1 seed in the final game of the regular season.
Nevertheless, he insists the past year has only given him more motivation to go on and achieve great things with Hapoel.
“The fans showed so much love to the team and to me personally and that exceeded everything I thought it would be,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “That was an unbelievable experience. The fans make me want to invest more. They make it worthwhile.”
Decades of fruitlessly chasing Maccabi Tel Aviv – combined with ever-changing eccentric owners the likes of Arkadi Gaydamak and Guma Aguiar – left many Hapoel fans disillusioned, resulting in half-empty stands in many of the team’s games.
Hapoel hasn’t managed to win a title since lifting the State Cup in 2008, but its future has looked a lot brighter since Allon stepped into the fray.
He assembled a star-studded ownership group, including New York Knicks power forward Amar’e Stoudemire, advertising bigwig Eyal Chomski and American sports agent Arn Tellem, to purchase the club following the disappearance of Aguiar at sea.
Despite last season’s encouraging signs, Allon is not getting carried away.
“We had a good run last year but unfortunately we had some injuries and we didn’t meet expectations in the postseason,” he said. “Next season all I can ask the players is to give their all. I can’t control if they win or lose, but they have to fight for it and I believe we are going to have the right team. We are going to have the talent and the right coach and of course the amazing fans in the new arena. I think they will have everything they need in order to be successful.
“I don’t look at targets in terms of first place or second place and if we win championships,” he added. “We are building something here for the very long term. It is nice to win championships, but that is not the main objective. The main objective is to bring the team to a place where it can be successful on a consistent basis.”
Despite not even reaching the BSL final last season, Jerusalem will play in the Euroleague qualifiers in Belgium next month after convincing the organizers to hand it a wild-card entry.
“The Euroleague understood our goals and where we want to be and why participation in the Euroleague is very important to us to build a brand and to build a team that is going to be at the top of European basketball for years to come,” said Allon.
“Obviously you can’t be at the top of European basketball if you don’t play in the Euroleague. We could have waited a couple of years, but the Euroleague had an option to help us and accelerate the process and we will see if we deserve to be there this year. The Euroleague understands our long-term vision and that at the end of the day Hapoel Jerusalem will be a major factor in European basketball.”
Six senior players will continue from last season, including Israel national team members Yotam Halperin, Lior Eliyahu and Yaniv Green, as well as Americans Bracey Wright and Derwin Kitchen. Hapoel has also already signed last season’s Israeli league MVP, Donta Smith, who was also being recruited by Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Up-and-coming Israeli coach Danny Franco arrived from Maccabi Haifa where he also coached Smith, replacing Brad Greenberg.
“We signed the MVP of the league and extended the contract of Bracey Wright, who I think is one of the top players in the league, so I would say things have gone very well for us this summer,” said Allon.
“But we are still not done yet so look out for good news. We want at least two more players.”
Jerusalem also added to its roster 22-year-old Israeli guard Bar Timor and extended Israel Under-20 national team star Rafi Menco’s contract by four years.
The 20-year-old will join Hapoel Gilboa on loan to guarantee he receives plenty of playing time, with Hapoel’s roster also including fellow local youngsters Adam Ariel and Tom Ma’ayan.
“We want to invest in the future,” explained Allon. “We try to think who will be the Israeli stars in four or five years from now. We will sign more and keep investing in the Israeli players of the future, because that is critical to the success of the team.”
Hapoel has already sold a record 4,500 season tickets for 2014/15 – more than three times its previous high – as it prepares to finally inaugurate its new arena.
“The prospects of the team change when you move to the nicest and newest arena in Israel and one of the nicest arenas in all of Europe,” Allon said.
“I think it is going to take us some time to sell 12,000 season tickets.
But I think we have recorded a tremendous achievement this summer by almost tripling our season ticket sales. I hope we will justify their trust and build a team that will give them a reason to come to the arena.
“Most of the fans understand that this is a long-term process. I don’t think they are looking for immediate success. Obviously we will enjoy it if it happens, but even if it doesn’t happen this year we are going to keep improving until we reach our goal.”
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