Capital attraction

After multiple delays, the Jerusalem Arena is finally set to open, and Hapoel Jerusalem owner Ori Allon is optimistic about the year ahead.

Former Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert first announced plans for the stadium in 2004. (photo credit: LIRON MOLDOVAN/BSL)
Former Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert first announced plans for the stadium in 2004.
(photo credit: LIRON MOLDOVAN/BSL)
The new Jerusalem Arena is finally scheduled to open next week, with an extravagant ceremony.
Magic Johnson and a team of former NBA stars was set to entertain a capacity crowd of 12,000, as part of the special event planned to celebrate the occasion. However, Magic and Co. canceled their participation in the opening ceremony last month due to the conflict between Israel and Hamas, leaving the Jerusalem Municipality without a headline act for its big day.
For Hapoel Jerusalem owner Ori Allon, that is all scarcely significant. He would have loved to have attended a grand opening, but the 33-year-old is far more excited ahead of his team’s first official game in the state-of-theart arena.
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 [possible],” he told The Jerusalem Post.
“It was an unbelievable experience.
The fans make me want to invest more; they make it worthwhile.”
Decades of a fruitless chase of Maccabi Tel Aviv combined with ever- changing eccentric owners of the likes of Arkady Gaydamak and Guma Aguiar left many Hapoel fans disillusioned, resulting in half-empty stands at 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.
The entrepreneur 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.
Allon was born and raised in Israel, but left for Australia after his IDF service. He made his fortune selling hi-tech start-ups to both Google and Twitter. In 2011, he sold his Julpan company to Twitter, with Google acquiring his patented Orion search engine. Allon’s third company, Urban Compass, is currently valued at more than $360 million.
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 post-season,” 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 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.”
Allon admitted that had it not been for the new arena, he may well have never bought the club.
The construction of the multipurpose complex was delayed time and again since ex-Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert said in April 2004 that within a year there would be a new basketball arena in Israel’s capital to replace the dilapidated Malha Arena, which had served as Hapoel Jerusalem’s home since 1985.
The cornerstone for the new arena was laid in December 2005, but it wasn’t until July 2009 that the Jerusalem Municipality officially launched the project.
Numerous festively announced finishing dates have since come and gone, but the arena is now finally complete, a decade after Olmert’s initial promise. The cost of the construction, which was initially estimated at NIS 124m., is set to end up at over NIS 300m., but that is all water under the bridge for Allon.
“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 explained. “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 seasonticket sales, already selling around 4,500. The most the club had ever sold in the past was 1,500, so it is not trivial at all.
“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.”
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, replacing Brad Greenberg.
“I would say things have gone very well for us this summer, but we are still not done yet so look out for good news,” Allon said. “We want at least two more players.”
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 it is very important to us to build a brand and 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.”