Flowery Branch, Ga. Arthur M. Blank, co-founder and former chairman of Home Depot, is buying the Atlanta Falcons for $545 million, giving the team new ownership for the first time in its 36-year history.
Blank's family investment company, AMB Group, announced the sale Thursday. Final details of the transaction are pending, with the closing expected by March, said Kim Shreckengost, executive vice president of AMB Group.
Blank also is buying the 12 percent of the team split between Atlanta venture capitalist John Imlay and media executive Tom Watson Brown.
Blank is a longtime Falcons fan who has sought to buy the team for several years, considering it a wise investment, Shreckengost said. Blank's Home Depot fortune is about $1.9 billion.
"This is a great way for me to combine my business skills and experience with my love for football," Blank said in a statement.
He was unavailable for further comment, Shreckengost said.
The Smiths who own 88 percent of the team sought to keep the Falcons locally owned when they decided to sell, with Blank "a perfect candidate" to be owner, according to a source familiar with the talks who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The deal is subject to approval by NFL owners, with at least 24 votes required. The Smiths will retain control until the deal is completed.
Rankin Smith Sr. founded the NFL franchise on June 30, 1965, paying $8.5 million for rights to the team. His son, Taylor Smith, is the team's president.
"We are proud to have found a rare opportunity to sell the team to Arthur, a high-caliber individual who has the passion and energy to enhance the franchise and solidify ownership of the Falcons in Atlanta for years to come," Taylor Smith said in a statement.
The Falcons have been one of the least successful franchises in NFL history. They have never had consecutive winning seasons and have no players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
They are 6-5 this year and tied with Tampa Bay and New Orleans, which visits Atlanta on Sunday, for the sixth and final playoff spot in the NFC.
Coach Dan Reeves spoke with Blank and Smith by telephone Thursday.
"Taylor's concern was the timing of the thing and didn't want it to be a distraction to our football team," Reeves said. "I'm sure that it didn't go exactly the way he would like for it to, but I talked to our team and they realize that our focus has to be on the New Orleans Saints."
Blank and Bernie Marcus founded The Home Depot in 1978, building it into the world's largest home-improvement retailer. Both have retired from the Atlanta-based company and are pursuing philanthropic and other community endeavors.
Reeves, who also serves as the team's executive vice president, said he wants to return for a sixth season in 2002. He signed a five-year deal worth about $10 million in 1997.
His current contract expires at the end of the season, but Reeves and the team have what he described as "a mutual option" for 2002.
"I think if I made up my mind, I'd want to stay but we've got five more weeks of the season," Reeves said. "But I think my health's a lot better. I enjoy the players we got. If I had to make it right now, no question about it."
Blank plans no wholesale personnel changes, Shreckengost said.