The business behind the D.C. area men who own Atlanta's Hawks and Thrashers franchises

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Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 24, 2010; 5:42 PM

So you think you know Washington's big-time sports moguls?

Snyder. Leonsis. Lerner.

You probably never heard of Bruce Levenson and Ed Peskowitz, two quiet area businessmen who own the largest share of an Atlanta sports empire that includes the Atlanta NBA Hawks, NHL Thrashers and the operating rights to their home, Philips Arena.

I have been bugging Levenson for an interview for years, wondering what kind of business threw off enough cash for them to buy the Atlanta professional teams in 2004. The teams together are worth almost half a billion dollars, according to Forbes magazine.

Now I know where they got the money.

Levenson, 61, and Peskowitz, 65, created United Communications Group 33 years ago. Gaithersburg-based UCG, which has offices from Boston to New Jersey to Singapore, is an assembly of highly-specialized newletters and information services that serve healthcare, energy, mortgage banking, telecommunications, tax and even the funeral and cemetery industries.

You want to know the price of premium gasoline arriving on a tanker in New York Harbor? UCG's OPIS division has it. The effect of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans funeral homes? UCG's American Funeral Director reported it. The latest regulations on Medicare reimbursement are found in DecisionHealth. The tax pros and cons of homeownership is in their mortgage finance division. They also hold industry conferences in these sectors.

This is very lucrative stuff.

UCG wouldn't discuss revenues or profits, but it makes a lot of money on these subscription businesses. They earn enough to laugh about a $20 million misfire a few years back when they tried to build "the mother of all petroleum exchanges."

The company now has around 620 employees, down from more than 1,000 a couple of years ago before it sold some businesses. One respected financial information company, Gale, estimated UCG sales at $463 million in 2008.

"We have had a bunch of home runs," said Levenson. "We never lost money. It has really been profitable."

One reason is the culture. There are no business cards. No secretaries. Everyone answers their own phone.

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