Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson is no Donald Sterling. Much has been made about an email Mr Levenson sent to his Hawks front office in 2012. In the email Bruce Levenson enquires with his staff, including General Manager Danny Ferry, about how the Hawks can attract a more diverse fan base; in particular, the 35-55 year white male season ticket owners. In the email he included what he felt may be some deterrents including; mostly black cheerleaders and the arena constantly playing hip hop music during the games. He felt this wasn’t attracting “fathers and sons” but rather a young black demo. There was other language in the email that was indeed ignorant and lacking of cultural understanding but not bigoted like Mr. Sterling statements. This past weekend stories began to break with news that Levenson was voluntarily selling his interest in the team and that he apologized for what he deemed inappropriate remarks. I even saw a few stories were news entities got the Rev. Al Sharpton’s view on this matter; like his take on this incident is really necessary.
Mr Levenson wasn’t wrong to ask the questions he asked. He is an NBA owner trying to fill seats in the Phillips Arena. Corporate seats and suites are the ticket cornerstones of ALL sports franchises in every city. If you can’t sell those seats your franchise is in trouble. Like any owner of a pro sports franchise or their marketing departments whom are trying to increase the bottom line, Levenson has the right to wonder and ask tough questions about diversity as it pertains to tickets sells and filling corporate seats. Some of the assertions that he made are made all the time in the music business. In marketing meetings for artist album releases, strategic solutions are routinely discussed for attracting the right demo whether it be sex, age, race or a combination of all. For example if a rookie hip hop artist’s debut album does really well with mainstream audiences (achieved gold status in within 6 months, 2 singles in the top 10 on 2 different charts), on his/her next album release, there will be a push from label executives to broaden the message, especially for the radio singles. This is done to do what? Attract more fans to garner more album sells. This may mean that said hip hop artist may have go from gritty and underground to a more polished and mainstream image.
But back to Bruce Levenson. It should be noted that several years back Levenson tried to unsuccessfully sell his stake in the Hawks. Has anybody considered that maybe Mr. Levenson is using a ‘pump fake’ or simply put, throwing us off guard with the red herring? NBA franchises can get top dollar these days. In light of the Donald Sterling fiasco, maybe Levenson’s apology is really a ploy to get out. After all he’s wanted out for a while and now, in lieu of everything, its not like the NBA is going to challenge his wanting sell now. Would Levenson really cut off his face in the court of public opinion because he had ‘a sudden change of heart?’ Owners are more shrewd than that.
It should also be noted that there are lots of African Americans in Atlanta in the 35-55 demo doing well. There are also plenty of African American business owners in that community. The city of Atlanta is 54% black. It is no secret that the ATL is considered a popular haven for African American culture. With major Corporations like Coca Cola literally sitting down the street from Phillips Arena, one has to wonder why the Hawks can’t sell seats. Atlanta Falcons games are always packed and so are Braves games. I have been to many Hawks games and I can tell you 50 percent of the fans come to cheer for the visiting team. Until recently, the Hawks were a pretty mediocre team at times. NBA teams need big name players for fans to come see. The Hawks haven’t had a Hall of Fame caliber player since the Dominique Wilkins days. Maybe if the team got a marquee name like Kevin Durant or even better, consistently contended for titles, seats would fill. Bruce Levenson was ignorant and misinformed in his thoughts and words but not even close to Donald Sterling. But what about Danny Ferry’s response to the email….hmmm.
-Brandon TNT West