Down on the hardwood plantation

Bruce Levenson, majority owner of the Atlanta Hawks, has decided to give up his stake in the team, presumably in atonement for revealing, in a 2012 email to GM Danny Ferry, some insensitive-sounding sentiments about the fan base’s demographics:

for the first couple of years we owned the team, i didn’t much focus on game ops. then one day a light bulb went off. when digging into why our season ticket base is so small, i was told it is because we can’t get 35-55 white males and corporations to buy season tixs and they are the primary demo for season tickets around the league. when i pushed further, folks generally shrugged their shoulders. then i start looking around our arena during games and notice the following:

— it’s 70 pct black

— the cheerleaders are black

— the music is hip hop

— at the bars it’s 90 pct black

— there are few fathers and sons at the games

— we are doing after game concerts to attract more fans and the concerts are either hip hop or gospel.

Then i start looking around at other arenas. It is completely different. Even DC with its affluent black community never has more than 15 pct black audience.

Levenson, it should be noted, works out of Washington.

Anyway, he found the situation intolerable:

I have been open with our executive team about these concerns. I have told them I want some white cheerleaders and while i don’t care what the color of the artist is, i want the music to be music familiar to a 40 year old white guy if that’s our season tixs demo. i have also balked when every fan picked out of crowd to shoot shots in some time out contest is black. I have even bitched that the kiss cam is too black.

Gradually things have changed. My unscientific guess is that our crowd is 40 pct black now, still four to five times all other teams. And my further guess is that 40 pct still feels like 70 pct to some whites at our games. Our bars are still overwhelmingly black.

This is obviously a sensitive topic, but sadly i think it is far and way the number one reason our season ticket base is so low.

And many of our black fans don’t have the spendable income which explains why our f&b and merchandise sales are so low. At all white thrasher games sales were nearly triple what they are at hawks games (the extra intermission explains some of that but not all).

The Atlanta Thrashers, a National Hockey League team, were sold in 2011, and the new owners relocated them to Winnipeg, giving Atlanta the dubious distinction of having lost two NHL teams to Canadian ownership. (The Calgary Flames were the Atlanta Flames through 1980.)

Oh, and you may be certain that Levenson officially took a dim view of the racist leanings of former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling: in April he said that he would support Sterling’s ouster. So give the man credit for consistency, for volunteering for his own. But could this simply be that Levenson hopes for a Sterling-sized payoff? The Hawks, up to now, have been worth maybe one-fifth the $2 billion Steve Ballmer put up to own the Clips.

1 comment

  1. McGehee »

    8 September 2014 · 4:57 pm

    Knowing as you do my opinion of basketball in general and professional basketball in particular, it won’t surprise you to know that if I found myself part-owner of an NBA team I wouldn’t need to come up with an excuse to sell it — let alone an excuse two years old.

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