“I wrote an e-mail two years ago that was inappropriate and offensive. I trivialized our fans by making clichéd assumptions about their interests (i.e., hip hop vs. country, white vs. black cheerleaders, etc.) and by stereotyping their perceptions of one another (i.e., that white fans might be afraid of our black fans). By focusing on race, I also sent the unintentional and hurtful message that our white fans are more valuable than our black fans.”Bruce Levenson
The poor attendance found at Atlanta Hawks basketball games makes a great deal of sense after reading controlling owner Bruce Levenson’s letter decrying the team’s inability to convince corporations and white men aged 33-55 to buy season tickets. Levenson’s own bigotry, his dismissive attitude toward African Americans, led to inadequate marketing tactics—which then led to poor ticket sales.
Atlanta is a black city. Black people make up 54 percent of the population as of the 2010 census. To target your marketing to middle-aged white men in a city that is majority black is woefully inept. And if your product can be enjoyed by all nearby residents? Racist. Levenson erroneously targeted white residents due to the belief that black residents do not possess the disposable income required to purchase tickets and other Hawks-related material. His beliefs were off base. Atlanta is home to a large number of affluent and famous African Americans—Americans Levenson should have been targeting instead.
Atlanta is the home of black celebrity, and celebrity sells tickets. The Knicks, currently excelling only in their ability to be mediocre, routinely play to packed houses. Knicks’ ticket prices are astronomical. Why? Because celebrities attend on a regular basis and the stadium is safely nestled within the city’s largest tourist trap. The rule of celebrity remains even when the coasts change. When the performance of the Los Angeles Lakers slips in quality, fans still attend Lakers games to see and be seen. A Lakers home game is an event—fashion show, networking conference, photo opportunity, and speed-dating service in one.
Hawks home games must be events in the same manner. If black celebrities routinely attended Hawks games, and pictures of their attendance were disseminated on various gossip blogs, fans—of all races—would follow. And ticket sales would increase. Perhaps it is even worth the investment to pay Atlanta-based celebrities to appear initially—real celebrities, not reality stars. The third Captain America movie will be filming in the city soon. Footage of Anthony Mackie and Chris Evans appearing regularly at Hawks games would do more for ticket sales than a Hawks winning streak.
Finally, celebrity must not only be found in the stands, but on the court as well. Sadly, we are no longer in an era where simple skill is enough. Americans want quality hoops, yes, but they also want showmen. LeBron and Kobe are more than players; they are personalities. The Hawks need a player that fascinates fans off the court as well as on—a charmer worthy of “Black Hollywood.”
All eyes are on the Hawks now due to Levenson’s antics. Perhaps a new owner with a vision unclouded by racism will be able to see the potential in the Hawks and craft the quality franchise Atlanta’s residents deserve.