“My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a signficant season ticket base. Please dont get me wrong. There was nothing threatening going on in the arean back then. i never felt uncomfortable, but i think southern whites simply were not comfortable being in an arena or at a bar where they were in the minority. On fan sites i would read comments about how dangerous it is around philips yet in our 9 years, i don’t know of a mugging or even a pick pocket incident. This was just racist garbage. When I hear some people saying the arena is in the wrong place I think it is code for there are too many blacks at the games.”
— Unedited excerpt from e-mail from Bruce Levenson to general manager Danny Ferry as published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
At the Million Man March in Washington, D.C., in 1995, African American men showed solidarity for African American businesses by waving dollar bills in the air.
Bruce Levenson must have missed this.
The soon-to-be-former Atlanta Hawks owner’s e-mail (see below) that disparaged the Hawks’ fans — black and white — will cost him his NBA franchise, as The Washington Post’s Michael Lee reported. But the e-mail isn’t just inflammatory. It doesn’t make economic sense.
Among other things, Levenson suggested in his e-mail of Aug. 25, 2012, that his team’s African American fans “scared away the whites” and that Atlanta didn’t have “enough affluent black fans to build a significant season ticket base.”
One need look no further than the U.S. Census to address Levenson’s first concern. Black people are not scaring white people away from anything in Atlanta — the city’s black population is decreasing. Atlanta was 54 percent black and 34 percent white in 2010, as compared with 62 percent black and 33 percent white in 2000. In a decade, the city Ebony once called “the Black Mecca of the South” has declined by 12 percent.
Whether those African Americans who remain in Atlanta will support an underperforming, unprofitable basketball team is a more complicated question. But what is clear: Black dollars mean black power.
“With a current buying power of $1 trillion that is forecasted to reach $1.3 trillion by the year 2017, the importance of connecting with African-American consumers is more important than ever,” Nielsen reported last year. In addition: “Currently 43 million strong, African-American consumers have unique behaviors from the total market. For example, they’re more aggressive consumers of media and they shop more frequently.”
Atlanta’s identification with the black middle class makes Levenson’s claims all the more mystifying. Though African Americans households lost more than half of their net worth in the Great Recession, NPR said Atlanta was “virtually synonymous with the black middle class” in 2011. Though it said that African American median income was much lower than that of whites, the Root pointed out in 2010 that Atlanta has “the largest concentration of black millionaires in the country.” Among them at the time: OutKast and real-estate developer Herman Russell.
Here’s the relevant part of the e-mail from Levenson to general manager Danny Ferry in full, as obtained by the Atlanta-Journal Constitution:
….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.
Before we bought the hawks and for those couple years immediately after in an effort to make the arena look full (at the nba’s urging) thousands and thousands of tickets were being giving away, predominantly in the black community, adding to the overwhelming black audience.
My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a signficant season ticket base. Please dont get me wrong. There was nothing threatening going on in the arean back then. i never felt uncomfortable, but i think southern whites simply were not comfortable being in an arena or at a bar where they were in the minority. On fan sites i would read comments about how dangerous it is around philips yet in our 9 years, i don’t know of a mugging or even a pick pocket incident. This was just racist garbage. When I hear some people saying the arena is in the wrong place I think it is code for there are too many blacks at the games.
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 pet 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.