Bruce Levenson, owner of the NBA's Atlanta Hawks, is being forced to sell his team in disgrace. His crime? In an email sent three years ago, he touched on the subject of the team's dearth of ticket sales, especially season tickets, which were (and still are) the lowest in the league . He wrote about the crowds showing up late for games, too. A hate crime, surely.
FULL TEXT OF THE E-MAIL (via the Hawks):
From: Bruce Levenson
Sent: 8/25/2012 11:47:02 PM
Subject: Re: Business/Game ops
from day one i have been impressed with the friendliness and
professionalism of the arena staff -- food vendors, ushers, ticket
takers, etc. in our early years when i would bring folks from dc they
were blown away by the contrast between abe pollin's arena and philips.
some of this is attributable to southern hospital and manners but bob
and his staff do a good job of training. To this day, I can not get the
ushers to call me Bruce yet they insist on me calling them by their
2. the non-premium area food is better than most
arenas, though that is not saying much. i think there is room for
improvement and creativity. Levy is our food vendor so we don't have
much control but they have been good partners. i have wished we had some
inconic offereing like boog's barbeque at the baseball stadium in balt.
3. our new restaurant, red, just opened so too early for me to give you my thoughts.
Regarding game ops, i need to start with some background. 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.
i start looking around at other arenas. It is completely different.
Even DC with its affluent black community never has more than 15 pct
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
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
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.
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).
what time a game starts, we have the latest arriving crowd in the
league. It often looks and sounds empty when the team takes the floor.
the past two years, we have created a section of rowdy college students
that has been a big plus. And we do a lot of very clever stuff during
time outs to entertain the crowd. Our kiss cam is better done than any
in the league.
We have all the same halftime acts that other
arenas have but i question whether they make sense. people are on their
cell phones during half time. i wonder if flashing on the scoreboard "$2
off on hot dogs during halftime tonight" just as the half ends would be
a better use of our halftime dollars and make the fans happier.
do all the usual giveways and the fans are usually their loudest when
our spirit crew takes the floor to give away t-shirts. It pisses me off
that they will yell louder for a t-shirt then for our players.
player intro is flat. We manufacture a lot of noise but because of the
late arriving crowd and the fact that a lot of blacks dont seem to go as
crazy cheering (another one of my theories) as whites, it is not great.
Even when we have just returned from winnng four straight on the road, i
am one of the few people in the arena standing and cheering when our
team takes the floor. Bob has kicked around ideas like having the
starters coming down aisles rather than off the bench during intros.
Sounds cool but may highlight all the empty seats at the start of games.
enough of our fans wear hawks jerseys to games. i have just begun to
push for ideas like discount food lines for folks wearing jerseys,
special entrances, etc. I think we need a committed and perhaps
incentivized fan club. We need to realize atl is simply different than
every other city. Just adopting nba best practices is not enough. we
have to create our own.
I am rambling and could probably go on forever. If you have any specific areas you would like my thoughts on, let me know.