Say what you will about new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver: in the wake of former LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling's virulent racism, Silver isn't tolerating very much from the billionaire owners of NBA teams. The latest example being made is of Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson, who is giving up his controlling interest in the team after a nasty 2012 e-mail surfaced. The email reads in part:
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.Besides the fact Levenson badly needs to invest in an iPad email program that has spell check, he basically self-reported the email to Silver during the whole Sterling scandal. With the Clippers now firmly in the hands of Microsoft co-founder Steve Ballmer, Silver's now free to deal with Levenson, who to his credit is stepping down immediately. Not that he had a choice.
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.
My guess is that somebody ratted Levenson's email out to Silver, and Silver let Levenson fall on his own sword after seeing that he didn't have a choice, and that he was smart enough to take Silver's way out, rather than emulating Sterling's futile attempt to fight while still losing. That means Levenson is not completely stupid, unlike Sterling was.
We'll see how this gets cleaned up, and what other little nuggets of Levenson's "wisdom" surface. But it's clear to me that the second this went public, Levenson really was going to find out what a "low season ticket base" actually meant.
Don't let the door hit you on the way out, Bruce.