The end of 2014 was a public relations nightmare for the Atlanta Hawks. Owner Bruce Levenson was forced to sell the team after racist emails he sent surfaced. Hawks GM Danny Ferry also found himself on the outs when unflattering comments he made about Luol Deng became public. Meanwhile, NBA players began to take notice and Carmelo Anthony went on record with his feelings that free agents wouldn’t sign with the Hawks.
Fast forward to the present and the Hawks are still trying to mend their relationship with a fan base that is majority black. One way they’ve attempted to do so with something they call, “True to Atlanta”.
The Hawks are using the “True to Atlanta” slogan for their collaborations with Atlanta rappers like T.I., Ludacris, and Big Boi for halftime and post-game concerts. And according to Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, the concerts are in an effort to fix their relationship with the city.
“We wanted to fix our relationship with the city,” said Koonin, an Atlanta native who is white. “Southern hip-hop is born here. It’s part of our DNA. We just believe the convergence of sports and entertainment, NBA basketball and hip-hop are a natural blend to continue to grow our business.”
Fans have seemingly forgotten about the controversy but some see this as nothing more than a marketing ploy to attract more black people to the games.
However, Jesse Mills, who runs an Atlanta-based branding agency, cautioned that consumers may see the Hawks’ efforts as a marketing ploy. He said blending hip-hop performances with games was a smart strategic move to help rebuild initial trust in the black fan base, but he warned those rap shows would ultimately alienate whites and offend some blacks.
“It seems to me like they’re saying ‘We need more black people, get more rappers,” Mills said. “That’s the message I got as an educated, discerning African-American that doesn’t just listen exclusively to rap/hip-hop music in my playlist. There’s a contingency of others in Atlanta that I represent.”
I tend to agree with Mills here. If rap concerts are just the beginning of a fully thought out plan to fix their relationship with the city, then great. But if this is all a ploy to put on a show and pretend they care, then there’s a real problem here and they may be risking the majority of their fan base.