Two weeks ago, when the Hawks were coming off of their best five-game road trip in history, I bought four tickets to the home game against the Sixers to take my wife and two boys (ages five and three) to the game.* The tickets were delivered to my office and brought to me by an administrative employee. We proceeded to have a discussion that illustrated for me why the Hawks have always struggled to draw crowds despite the fact that this is a great NBA city.
The co-worker is an African-American woman in her 20s. She grew up in the area. With a steady-paying job and no kids, I assume that she has disposable income (I can't say that I asked to see a tax return or anything like that) and would be exactly the sort of person whom the Hawks would target as a potential customer. When she saw I was going to the Hawks game, she was interested, but then volunteered that she has never really rooted for the team because they don't win anything, so what's the point? She added that she had a number of male friends growing up who were and are huge basketball fans, but they have always rooted for the Lakers, so she roots for the Lakers. Not wanting to ruin a perfectly nice conversation, I resisted the urge to discuss Kobe Bryant's big night in Eagle.
Assuming that this little anecdote is true, it says a lot about the Hawks' failure to capture this market. It's one thing for teams with large transplant populations in the area to have a lot of support at Philips. It's another for there to be so many Lakers fans in the area, given that the vast majority of these fans are not LA transplants, nor are they related in any way to such transplants. In many cities, there is a built-in expectation that basketball fans would support the local NBA team (although it is questionable that any city would lend great support to a team with the Hawks' history of never getting past the second round of the playoffs). Here, we never reached that critical mass, so when a young woman is trying to pick out a team, it's just as likely that her friends will be Lakers fans as it will that they will be Hawks fans.
Am I reading too much into one conversation?
* - The result of the trip: the five-year old was interested in the game, while his rambunctious brother would not sit in his seat and instead entertained himself by exploring our section, yanking on the railing in the aisle, and flirting with various women in the area. Both boys were especially entertained by the mini-balls in the team store. The conclusion we reached was that the five-year old can come back to games, but the three-year old is going to have to confine his unique brand of comedy to the house for the time being.