ATLANTA (BVM) — The city of Atlanta has professional sports teams in the NFL, MLB, NBA, WNBA and MLS. It also houses two Division I college programs in Georgia Tech and Georgia State. But none of these teams have used the popular music culture of Atlanta to brand their teams.
Kenny Kelly, the owner of the ABA’s Atlanta Rappers, is not only using that culture to brand his team, but using his team to brand his own music endeavors.
Kelly is a former Division I basketball player himself from the University of Hawaii, and moved to Atlanta pursuing a music venture. Having a background in both music and basketball, he saw the unique potential of integrating the hip hop and hoops communities in Atlanta.
“No musician has used basketball to brand their music. They used the streets, money, sex, drugs, violence,” Kelly said. “Nobody has branded themselves off basketball. It’s a huge risk but knowing so much about basketball, I knew I was the one for the job.”
Conversely, Kelly is using the rich music society of Atlanta to promote his ABA basketball team. Getting that community directly involved with local basketball could help the Rappers bloom.
“I think I struck gold just with the name…when you look at mascots you usually have something that represents the city. Music is a big part of the culture and no Atlanta sports team in college, high school or pros has had music affiliation, let alone rappers,” Kelly said. “Now it’s just a matter of continuing to build and establish a foundation.”
While the Rappers are now entering their fourth year as a franchise, this all came very sporadically. By chance, Kelly got into a phone call with ABA CEO Joe Newman, who thought Kelly was calling regarding an ABA opportunity in Atlanta due to his area code.
However, Kelly was working with investors in Mississippi at the time. After his phone call with Newman, all focus transitioned to Atlanta.
“Once I heard that music was a big focus of Joe Newman’s, that he was open to adding music flavor to the ABA, I was encouraged because that’s exactly what I’ve been doing,” Kelly said. “I had the green light to spread my wings. My vision was to connect those two worlds.”
Since their inception, they have become one of the most popular teams in the league thanks to Kelly’s innovative outlook. The Rappers’ Instagram page posts highlight videos with musical beats available for lease, driving the music community to the page. They host celebrity games for the local community to attend, and their jerseys are some of the most fashionable in the league. Their uniforms are based off of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks.
Kelly is grateful for the opportunity the ABA has allowed him, and hopes the league can continue to grow in popularity. He also recognizes that his own organization has room to improve as well. As a player/owner, Kelly has a lot on his plate.
“It’s just been me so it’s not as developed as my vision. I’m just doing what I can. I probably bit off more than I can chew having a franchise of my own but I’m still here,” Kelly said. “I’ve been through three years and my brand is growing.”