Sixers rebuilding an empty house
The Sixers played the Bobcats Thursday morning, and it didn't start off so well.
12-0 Bobcats with 8 minutes left in the first— Keith Pompey (@PompeyOnSixers) October 17, 2013
Deficits like this will be part of the Sixers' current plan, which differs greatly from the team's entrance into 2012.
Andrew Bynum sat down at the table next to Jason Richardson, in front of a crowd that included Batman and a raucously booed Mike Missanelli. Bynum had to say very little to coax noise out of fans who were so excited they'd scream if a bird flew by the Constitution Center window.
“I'm going to play with a high level of intensity... Hopefully, they can match my energy,” Bynum said of his newest fans.
Finishing 24th out of 30 NBA teams in attendance last year, the fans still managed to easily surpass Bynum's intensity.
Had things gone the way they were supposed to - Bynum becoming the star that the talented supporting cast already in place needed - the Sixers may have been playing in front of a packed house. But selling a losing team to a frustrated fan base is a raw deal - even more so in the NBA, where attendance is withering.
NBA arenas in general aren’t selling out, or selling much, or in some cases, even selling. Trouble with drawing interest from fans in 2012 led to more and more free ticket giveaways, which instead of bringing more people in, let them believe the tickets weren’t worth anything. If they found something better to do, then it’s no loss to save themselves a train ride.
Meanwhile, ticket prices went down, leading to things like a Sixers fan buying a whole row of property in the Wells Fargo Center for less than a dollar.
The challenge now is even greater for the Sixers’ sales and public relations staff: This year, the Constitution Center was vacant of deafening optimism. Now it's all about hurrying up and getting the season behind them so Nerlens Noel, Michael Carter-Williams and everyone else can have a year of development under their belt and the team can be bad enough to grab that draft pick and get better.
There are still going to be seats in the Wells Fargo Center, though, and they will all be pointed toward the action. Which means that there will be those who are tasked with getting you to come see a basketball team that you know, that they know, and that they know you know is not coming home with a trophy.
The score is 50-24 Bobcats with 2:39 left in the half— Keith Pompey (@PompeyOnSixers) October 17, 2013
Sixers CEO Scott O'Neill knows the challenge ahead for his sales staff after a poor showing in 2012-13.
"I wasn't here last year, so I don't want to focus on that," O'Neill said of the good vibes heading into last season. "But I will tell you it was good to have optimism and hope going into last year, so it's just a completely different environment and situation."
Optimism and hope are now longer-term for the Sixers, which is the inspiration behind their new mantra: "Together we build." They're even willing to put it above your name on a billboard. You're just going to have to buy some Sixers tickets first.
Dramatic promos like this will likely pop up throughout the year. Without making any promises or spinning a lie, it makes you a part of things and rewards you for buying tickets. A young ticket sales rep has a big job ahead of them, and part of O'Neill's job is to convince them that this isn't going to be impossible.
"One thing that we like to talk to the reps about is the plan we have in place," O'Neill said. "It's a really interesting plan, when you have a team that it's been north of a decade since we've been competing at a really high level. The team's kind of wallowed in that dreaded 36-42 win range.
"If you're a young sales rep, you're certainly talking about NBA basketball, and the live spectacle, the incredible drama unfolding every night. You talk about the world's greatest athletes, for sure. You talk about the great entertainment experience you'll have, whether you're entertaining for business, or bringing your family, or you're on a date, it's a terrific way to spend an evening."
It's laughable to think fans were leaving games this past year discussing the wondrous spectacle of the sport, despite another double digit Sixers loss and Bynum's hair spending another game above his street clothes. A fan of basketball does not need to be convinced that it is a fun sport to watch. They do need to be convinced that what the Sixers are playing is basketball.
"It's like a stock," O'Neill said. "I think that the best time to buy a stock is when it's low and it's on its way up."
It's true that seats within an affordable range could be priced into the stratosphere in a few years, should a contender emerge from this rebuild.
"We're looking to build a championship-defending team, and that takes time, some patience, and even a little luck along the way. So we're doing everything we can to make this an organization that's going to compete at the highest level," O'Neill said.
"We feel that we know where we are and we know where we're going and we understand what that gap is. But in a few years, the seats you can get now, you won't be able to get. We've seen this happen in several markets," O'Neill concluded. "I think that's what we talk about."
The Sixers sales office has their work cut out for them, regardless of how effectively the front office can sugarcoat a rebuild. Noel is still healing, Carter-Williams has some doubters to dispel, that draft pick isn't going to tank for itself, but the organization has been transparent about their plans.
There will probably be some out-of-town clients entertained at a Sixers game this season. Maybe some friends who figured they had nothing better to do. But for the fans, the Sixers are asking for trust, while offering hope.
The Sixers second unit is showing some energy.— Keith Pompey (@PompeyOnSixers) October 17, 2013
And maybe, for now, an entire row of seats.