Earlier this week, Colin Cowherd of ESPN made some comments on his show regarding the lack of fans at home Pacers games. Not long after that the Twitterverse exploded with Pacers fans and well known sports columnists going after Cowherd. The reports were that he had said racism might have been part of the cause and the Hoosiers didn’t take too kindly to that. From what I was able to discern from his twitter account, he seemed to backtrack a little bit on that but not much. Here is what he said:
“You're holding an organization to a standard that happens because of race. There's no other explanation why people don't go to Pacers games. Nobody's saying everybody in Indianapolis is racist. Nobody is saying Indianapolis won't support African-American athletes. What we're saying is Indianapolis punishes the Pacers more than they punish the Colts for indiscretions off the field or off the court, and a lot of that is racial.”
The year was 2004 and the Pacers were once again in the hunt for the playoffs. On a cold night in December, the Pacers were facing another playoff team, the Detroit Pistons in Detroit. The game was a rematch of the previous seasons eastern conference finals and tensions were high, to say the least. Late in the game the Pacers were up big and then Ron Artest (sorry, Ron, Meta World Peace is ridiculous) fouled Ben Wallace (some say hard, replay doesn’t really agree) and the fight was on. Wallace shoved Artest, both benches cleared, and the arguments began. As the teams continued to argue, Artest laid down on the scorer’s table. A fan then threw a drink at Artest hitting him in the stomach. Artest charged into the stands and went after the fan. Chaos ensued and more fans and Pacers players got involved and it quickly turned into a nightmare. Thus the Malice in the Palace was born (Pacers won by the way). ESPN showed it best so it is below.
After that, things slowly went downhill, as the “thugs” were traded away and the losses began to pile up. I can’t really blame the fans for turning away from the team. The previous team had embarrassed our city and now we had a team that couldn’t find the W column. Even I stopped paying a lot of attention to the NBA. It didn’t help that I really started to prefer the college style of play to the NBA style. Around then the economy hit the toilet and it just made matters worse.
What Cowherd did make clear was that there is no excuse for poor attendance at Bankers Life Fieldhouse now. He said “The Pacers are fantastic, have been for several years, nobody goes to the games. Your tickets are reasonably priced. Your team is outstanding. The locker room is full of good guys.” Don’t forget we have a pretty awesome stadium. I completely agree with Cowherd on this point. The “thug” days are over (even though some people still refer to them as thugs according to Cowherd and Facebook posts). The Pacers are fighting for wins and are battling for first place in the central division. So why are we not filling BLF? Where are the fans? Here are some of my thoughts.
At the time of the Pacers decline, the Colts were on fire. Indianapolis shifted from a basketball down to a football town. Many people have long since said that we are too small of a market to support several professional teams, and as much as I don’t by it, maybe it is true. Despite a better economy it could be the fact that more people are saving money and maybe picking the Colts over the Pacers. Could it be that more people saving rather than spending, an effect well documented after the Great Depression. I think yes. So it is possible that this is a contributing factor.
The Marris Minute offered an interesting thought that goes along with this. Fox Sports Indiana televises all of the games not on ESPN or TNT. So it could be that more people are electing to save money and stay at home and watch the game. I agree with him in saying that a threat to black out the games could increase the attendance.
Another argument I have seen is that the Pacers don’t have a big star like Baby BronBron (LeBron James) to draw in the crowds. During the rebuilding years, James would get standing ovations for dunks at the Fieldhouse…it made me sick. The Utah Jazz don’t have a big name player and they rank near the top in attendance. I don’t think we need a star to fill the stands either because we Hoosiers prefer a different type of ball. We prefer Indiana basketball, smart basketball with lots of passing, taking fouls etc. A type of basketball that you see embodied in the college game. IU does this extremely well. I’ve watched the Pacers play this year; they play Indiana basketball (with slight adjustments for the NBA). When I saw them here in Denver, I was amazed at how well they moved the ball around to create open looks. Yet, still no fans.
Another reason I saw suggested was that, Indiana college ball has been surging and so more people have returned to it. While this is true I don’t believe it. Yes, while the Pacers were rebuilding, Butler jumped onto the national stage…twice. Purdue continued to make it far into the tournament with a bunch of Hoosier kids. Notre Dame has gained lots of steam. IU was poised to win the national championship in 2007 (in my opinion) up until Kelvin Sampson happened. IU is back and better than ever now but so are the Pacers. It’s basketball after, and we are known for our basketball even if we show more love to the Colts.
One thing, I think could be a factor is that not a lot of people live downtown where they could conveniently get to the stadium. It is estimated that about 20,000 people live in downtown Indy. Using Denver as example (they can pack the house for a Nuggets game), nearly 3 times the people live in downtown Denver than in Indianapolis. Granted Denver-Metro is much larger than Indianapolis-Metro, Indianapolis is still a bigger city than Denver so a larger percent of Denverites live downtown. I know you can find cheap places to park in Indy but gas isn’t cheap and parking isn’t always either so that could be a hindrance. Denver has a pretty expansive light rail system that stretches far out into the suburbs of the metro area and I take it everywhere. The fans here love taking the light rail (as evidenced by how crowded they are before and after games), especially since one line takes you right to the stadium. I think a better working mass transit system could help growth downtown and possibly increase attendance.
So, really I think there are a number of factors that could be contributing to a lack of attendance so I’ll break it down into three categories.
· Lack of downtown population/alternate modes of transportation
· Lasting effects of the recession
· Television coverage
· Growth of support for the Colts
· Resurgence of college basketball in Indiana
· Some distrust because of the “thug” days
· Racism (Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis star did a good job refuting it)
· Lack of a big shot player