Monday, April 19, 2004

Are we all being duped?

The Chicago Bulls finished the season a miserable 23-59, 2nd worst in the league. Astonishing, considering the expectations going into the season. Perhaps even more astonishing is the fact that the Bulls averaged 19,736 fans a game, 3rd highest in the league. How is something like this possible???

Well its simple, says Rick Morrisey, Bulls fans are stupid:

You think differently. I don't know exactly who "you" are, but there are a lot of you. You're the people who continue to go to games despite the fact the team has the bouquet of lumpy milk.

You were the reason the Bulls' average attendance was 19,736 this season, third-highest in the NBA. You helped the Bulls finish in the top 10 in attendance each of the six seasons since Michael Jordan finished collecting those championship trophies.

You filled the United Center to 91 percent capacity this season to watch a team that won 28 percent of its games.

Who are you people and what can you possibly be thinking?

It certainly can't be the product on the court that's luring you. There are only so many times you can watch Eddy Curry go for 12 points and no rebounds.

The Bulls are selling something that has almost nothing to do with the game. It's a lot like Wrigley Field, only without the sunshine and halter tops. It makes absolutely no sense for a family of four to plunk down $200 for tickets, parking and food to see a Bulls game, but people are doing it.

"Maybe what we're selling isn't all about winning basketball," said Steve Schanwald, the team's executive vice president for business operations. "Maybe it's about the overall entertainment experience. I think fans have been understanding of the complexities and the time it takes to build a champion."

I think these fans fell on their heads as babies.

There is nothing about this team that would make you think next year is going to be much better. But fans don't want to be left out when the winning starts, even if the winning appears to be about 100 years away. Some of you have bought into the paranoia that the glory days are right around the corner and that you might miss out if you don't renew your season tickets.

"We developed a 25,000-name waiting list for season tickets which we promoted extensively [during the championship years], not just to grow the list but to reinforce to those who had season tickets what a valuable commodity they possessed—one they should [keep] because people are waiting in line to get them from you," Schanwald said.

The Bulls' season-ticket base is down from what it was during the championship years, though 93 percent of their season-ticket holders from the 2002-2003 season renewed for this past season. The Bulls have reacted to the decline by selling 3,000 group tickets a night, many of them at discounted prices, in the upper reaches of the United Center.

Schanwald is a genius at selling, and we're idiots for buying it for so long. But at some point fans will get fed up, right?

"I don't think fans need to see a championship team every year, but they need to see progress," Schanwald said. "That's the promise we hope to deliver."


Sure, Morrissey is insulting me, probably you, and the many basketball fans of Chicago, but he has a point. There is a certain type of paranoia about keeping your Bulls tickets. Tickets in the dynasty years were like going to the super bowl, every single game. Imagine not only seeing the best team in basketball, but also seeing the best player ever. Needless to say, it was a huge deal. And the furor caused the waiting list grew to mythical proportions, so much that  a number like 25,000 doesn't surprise me one bit.

However, I don't think this 'paranoia' is such a bad thing. It's true Rick, we want to be there for it to all happen again. We want to see the growth of another dynasty, because we as Bulls fans saw first hand how special it can be. One of the great things about rooting for a young(albeit bad) team is that you can see the progress. Now obviously the Bulls youngsters haven't shown much of that, but wouldn't it be nice in a few years to see Eddy grab 25 rebounds on two straight nights and say to yourself "I remember him getting abused on the boards by the likes of Mark Blount and Walter McCarty". As much as I'm angry that it didn't happen this year, I know I still pine for that day in the future when I will be watching game 1 of the playoffs on TNT (or maybe even the United Center).

Morrissey insists, " If fans were knowledgeable, they'd know to stay away until the Bulls prove they're serious about winning." I have heard this argument all the time, yet I have NEVER heard of a situation where the fans all stop coming and all of a sudden management goes on to concede "well, we fooled them long enough, time to win them back!" In fact, its always more likely that teams will cut payroll in response to lower attendance, not raise it.

I don't think its naive to believe that Paxson, Skiles  and Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf are serious about winning. Looking at it purely monetarily, the Bulls are in fact over the salary cap, and Reinsdorf has said that he will gladly pay the luxury tax if the team shows improvement. And while they have made questionable moves, I can't think of one that didn't made me think it didn't have the team's best interest at heart.

Rick Morrisey, I like to believe I'm a knowledgeable Bulls fan. And I know many other Bulls fans who are the same. And while you think we're dumb, one thing we all know is that there are more of you than there are of us. And I know exactly who "you" are. After Michael left you took a paid vacation from this team, while us true fans stayed for what we knew could be a long road. You are a Michael Jordan Fan, and your kind gobbled up the pricey seats for some time now, fortunately giving free ones to us now that you don't want them anymore. You were the type of fan that was there for 2 Wizards games a year when Michael would grace us with his presence and be cheered as he touched the ball while the home team was booed.

But the fans there now, 19 thousand strong, are not being fooled. We feel just as much disgust when Jamal Crawford jacks up an errant 3-pointer or when Tyson Chandler gets muscled out of the paint. But there will deservedly get more joy and satisfaction when this team-with the current personnel or not-makes it back to the playoffs and beyond.

But don't worry Rick, I can fill you in on the details of the lean years when you're watching game 1.