This artist’s rendering of André Börg is exactly how I had pictured when inventing it a couple days ago. Yes, I said ‘it’, not ‘him’, because André Börg is not a person, it is a cause, a belief, a foundation of thought that few men roaming this earth can…er…let me stop before this gets out of hand.
There’s some NBA “news” to talk about, the players and owners held a collective bargaining session which David Stern wasn’t too impressed with. He feels that the players aren’t acting in good faith, and that the two sides have between them a “very wide gap”. Union president Derek Fisher echoed the same sentiments by saying, “We’re still very, very far apart”, before dubiously falling to the ground expecting a charge to be called. Judging by the quotes coming out of these meetings, I’m thinking that there’s a better chance of the Republicans finally accepting a black president before Stern concedes that it’s the owners’ fault that player salaries have burgeoned.
Impact on the Raptors on all this? Well, that was written about a little while ago (pros, cons) so we got the individuals covered. The real collateral damage isn’t any negative impact on the players, it’s how MLSE will suffer. Whereas most teams are supposedly losing money, the Raptors are not one of them so they’ll be hurt financially more than most. There’s usually a pre-season game in a Canadian city somewhere, so that will go out the window. Training camp is also used by the Raptors to promote the club, having being held in Ottawa and Vancouver the last two years, that will probably be shortened and localized if games are lost.
The money recouped from pre-season games might be negligible, but if training camp is shortened, the number of pre-season games will also be cut back. Most companies’ sponsorship and advertising programs are often planned well in advance, and the uncertainty of a season will force would-be sponsors to look elsewhere, costing the Raptors.
The attendance figures are already on the decline, the success of the 2006-07 season saw a sharp rise in attendance the following year, but since then the numbers have dipped:
This 15% dip in attendance over the last four years has correlated with a rise in payroll as well: $65.6M, $73.2M, $67.9M and $70M. The salaries for next season won’t be as bad, with the current payroll at $46.9M.
The concerning undercurrent in all these numbers is fan interest. What is the current fan interest in the Raptors? I’m not talking about hardcore fans like you and I, I’m talking about the casual fan who likes to shoot the shit at the watercooler because he caught a bit of the game. The guy who’ll take his family to a Raptors game because he got free tickets, but will spend $75 on food. The kid in middle-school who’s still deciding on whether he’ll spend his allowance on a DeRozan jersey, or on concert tickets. It’s that fan that the Raptors are in danger of losing because of their poor run in recent years, combined with NBA basketball being missing entirely from the scene.
Basketball is still a novelty act in Canada, it might not appear so if you’re living in Toronto, but travel to other Canadian outposts and you’d have to remind the local newspaper’s sports journalist that there’s a Raptors game somewhere out there tonight. The internet has done well to close this gap, but it still relies on the local mainstream media to plant the seed of interest (as Mark Cuban pointed out in his excellent post two and a half years ago). If a lockout does strike, the danger of losing the 50-50 or casual fan is high. Not to mention that the ingrained, albeit unfair, picture of the selfish NBA player will be repainted with even brighter colors. Yes, people will conveniently ignore that hockey lost a whole season to a lockout.
This fan doesn’t see the big picture of rebuilding, all they see is wins and losses, and arguably this is the fan that MLSE is most motivated to attract. You and I will be here through thick and thin, but a more fickle creature won’t have the patience to get through the tough times. Instant gratification is what professional sports are about, and the losing veiled by rebuilding might not be enough. In years past, the losing was masked by hope in the form of Damon Stoudamire, Vince Carter, and even Chris Bosh. Now, it’s harder to conceal the defects because there isn’t a player on the roster that the Raptors can hope to sell at a price high enough that someone will overlook the product as a whole.
The brass recognizes the numbers presented above, and the change from Triano to Casey has as much to do with the on-court product than it has to do with off-court marketing. The club has decided not to sell a player, but an entirely philosophy, a paradigm rooted in defense and effort. Dwane Casey is the standard bearer for this movement which, if you read between the lines, says that the club recognizes that the team doesn’t have any established players to sell to the public, but possesses a coach who is very much different than what was there before. And in this case, different is meant to be seen as good. It’ll be truly sad that after the fanfare of installing Dwane Casey as coach, reshuffling the front office, and stashing the draft pick, there won’t be a season for fans to enjoy, and more importantly in the long-term, provide the metrics with which to measure Colangelo.