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Wednesday, October 27, 2010
The city of Philly: Not feeling the Heat

By Henry Abbott

PHILADELPHIA -- They may have angered 29 teams by hogging all the best free agents, but one of the central tenets of the NBA season was the Miami Heat were going to reciprocate a little by spreading the blessings of box office revenue around the league.

Heat road sellouts in 29 cities have been seen as a given.

It certainly happened on opening night in Boston, where the house was beyond packed and word was that seats were selling for more than last summer's Finals tickets.

But this is Philadelphia -- a city that's a little more depressed, a little less into basketball and far less expectant of meeting the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.

It's also a city that believes in baseball, and the World Series starts tonight.

Nevertheless, the Sixers doubled down. They opened parts of the Wells Fargo Arena that are normally closed, including standing room here and there, and seats in the "halo" around the very top of the arena.

So, does Philadelphia love NBA basketball enough to sell this game out? Did this game motivate the City of Brotherly Love?

Looking around the arena at tip-off, there was a young woman in the lower bowl with an "I hate LeBron James" sign. But there were not the huge swaths of empty seats that mar many Sixers games. Here and there, though, vacancies. Late arrivals?

Halfway through the second quarter, I walked into the box office. There were no lines, and several windows open. I asked to buy a ticket, and the guy behind the glass was happy to help.

He showed me a seat map, and said I could choose from any one of five lower bowl sections. Prices started at $140 in the corner, and went up from there. Lower bowl seats near the 50-yard line were available for less than $300 each. There were also seats in the halo for $50.

I said I needed two together, and he said no sweat, we could do that in any of those sections.

Wow. As of halftime, the official attendance was still listed at "not counted yet," but this is no sellout.

I walked outside, where a scalper immediately asked how many seats I needed. I asked him how business was, and he shrugged.

I asked why it was that this ticket was hotter than the Finals in Boston, but not even a sellout here.

"It's a dreadful city," he said, walking away into the night, before I could ask my last question: If this game isn't going to sell out, will any? This is one of the Eastern cities the Heat only visit once, so they won't be back again. The Lakers are due on December 17. Other than that, the best hope is an April homestand that has potential to have playoff implications. If you're a scalper, you have to cross your fingers that Doug Collins can bring some NBA excitement back to Philadelphia, because right now the hottest ticket in town seems to be in front of a TV.