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Anthony Schoettle of the Indiana Business Journal writes about the state of the Pacers, and frankly, it's troubling.
First of all, there is speculation that the Pacers have been losing money steadily in recent years. We have heard unconfirmed recent reports of red ink at so many teams (Seattle, Portland, Utah, Memphis, and New Orleans off the top of my head) that it makes you wonder, just a tad, how things are going for the league in general.
This particular report, however, seems to be yet another sign that whatever Indiana's beef might be with NBA basketball, it might have something to do with culture, or even skin color.
The Pacers' advertising agency did a whole bunch of research and decided to break one of the cardinal rules of sports marketing by keeping the players out of the campaign entirely, opting instead to feature their (older, whiter) coach, Jim O'Brien. Schoettle writes:
The research, he said, was used to align what Pacers' fans wanted with what the team and management represented.
O'Brien was chosen as the primary spokesman for the early part of the campaign, Hirschauer said, because research showed the older, corporate audience that buys season tickets finds him credible.
Part of the shift, Hirschauer said, is because many Pacers fans in this "conservative market" don't identify with the "hip-hop" culture some in the NBA have cultivated in recent years.
Pacers fans are more interested in things like hustle, teamwork and fundamentally sound basketball than individual stars, he said.
My first thought is: Would you, Indiana fans, answer a survey like that if your team had LeBron James or Dwyane Wade? They have hip-hop credibility, but they also win, right? Isn't that the main thing?
My second thought is: Perceptions of race are assuredly an unspoken force in those last two paragraphs, right?
My third thought is: Of course, there are several other factors at play here.
Historically, one common reason teams have not marketed their star -- in this case, Jermaine O'Neal -- is because that star is on the trading block. You don't want to spend a bunch of money making TV commercials starring a player who could be L.A. before the trading deadline.
This market research could be publicized here as a simple cover for that fact.
Also, it's a fan base that has had gotten jaded from all the legal trouble lately. Maybe people associate Stephen Jackson's misadventures and the like with hip hop.
And, in fairness, those same fans have supported plenty of black players in the past.
Are the Pacers feeling the need to appear whiter? Some NBA insiders have volunteered to me that they think it's so.
Exhibit A is O'Brien as the campaign's star.
Exhibit B is the last season's big trade. Indiana shipped out talented black players Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington (and others) for the overpaid, less talented, and much whiter Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Troy Murphy (and others).
Indiana fans, if you're happy to cheer for black players, you might want to make sure the team knows that now. Pick up a phone, send them an email ... You don't want it on your conscience if the team ends up trading Jermaine O'Neal for Raef LaFrentz and cap filler.