There's no doubt the Blazers have shown improvement so far this season. This is not only reflected in their win-loss record, but in the heart and effort they've displayed on the floor and in the public impression given by their charismatic young players. Despite this attendance is not increasing. Yes, there are people in the rafters taking advantage of the discount season ticket packages, but the lower bowl still appears half empty at least on most nights. Even for weekend games against popular teams announced attendance (which as we all know doesn't necessarily correspond to actual fannies in seats) seems to hover around 2/3 of capacity. Weeknight games and less attractive matchups draw less. The team is averaging 15,911 announced, but again those numbers are usually viewed with suspicion and even if they're dead accurate, it's still not enough even to equal last year's disappointing showing (16,594).
I would surmise that the hardcore Blazer fan base is well aware of the team's steps towards renewal and that word is leaking slowly out among the more casual (or disaffected) portion of the fan base as well. I would also suggest that the team could take steps to help this word spread faster and be accepted with fewer reservations. Despite this three months of relative bliss (a couple of Zach lawsuits excluded) a significant chasm still divides the team and many potential ticket-buyers. More healing work needs to be done.
In that spirit I would like to offer what I, as a fan, think would make people feel more comfortable with the team, secure in its new direction, and confident in investing their hearts and money in it again. I am not a lawyer. I am not a businessman. I do not claim to speak as either. I do not know if any of these suggestions are legal or practical from a business sense. This is merely an offering from one fan's point of view. If you were to say, "Forget everything else...what will make the average fan happy enough to invest in the team again?" the list might look like this:
1. Buy back the Rose Garden and then make a public statement that the team will remain in Portland.
You can't get much more basic. As long as there is a cloud over the team, veiled threats of future action, uncertainty over the team's very existence, most people won't buy into it. Why would I want to invest thousands of dollars, dozens of hours, and a large part of my heart in season tickets when I'm not sure the rug won't be pulled out from under me next year? How can I get excited about all of these wonderful young players when I don't even know if the team will be in town by the time they become mature stars? It's a shame that a lot of this Trailblazers-P.A.M. stuff had to be conducted in public anyway. The only way to make up for using the threat of moving as a bargaining chip is to show it won't happen.
It may be that there's no way to do this and keep financial integrity. But there's no way to keep it like it is and keep financial integrity either. At least if you bite the bullet and get your building back you can start anew. Everybody's made bad deals at one time or another. Normal folks usually bite the bullet, write it off, and learn from the experience. If it makes it easier, just start the accounting in your head from the day you got the Garden back and dismiss everything that came before as an unfortunate mistake. You'll be a lot happier and so will the fans.
2. Stop the war with the Oregonian.
I must admit that this has gotten marginally better since this summer's nadir. Still, memories of doughnuts and blog accusations are still fresh. Here's a reminder next time you feel like dragging the paper through the mud in public...nobody cares. Sure, you'll get a few hardcore fanboys on message sites taking your side and cursing the media, but those hardcore fanboys are probably already buying your tickets. (Well...the cheap ones anyway.) Any reasonable person who's on the fence will throw up their hands in disgust and walk away from this kind of thing. They won't rally behind you. They won't fight against you. They won't even tell you how silly the whole thing is. They'll just leave. Sports is an escape for most folks. People see enough bickering in their homes and offices...they don't want it around their leisure time activities too. Besides, every darn writer at the paper penned flowery odes to the team's new energy and direction in the first couple weeks of the season when everybody just hushed up and played hard.
3. Pick the most charismatic voice in the organization and let them be the public face for most interactions from now on.
Everybody has strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes the best basketball folks shouldn't be in front of a microphone or talking to a columnist. The President of the United States has a press secretary to deal with day-to-day interactions and only addresses the public as a whole on important occasions. Why doesn't the team? For the Blazers' purposes it doesn't matter who the guy is as long as he's got the charm. If that's Patterson, make it Patterson. If it's Pritchard, make it Pritchard. If it's Sasse make it Sasse, if it's the fourth-floor janitor then hire him to do it. Give him a title like "Executive Vice President of Systemic Paradigms" so it sounds like he's important and knows what he's doing, let him sit in on organizational meetings so he can see what's going on, and then feed him 22 talking points to translate for interviews. Every executive in the place already says, "It was a committee decision" when discussing crucial matters anyway, so it wouldn't be like he was lying or covering up. Put up a couple blog entries about what a crucial role he plays in making team decisions and everybody's happy. And that's just if you pick the janitor. If the guy's already in the chain of command, so much the better. Whichever, make sure every word that comes out of your mouth from now on passes over the pearly teeth of an honest-looking smile.
And by the way, the first thing that guy should do is sit down in a closed room with Canzano, Quick, and Tokito and say, "What do you want to know? I'm at your disposal..." And at the end of the meeting should come the words, "Call me anytime."
4. Start spoiling long-term season ticket holders.
As we have pointed out a couple times and as Dwight Jaynes picked up on last week, one of the side-effects of the cheap season ticket deals has been to make your long-term ticket base feel left out or cheated. You spent $3 million for the right to draft Sergio. You spent $1 million to move up one spot and get Brandon Roy. Lord only knows how big the total advertising budget is. If I ran the show I would take a couple hundred thousand bucks and shamelessly spoil the people who have stuck it out over the past few years. After all, the idea is to build the season ticket base, not reduce it. I know the Blazers offer special dinners and meet-and-greets, but those only affect the people who can go to them and whatever effect those individuals get isn't distributed among the group as a whole. Creating individual loyalty isn't enough. You have to give folks a group identity if you want them to be solid. I've said this before, but with just a portion of that $200,000 you could custom print jerseys for your most faithful 1,000 or 2,000 customers, each with their own name on it, that they could wear to games for years for everybody to see. Make them proud they belong to something. Make them part of the team. Forge a unified feeling. And say, "Thank You" in the process. Can you imagine the buzz the day all of those packages got delivered, along with an invitation to wear these to the upcoming games? Make it even bigger by having the players deliver a couple dozen of them personally at the people's doorsteps.
5. Be open and accommodating in your cyberspace relations.
This will be seen as self-serving so I'll just touch briefly on it. The Blazers have among the largest and most passionate online presence of any team in the league...certainly of any relatively poor team in the league. It is simply a crime not to take advantage of hordes of people who are willing to spread your gospel. I've said this before and I will say it again: it is not the same when you do it yourself, even if what you're doing yourself is otherwise good. Every politician knows that grassroots support and word of mouth is a hundred times more valuable than anything they could say about themselves, even in the finest speech. The Blazers online policy should be simple: make it easy for others to say wonderful things about them and then encourage everybody to go read those wonderful things people are saying. This is especially true if the people saying those things are the very fans you're trying to attract. The organization can try to control information and access and limit discussion to venues they control but it is in no way to their advantage to do so.
6. Continue the emphasis on character as well as talent.
The only way this doesn't matter is if you win a championship. That washes everything away. Short of that, even if the team makes the playoffs again, if people can't relate to the players and don't like them they'll have a hard time supporting them on a consistent basis. Everybody's in love with Martell, Jarrett, Brandon, and Lamarcus right now not just because they're so talented but because they give off the impression of being decent folks you can relate to. Most everybody ended up hating the very talented and perpetually-playoff-bound Bonzi Wells for just the opposite reason. Note that players don't have to be saints. Bill Walton experimented all over the place with who-knows-what. People pretty much knew that Jerome Kersey was a wild guy. But those players had the good sense to not make those actions overtly headline-worthy and to present a reasonably professional public image. Nobody expects choirboys, but players have to have a little discretion and to know what's what.
7. Have patience.
People say at minimum it takes half as long as you were in a fractured relationship to heal from it. The relationship between the team and its fan base has been fractured for at least four seasons now, so you might expect it would take a couple years for folks to come around. The team really needs to take a long-term view and stay the course in the meantime. There should be enough positive indications so far to show them they are swinging up in the court of public opinion. They need to keep doing those things and cut out anything or anyone who gets in the way of that.
Off of the top of my head that's what I can come up with. Surely there are more. I am obviously not the only fan here, so feel free to add your own in the comments.
Also don't forget to enter December's Jersey Contest here. It's quick and easy for those who don't want to think much but also allows room for considerations of teams and matchups for those who want to over-analyze. The main point is...even if the Blazers aren't giving away free jerseys, we are. And believe me, if I had Paul Allen-type money you'd all be getting one!