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Philadelphia 76ers

An open letter to Ed Stefanski (or how to fix the Sixers experience)

Dear Ed,

Long time fan, first time season ticket holder here.  I know you’ve got a lot of problems on your plate right now: the Sixers have been freefalling since the All-Star Break, your prize free agent acquisition (and $80M man) is sitting in street clothes, the team can’t play perimeter defense with under 30 seconds left, and the arena is half-empty (not half-full!) on most nights.

Now, I can’t help you with any of the first three issues (although I’m pretty sure trotting out Willie “9ppg” Green as our starting 2 guard isn’t helping anyone), but perhaps I can shed a little light on why nobody wants to go to the Sixers games.  And while winning would fix everything, in lieu of winning, perhaps you can make the in-person experience just a little better so I don’t regret buying season tickets this year or have to beg someone to go with me on certain nights.

Sound and Fury
First, let’s talk about the general feel of the Wachovia Center for Sixers games.  Everything else more or less falls under this category even though I will address them individually.  It seems everything is designed to get the crowd hyped up.  From the music to the scoreboard to the ridiculous slot machine-esque sound effect when a player makes the free throw, going to the Sixers game is a constant barrage of light and sound.   The only thing keeping it from becoming a full casino atmosphere is the lack of piped-in oxygen.  I’m not saying a Sixers game should be like a high school basketball game but how about toning it down a little.

The truth is, if the entertainment value is there, there’s no need to rile up the crowd as if we were watching a gladiator match.  If the team isn’t playing well, watching Hip Hop slam together two gardening kneeling pads from Home Depot isn’t going to make the game any better.  (In fact, watching Hip Hop exhort me to make noise while the team goes into its usual post-halftime slump makes it even worse.)

I assume you were at the Mavericks game? Hell of an entertaining game even though we lost.  If you turned off every sound effect and left Hip Hop in the dressing room (or better yet, dropped him off in a field somewhere), no one would have thought the game less entertaining.    I’m sure you love basketball for the same reason I love basketball — because it can be a beautiful game when played correctly.   So how about not catering to the casual fan who cares more about the scene than the game?  How about catering the experience to those of us who actually love the game? After all, we are the ones you can actually count on for your nightly ticket revenue.

Hip Hop
Pat Croce did a lot for the Sixers.  2001 will be remembered as one of the greatest seasons in Philadelphia history.  But Pat Croce’s one lasting mistake was replacing Big Shot with Hip Hop.   There are two types of mascots in sports:  the ones that hype up the crowd (athletic) and the ones that entertain the crowd (ridiculous and/or obese).   We currently have one that is supposed to hype up the crowd with dunks and acrobatics but he has a knee injury and can’t jump!  Basically we have the most useless mascot in sports.  I’d take the Stanford Tree over this horrible mess.

Who are the best mascots in all of sports?  The Phillie Phanatic and the San Diego Chicken.   You know why?  Because they always bring a smile to your face.  Mascots are supposed to be funny, not men dressed in muscle suits executing dunks off a trampoline!   Look at this video of Big Shot.  See how the crowd loves him?  He’s lovable, he’s funny, he’s morbidly obese.  Is he trying to hype up the crowd?   No, he’s entertaining them.  Even the visiting players are entertained.  I beg you, get rid of Hip Hop and bring back Big Shot.

Matt Cord (PA Announcer)
Matt Cord is not the most hated announcer in the NBA.  That distinction goes to the Deeeeeeetroit Bas-ket-ball guy, who is universally despised by everyone outside of Detroit.  But that’s fine because the people in Detroit seem to like him.  I’m not sure what that says about Pistons fans but he’s their guy and they like his schtick.

In an informal survey of my fellow season ticket holders, I’ve found that most people don’t actually like Matt Cord but have merely come to tolerate him and tune him out.  I fear that I will be inured to his awfulness as well.

Matt Cord is terrible.  I understand that he wants to add some distinctiveness to his announcing but the announcer doesn’t need to be the show.  He can merely help narrate the show.  Why can’t he just say the names of our players like a normal person?  Sure, add some flair to it (like “Louuuuuuuuuuuuu!”) but I sometimes pray that neither Iguodala nor Willie Green scores because I don’t want to hear “Iguodala-dala-dala”  or “Willie Green-Green-Green.”

And his exaggerated way of sounding dejected and barely saying the names of opposing players when they score? It’s neither funny nor original.   As a basketball fan, I happen to want to know who scored for the other team.   I’m there for the game, not for his schtick.   Like I said, you really don’t find it annoying after a while but that’s only because you’ve ceased to care.   But I do care and I have to point this out.

Minor Quibbles

  • The halftime entertainment is barely entertainment.  I understand letting the PAL kids play on the court; it’s a thrill for them and it’s good community relations.  And I understand you have to pay the bills with the Carvel Bag of Shoes and the TLC High Roller stuff; but surely you can do better once every 3 games or so?  Actual entertainment instead of some local dance class trying to be the Sixers dancers?
  • Girls vs Boys (who can make the most noise):  I understand it’s for the kids but for the adults in the audience, we know that you can’t tell the difference between boys and girls in a screaming match.  At PacBell Park, there used to be something called the CNET Tug of War with the two sides of the stadium competing on noise. Make it east vs west or north vs south.  You don’t even need to actually install microphones in the arena.   Just tell us you did.  We’re OK with some illusion.  Just don’t insult us.
  • Lottery promotion:  Hip Hop and a hare raiser pretend to draw a lucky section out of a lottery machine to determine who gets to buy pretzels at 5 cents each.  Great promotion.  Except that a nanosecond after they announce the winner, there’s already a cameraman in that section and the concessions people have arrived with pretzels in hand.  I don’t care if the lucky section is predetermined.   But again, try not to insult our intelligence.

Well, that’s all I have.   I know that building a winning team is more important than the fan experience but since we’re not exactly the Boston Celtics right now, perhaps you can throw us a bone and make going to a game a little more enjoyable.   Maybe it’s different in the luxury boxes, but for us regular folk, going to the Sixers is not a respite from anything.  It’s a full-on assault on the senses.  Come join us sometime.  I’m in section 213.  Don’t worry, there’s plenty of open seats.

By Vin

Vin is a Philly boy who shouldn't be invited into your house because he'll judge you on your book and music collection. He owns Dawkins, Utley, Iverson, and Lindros jerseys, which is all you really need to know about him. He can be reached at [email protected]

5 replies on “An open letter to Ed Stefanski (or how to fix the Sixers experience)”

I wonder if these NBA teams stopped spending money on their crappy marketing and in-game “entertainment” they’d be able to save some employee’s jobs.

I’m not asking them to sign Bruce Springsteen for every game but watching Hip Hop and the Hare Raisers dunk for 10 mins is just beyond stupid.

If you don’t have any money for halftime entertainment, just put a bunch of kids in sumo outfits and let them play ball. At least that’s funny. We don’t need hype for the halftime show. Just a few laughs after the pissing/smoking/whatever.

I think the problem is that they think every game needs to be a ‘non-stop action movie!” Hell, even Michael Bay knows you need to give the audience some comic relief.

I agree Vin. We’ve talked about this on the podcast for years. NBA teams do tend to try to cater to the casual fan who’s there for the “scene” rather than the hard-core fan.

Since the FleetCenter was built in 1995, the Celtics in-game experience has gone way downhill. From the recently retired Lucky the Leprechaun to a sensory overload of t-shirt shooters and trampoline jumpers, what happened to just focusing on the game anymore?

Maybe we live in an ADD society. But do you have to contribute to making it worse???

It’s similar to the way record companies now use some noise compression technology to make albums louder no matter what volume you play it at. It draws your attention but after a while, you have a worse listening experience. You don’t know for sure exactly why you have a headache and most people just stop listening to the album but don’t know why they like it less.

The same with the NBA. Most people don’t complain about the experience. After all, you’re not going to the Opera. You expect a riveting time. But the constant surfeit of unnecessary noise makes you a little worse for wear and the next time someone asks you whether you want to go to an NBA game, you’re more inclined to say no.

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