One of the main criticisms of the Sixers current strategy, both on a local and national media level, has been the refrain of "Think about the season ticket holders!"
It's not a hollow criticism either. Full season tickets aren't cheap. A pair of seats in the middle of a lower level corner section cost you a little over $4000 for all 41 games. It's a lot of money to sink into a team that hasn't won a game since Jimmy Carter was in office. (That's how it feels, anyway.)
In the last week, two national writers of some repute have brought back the vigorous defense of the rights of our season ticket base. First, let's hear from Grantland's Bill Simmons, in his mailbag column from last Friday:
Q: Make a pick for the following prop bet: What Philadelphia team will have more wins this year, Sixers (-200) or Eagles (+170)?
—Steve D, Philadelphia
BS: I’d jump on that Eagles +170 bet. I can’t see any scenario in which the 2014-15 Sixers reach 10 victories — that’s a gruesome disgrace of a roster. Even though their front office played the bottoming-out thing correctly on paper, the fact remains, they’re disgracing the sport and defecating on their season-ticket holders. Do you realize that the Sixers have lost 43 of their last 47 games? They single-handedly inspired NBA fans to consider the Premier League’s relegation concept. And actually, I’d go further: If you lose 70 games and get outscored by 15-plus points per game for the entire season, then …
• You’re relegated to the D-League for one season.
• You can’t be eligible for a top-three draft pick.
• Your season-ticket holders should get the next season for free.
The second was from NBA.com's David Aldridge, who wrote a piece Monday that portrayed how some Sixers fans he talked to were handling the rough season. While some points raised had some legitimate merit (including one fan who complained to Sixers CEO Scott O'Neil that the season ticket holders are still paying the same for tickets this season as fans of a far more competitive team are, which is a different argument entirely), others didn't exactly hit me in my heart strings as either the fan or Aldridge intended.
I had asked Shackleford if there's anything he wanted me to pass along to O'Neil.
"Tell him, I'm suffering," Shackleford said. "This money I'm spending out here, I could be giving my daughter this money for college. I've got a daughter that's a freshman in college, that calls me every other week: 'Dad, can you give me some money so I can wash my clothes?' This is what I choose to do with my money. Look where I'm at, man. When my daughter could use this money. They keep talking about, 'We're trying.' Like, we're losing fans, man. Come on, man."
This is rebuilding -- one section, one row, one fan at a time.
I don't mean to single out Mr. Shackleford, who I've never met, and who I'm sure is a swell guy (and hopefully a Liberty Ballers reader!), but his particular criticism really illustrates the point I tend to make every time I hear the "those poor season ticket holders" argument.
First, and foremost, buying season tickets is a choice, and it's a choice you can make every season. You're not locked into a multi-year contract with Sixers over season tickets. At any time, when your sales rep calls you to renew your seats, you can say no. Especially with a team like the Sixers. If you don't renew your Sixers tickets, trust me when I tell you there will be no shortage of opportunities to get back in. I had a sales representative call me every week for four months.
You might lose out on some of the incentives that come with renewing your seats, but you also won't be shelling out four grand every year on an unsatisfactory product.
Secondly, the Sixers haven't exactly pulled a bait-and-switch on their fan base. The strategy for this team has been very transparent from the second the team traded Jrue Holiday last June. Last year, I gave this argument some credence, because I'm sure plenty of season ticket holders renewed prior to the draft,. That was a fair criticism.
I'll also give a pass to new season ticket holders who bought prior to the draft as a result of the Sixers "come see two lottery picks" marketing, only to watch the team draft Joel Embiid and Dario Saric. That's a shame, although to be fair, they did buy season tickets based on something with the word "lottery" in it, and the Sixers offered plenty of incentives to do so.
Last month, I wrote a piece taking the Sixers to task about their high ticket prices, and talked about how I almost bought a partial season ticket plan, before blanching* at the high prices. I stand by that, and that's a whole different point than the one I'm making here. I think ticket prices are still too high. That said, the Sixers have the right to charge what they want for the tickets, and as the customer, I have the right to say that I'm not paying that price to watch the product they're currently putting on the floor.
*Ed note: I saw this originally and thought he said Baltching (Baltche!) and realized Andray Blatche is playing in China and was a Filipino this summer. Anywho...
Season ticket holders paid for a product this year, and this year only, and thus far, the product they've received has been pretty sub-par. That's a shame. That said, I'm not breaking out violins for them because they knew what they were getting, and they made a choice to invest in it. No sales representative forced anyone to buy season tickets to a professional basketball team that has undergone the most blatant bottoming out in the history of the NBA.
The Sixers slogan is "Together We Build" for the second year in a row. The organization could not make its intentions any more obvious for season ticket holders. They're not trying to convince their fans that they're really a team of winners while getting blown out every night. It's hard to feel too sorry for them, given all they should have known.