Since Josh Harris took over as the Philadelphia 76ers managing owner in 2011, the team has earned a record of 144-332, giving them a winning percentage of .302 over that time period. In the same time period, the value of the franchise has skyrocketed. Harris and his investment group acquired the Sixers from Comcast Spectator for a measly $280 million, and as of February the team was valued at $800 million, a 185 percent increase in total worth and a 14 percent increase in the past year alone.
Those two numbers signify the Sixers’ financial success despite their many on-court and PR failures are a microcosm for how the organization operates, with a Wall Street, money-over-everything mentality that only could’ve been installed by hedge fund guru Josh Harris.
The Sixers are indeed a business, and profits/growth are needed to sustain viability, but sports teams are a different animal. Teams like the Sixers are able to operate solely because of the sports fan, who voluntarily opts to support these organizations for whatever emotional satisfaction or entertainment they derive from their existence. Make no mistake about it, the teams need the fans, not vice versa, because there are other luxuries worth investing in outside of the world of sports. But there is a working relationship between the two parties; the team provides what is supposed to be an enjoyable product, and in turn, they’re supported financially.
Which is what has made the Sixers rebuilding plan over the past four years so daring, at least from a business standpoint. Philadelphia’s embrace of losing is a cardinal sin in general team-fan relations, as it breaks the “contract” of providing quality entertainment. While the decision to rebuild was inevitably going to alienate a good portion of the fan base, it also awoke a faction who understood how short-term failures in the NBA can generate long-term success. The belief in that rebuilding plan (as well as the man formerly in charge of it) manifested through the cries of “Trust The Process!” invigorated many to support the team through remarkably trying times.
Even when those times lasted longer than anticipated, the longterm vision was still in place. Trusting the process became more prominent as time went on, growing from a sign of local support to a nationwide phenomenon. The Sixers recognized this, and tried to capitalize it.
Their season ticket package advertisements were filled with TTP-esque propaganda. Slogans like “Together We Build” and “This Starts Now” were an ode to the grassroots movements that helped the team maintain its supporters while also alluding to the bright future ahead.
A ray of light from that bright future was supposed to poke through this past season. Joel Embiid was finally set to debut and top pick Ben Simmons had joined the fold as the slogan of “Made in PHILA” paraded around by the team to indicate how all of those years of high draft picks were finally going to pay off.
And when the fruits of those three years of labor were finally set to be displayed, Sixers management betrayed the undying trust of their loyal fanbase, all while reaching their money grubbing hands into the pockets of those who stood by the team when they did not have deserved it.
Simply put, the handling of information in regards to the injuries of Embiid and Simmons were downright egregious. The team was -- at the very least -- incredibly misleading when they listed Embiid as “day-to-day” following what turned out to be a torn meniscus suffered against the Portland Trail Blazers. They lied when they said a CT scan revealed Ben Simmons foot was totally healed in January, only to finally admit in late March he had a setback when the public rightfully questioned why he had yet to play.
But that didn’t stop the organization from separating the good people of the Delaware Valley from their wallets, as Sam Hinkie astutely noted CEO Scott O’Neil would be able to do in his resignation letter. The loose labeling of Embiid’s health had Sixers fans not knowing about his playing status until an hour before tip-off in some cases, as Brett Brown seemed to be the only person interested in keeping it real with the public.
Word of a clean CT scan for Simmons also came packaged with the news that he’d likely making his debut post-All-Star break, leading to a run on tickets as people scrambled to see what they hoped would be his first NBA game. The Sixers’ “revolutionary new partnership” with Stubhub—which made the website the team’s new primary ticket marketplace—also allowed the organization to adjust prices at a moment’s notice based on interest. So when the Sixers noticed that fans were anticipating Simmons debut to be on Feb. 24 against the Washington Wizards, they jacked up the prices on the remaining tickets.
For those who paid the artificially inflated prices, they saw no Ben Simmons against the Wizards, and coincidentally, no Joel Embiid.
The lengths the Sixers have gone to deceive their paying fans this past year is reprehensible at face value, but even more so when the addition of general manager Bryan Colangelo was touted like a peace offering to those who felt wronged by the secrecy of Sam Hinkie. By usurping Hinkie, Colangelo, son of media relations maven Jerry Colangelo, had been expected to honest and forthcoming with the public.
In regards to every major injury this team has dealt with since he’s taken over (and there has been plenty), he has been just as deceitful as Hinkie, if not worse.
Despite openly ripping Colangelo for the above reasons back in February, there’s a chance he’s not deserving of all the blame, or any. The Sixers are in the midst of their second regime -- the current one installed to correct the mishandlings of the former -- yet both have operated in a similar manner.
Perhaps that points to a mentality implemented by ownership where being forthright isn’t nearly as important if it affects the bottom line.
In the never ending hunt for profit, the Sixers have created a serious disconnect between themselves and the fans who have been degraded to feeling more like dollar signs than people. Fans don’t want to be pitched get-rich-quick schemes like F45 Training Studios, a patently absurd and borderline insulting thing for an NBA team to offer. They don’t care about Stubhub jersey sponsorships and eSports franchises, or how “cutting edge” those entities make the franchise.
What they care about is winning basketball games, and knowing the team they’ve supported through four torturous, unsuccessful seasons values their support.
The future for the Sixers is still bright, despite all the missteps the organization has taken over the past few years, particularly last year. But there needs to be a serious shift in the culture that has been allowed to foster within that organization, and that starts at the top with management.
They’re not the ones who are important, the fans are. If only there was enough money to make them realize that.
What would you do with Sixers management (owner/CEO/president)?
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