Pacers owner says 'We have a lot of work to do'

November 27, 2013
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With the Indiana Pacers starting the season with a red-hot 13-1 record, Herb Simon is smiling a lot these days.

“It’s an understatement to say I’m pleased,” said Simon, who’s been the sole owner of the Pacers since his brother, Mel, died in 2009.

At the same time, Simon is smart—and engaged—enough to know there are still milestones to mark. First, he wants an NBA championship. But that’s not all.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Simon told IBJ this week. “We’re way behind at the gate. We lost a lot of fans [after the brawl in Detroit in 2004] and we have to continue working to get them back.”

In the months and years since that fateful November night when Pacers players scuffled with Pistons fans, the Pacers front office has gone from reactive to proactive, and Simon deserves a lot of credit for that.

The Pacers beefed up sales, marketing and customer service efforts in recent years. Team officials have bolstered their television contract to ensure all 82 games are aired, and tweaked the in-arena game presentations and entertainment to appeal to a broader range of fans and sponsors. They’ve overhauled their roster and made myriad community connections through charity work and other outreach programs.

This fall, the Pacers were the first team to join a league initiative urging teams to partner with Orlando-based Disney Institute to improve customer service. Two Pacers staffers have already gone to Orlando for training, and staff-wide training is expected to begin next month. The Pacers are expected to invest around $100,000 annually for that initiative alone.

Simon should be credited for sticking with his instincts when times were tough following the brawl. He continually stood by basketball operations boss Larry Bird even when public sentiment about the former Boston Celtics star was mixed here.

“I’ve always told Larry, he can work here as long as he wants,” Simon said. “He’s done an outstanding job.”

Despite Simon’s continued concerns about attendance, the Pacers have come a long way in recent years.

Through eight home games, the Pacers are 20th in the 30-team NBA. But that’s deceiving. Due to the relatively small size of the 18,165-seat Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Pacers would never likely rank higher than 13th.

The Pacers this year are averaging 16,226 fans per home game. That’s nearly 90 percent of capacity.

The early attendance numbers compare favorably to last year, when the team averaged 15,269 per game. Since attendance often improves in the second half of the season, it’s not inconceivable that the Pacers could approach average attendance of 17,000 this year. If the Pacers reach that milestone it will be the first time since the 2000-01 season that the team's average home attendance eclipsed 17,000.

It’s almost easy to forget now that the Pacers had a league-worst attendance of 12,221 per game as recently as the 2007-08 season.

Pacers sales executive Todd Taylor says both attendance and ticket revenue are up this year from the same period a year ago. So that means deeply discounted and free ticket distributions are down.

Still, Simon says he and his staff won’t rest until the Fieldhouse is packed every night.

Though Simon is 79, he appears to be moving full-speed ahead with this team.

“I’m maintaining my focus on the Pacers,” Simon said. “I’m concentrating on making the Pacers economically viable for the long-term.”

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  • Want to get more fans?
    The #1 way to get more people to show up for games is to stop playing the horrible hip-hop music for every timeout, commercial break and dance routine.
    • Re: Tim
      I'm sure that the Pacers are fine with racist fans such as yourself staying away. Stick to NASCAR and you can hear all the non-colored music you like.
      • Pacers
        Tim...its got to the point where no one is allowed to express a view without Jojo thinking he can blast the very principle of free speech. Turn the other cheek Jojo.
      • Re: Jojo
        So if you don't like hip-hop you're a racist?
        • Non-colored music?
          Huh?...white and flesh are colors too...what exactly is "non-colored" music. Anybody heard Allen Stone? Reminds me of a few years back ...Charles Barkley said something to the effect that the apocalypse was coming because the best rapper (Eminem at the time)was white and the best golfer was black (Tiger)...applies here...I get the desire to stereotype Pacer fans as the "hicks" like the New York dailies did back in the day, but "non-colored" doesn't mean anything to me. The flip side is Mr. Simon wants anyone who wants to attend to put their money down, including the people who would rather hear Burt Bacharach...I doubt the music is what is putting people off, or attendance wouldn't be up to the point it is...
        • Bad music?
          I hear a lot of complaints about the rap music played during breaks at Pacers games. A go to a game here and there, but am not a regular. Is the music (be it rap or just too loud) really that bad? And if it is and it bothers so many people, why don't the Pacers change it?
        • dumb comments
          This might be the dumbest thread of comments I've seen. If someone seriously stays away from a game because of the brief music played occasionally during the game, then they need to get a life! Go sit at home with your headphones on with white noise piping through!
        • Concessions
          Drop the food prices and you'll see a considerable uptick in attendance. There's no reason to charge around $10 for a soda and hot dog when you have attendance struggles.
        • No, Jeepdog....
          ..., no "might" to it. This IS the dumbest thread of comments, lol.
        • Ideas...
          To increase attendance: 1). Continue winning. 2.) take steps to make some "good" seats family affordable. 3.) Plan activities to promote families attending a fun community centered event. The attendance has not only suffered due to the Detroit brawl, but also by the antics of some former players right here at home, i.e. nightclub shooting, downtown brawls, etc.
        • The Way Things Really Are According to Balthazar
          Herb Simon is hands down one of the best owners in basketball. I love the way he has placed the responsibility for winning back fans on the organization instead of blasting the fan base for not filling the arena every night during this incredible start. But everyone should understand that the ever-widening choices for the entertainment dollar coupled with the new (and permanent) economic realities means that the good old days of automatic season-long sellouts are numbered. In regard to television airing of all games, what am I missing? I have been unable to find the last 3 home games anywhere on local television. Is it down to an NBATV subscription now? Sorry Tim, but nothing in the way of professional marketing is done today without extensive research on highest outcome, so while you (and I) may not like the hip-hop music, the pros understand that on balance that is what sells right now -- regardless of ethnicity. But no, JoJo and Reggie, that doesn't make Tim necessarily racist -- just perhaps a little out-of-touch with popular trends, altho he must have understood how his comment could be perceived, and on that score JoJo may be right.
          • Hip Hop
            Hip Hop and the NBA are intertwined. You cannot separate the two. Fans aren't staying away because of the music. They are staying away because Indy has some of the most fickle sports fans in the country.
          • Local TV
            Balthazar...Every Pacer game is on FOX Midwest/Indiana. I love the full season on TV and haven't missed a game.
          • Thanks Gary Bo!
            Thanks Gary Bo. That must be a channel I don't get on Directv.
            • 673
              Fox Sports Midwest on Direct TV.
            • Thanks!
              Thank you Mr. Simon for your patience and investment in the Pacers. It is great to see Pacer Pride and fan enthusiasm back again. Go Pacers!
            • Hip Hop/Rap Music
              Hip Hop/Rap music is played because young white people are the biggest consumers of the genre, hands down. Do you really think that Herb Simon and his team would willingly play that type of music here in INDIANA if the numbers (statistical and financial) weren't saying this brings people AND dollars in?
            • Spot On!
              Spot on, D. Mills!
            • On the fence for now
              I am a huge basketball fun who has not been to a Pacers game in years because I a.) choose to spend my entertainment dollars in other places (i.e. Hinkle Fieldhouse) and b.) cannot stand the "me first, not team first" attitude of NBA basketball and c.) it's such a loooonnngg season. The Pacers do play the type of basketball I appreciate and hopefully other teams will see the benefits. I bought tickets for a Pacers game in early December and look forward to a fun time. We shall see.
            • No way home
              I'm not the biggest fan of basketball, but it's fun to go to a game now and then. That said: IndyGo can get me to the game but can't get me home because service had ended before the night games are over. I have to make special arrangements but this is usually a deal breaker for me, preventing the kind of impulse "hey let's go catch the game" decisions. I do think the Pacers have been a classy team as of late and I hope they keep it up and keep winning.

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