Pacers have some explaining to do to their fans

July 17, 2014
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The ball is now in the court of the Indiana Pacers’ marketing team.

After news broke Wednesday that Lance Stephenson is bolting Indiana for Charlotte, many Pacers fans have one thing on their minds: What are the Pacers doing to improve?

It’s a legitimate question, and it’s up to the sales and marketing staff to craft a message that answers that question.

Love him or hate him, most fans admit Stephenson was a contributor.

The questions fired at the Pacers by their fans this week are especially pointed in the wake of the ad the Pacers began running in mid-June featuring basketball operations boss Larry Bird. In that ad, Bird touts the accomplishments of this past season and promises to do better next season.

Local sports marketer David Morton called the Bird ad “in your face. It says, ‘C’mon, follow me.’”

The fans’ response now: “Where are we going?!”

The Pacers' can't simply give their fans some salary cap mumbo jumbo, and they certainly can't tell them losing Stephenson is just life in the NBA. Fans don't want to hear it.

To be fair, there’s still time for the Pacers to make acquisitions and trades to bolster the lineup. Remember, the Pacers didn’t trade for Luis Scola until July 27 last year. In 2010, Bird waited for all the free agency dust to settle before trading for Darren Collison in the second week of August.

But time is not Pacers sales chief Todd Taylor's friend. Earlier this month, the Pacers began selling 11-game packages.

Next week, Taylor will get his first glimpse of the preliminary 2014-2015 NBA schedule. The league is set to release the schedule to the public during the first week of August, and that’s when Taylor and his staff will throw their sales effort into overdrive.

As of mid-June, Taylor told IBJ, the season-ticket renewal rate for next season was around 93 percent, and season-ticket sales were 15 percent ahead of the same period last season.

But Taylor has tall orders from Pacers owner Herb Simon. After seeing attendance grow from 13,538 during 2010-2011 to 17,501 last season, Simon is pushing to fill the 18,165-seat Bankers Life Fieldhouse for all 41 regular season home games.

Taylor knows if he and his staff are going to reach their ultimate goal next season they can’t afford a slipup. That effort must start now.

“One of the first things we’ll look at are November and December games that will be difficult to sell out,” Taylor told IBJ last month.

Taylor knows the hard-core Pacers fans are already sold. That means the remaining seats will have to be sold to fickle fans, the bandwagon bunch and product samplers. Those are more difficult sales.

If you listen to local sports-talk radio, you know even the hard-core fans were blasting the Pacers on Wednesday for letting Stephenson walk—and more importantly, doing little to improve their roster while several Eastern Conference opponents upgraded. How much more skeptical must those fans be that are already sitting on the fence?

I’m guessing Taylor and his staff are still formulating their plan. He wasn’t available for comment Thursday morning.

Taylor isn’t in the business of guaranteeing wins. The sports sales veteran who came to the Pacers from the Texas Rangers three years ago knows better. But now, he finds himself in a tricky situation. He’d like nothing more than to keep Simon smiling by pushing ticket sales even higher.

But to keep the momentum he’s built over the last two plus years, Taylor has to assure fans Bird and his brain trust have a plan.

He has to convince fans things are going to get better. Even if deep down, in the short term, he’s not sure they will.

  • Disgusted
    Can't believe Larry let the team's second best player, most entertaining player, most passionate and fearless player, walk for nothing. When the rest of the team took the second half of the season off for whatever reason, Lance was the only guy that seemed to care about winning games. Sad to see Bird trade fan favorite Granger for that useless Turner as well. My excitement for this team that has been building since Lance and Paul were drafted has really plummeted. Hope Paul keeps improving and we can somehow find a player that can help him get us to a championship. Unfortunately I think we had that guy and let him slip away. I fear we are going to lose Paul George when he becomes a free agent down the road if we can't keep any decent players to play with him.
  • Here's the Thing...
    Lance was entertaining, but he was WAY too immature to be a sustainable option, and showed no sign of committing to improving his mental game. He was an impeccable opportunity-maker (and really one of the only players willing to drive to the basket) but he also tended to hog the ball. There's no way his "Lance-ness" can gel with a serious title contender. Look at last season's Finals teams - neither fielded a player anyone would describe as less than a consummate professional as a starter. To his credit, Lance should sign somewhere where he can get a low-year contract and take advantage of the new, impending CBA. But I'm glad that the approaching storm of Artest Part II is gone. Bird assembled the team that went to two straight Eastern Conference Finals - I don't doubt his ability to field or build another Finals-caliber team.
    • Lance was not Artest two
      A more difficult guy to manage than some...yes...sometimes too 1 on 1, and an offensive movement killer yes...I disagree on the assessment that he can't get succeed with a serious title contender, or that he was Artest the my mind Lance improved as a player and person every year...when he started acting out last year, this thing was already off the rails...Hibbert simply quit on the Pacers...suddenly a guy who wanted to be the defensive player of the year was demanding touches...Paul George was wanting to be mentored by LeBron...Frank Vogel rode the starters for 40 minutes every night...James has derided Turner as "useless", but Vogel never played him, or any of the other bench pieces he had, so how do you know Turner was useless? Every year the bench has different guys, and every year the bench gets worse, even though the players on the bench get better...meanwhile the players who got splinters here in the past (Plumlee, Green, Augustine, Dunleavy, Collison) perform like champions elsewhere...that's on the coaching staff, and so is the splintering of team unity...I don't believe Lance wasn't a sustainable option...he still lives with his parents...he isn't Artest, he has a support system that includes Bird, who admitted he let him have too much space last year...he has an edge that we needed...he's gone, so hopefully we can find that somewhere else...I do concur with "longtime fan" that Bird can field a team that can compete, and to throw in the towel without seeing the product in action is folly...sometimes less is more, and maybe Lance being gone will allow George Hill, always maligned, but a guy who was forced to take his opportunities as a 4th or 5th option, to do more and be better, to allow Hibbert to be happy and to get more touches (I still believe Hibbert actually has a much worse mental makeup than Lance...this guy is fragile upstairs, things don't go his way he breaks like glass, mopes, whines, sucks the soul out of the other players)...maybe Frank Vogel will actually play the bench that Larry keeps trying to supplement...Maybe Larry has a trade up his sleeve...we'll see, but if he doesn't, unless more moves are made, the Pacers are banking on addition by subtraction, they are definitely worse defensively without Lance, so we better hope that some of these shooters can actually shoot...Rodney Stuckey isn't bad, but he's definitely not Lance, he's a liability defensively...Miles, Rudic, Copeland, Scola, Watson (if he stays) need real minutes, not 4-5. Lots of stuff wrong, all of it fixable...unfortunately, everyone in the East is better now, and it appears on paper that we are not...we'll see...

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