Fair-Weather Fans Don't Flock to Game 4

Looking at the crowd, you wouldn’t know they played in Indiana. (Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Game 4 had to have felt exactly like reliving Game 1 to the Indiana Pacers. Improbably leading the entire game, some of it by double-digits, the Indiana lead began to diminish rapidly over the final three minutes of the game: a 10-point cushion turned into a one-possession game in a hurry. All the while, the red sea of fans was going bananas, attempting to spur its team to a thrilling comeback win.

The problem is that Game 4 took place at Conseco Fieldhouse. In a series in which the Pacers dropped the first two contests despite leading for almost 60 minutes, the blue and gold returned to Indy for what they thought would be home-court advantage. It turned out to be a home invasion.

Thursday’s crowd was split 50-50 with the Pacer faithful out-performing their red counterparts. Returning from perhaps the most encouraging losses in franchise history, fans showed up rowdy and ready for Game 3. Post-game quotes from Frank Vogel and Danny Granger as well as the opinion of one ESPN Chicago columnist who said the Bulls playing Indiana “had to feel like swimming with their clothes on” ran across the bigscreen.

Make no mistakes about the fact that Chicago fans were definitely in attendance at Thursday’s Game Three in extraordinarily high numbers. At times, the atmosphere resembled that of a high school game: each side alternated cheers and jeers for its preferred group. But it was a neutral environment at worst where the Pacer players at least got to enjoy the confines of a familiar locker room and well-known path to work.

Game 4, however, was nothing short of embarrassing for anyone who cares about Indiana basketball. What was reported as maybe a 50-50 crowd by TNT (or so I heard, since I actually bought tickets to the game and therefore did not watch it on TV) was more like 70-30. And a meek 30% at that.

Pacers officials would have been better off not allowing the pre-game introductions to take place. Chicago fans nearly took the roof off as the announcer said the names of their starters, then rained down boos on the Pacers’ five. The crowd was silent for most of the game, during which the Pacers held a double-figure lead, then nearly spurred the road team to a massive comeback.

Such an overwhelming migration of fans from Chicago has created quite a bit of media attention. The search for explanations has yielded a few reasonable answers. Comparable tickets were often ten times more expensive in the United Center as in Conseco Fieldhouse. The Bulls had a better season. Many IU and Purdue students are from the Chicago area. And so on. And so forth.

One Pacers worker, tossing out t-shirts at the end of the first quarter, shared how disgusted he was at the turnout to me, mainly because the lovely lady who escorted me to the game and I were the only Pacers fans in the section. “I don’t see how anyone can say this isn’t a fair-weather city,” he said.

Indy Star columnist extraordinaire Bob Kravitz essentially excused the turnout, writing that the Pacers can’t “field a lousy and thoroughly irrelevant team for four-plus years, then have a decent two months and expect the entire city to reach for its wallets.”

Who’s right? Well, both to an extent.

Kravitz is correct in that the Pacers, after a season that saw a coaching change and ended eight games under .500, can’t expect the kind of fan support that a team with the league’s best record (and six previous championships) enjoys. But at the same time, tickets were available the week of the games for $13 apiece. It isn’t exactly a second mortgage.

The truth is that Indianapolis, unlike Chicago or New York, is a fair-weather sports city. Kravitz using the Indianapolis Colts 1999 playoff game against the Tennessee Titans is a perfect illustration. That year, the Colts finished 13-3, but Tennessee fans filled the RCA Dome in large numbers (although not as bad of a ratio as this series’ Game 4).

Some may say that Indianapolis did not have a deep connection yet to the Colts with the team only having been in town since 1984 and having yet to experience any real success at that point. And what a fine justification that is if we ignore the fact that Tennessee had only had a football franchise for three years in 1999 with the previous two being 8-8 seasons.

The truth is that Indianapolis is a fair-weather sports city. And it was humiliatingly on display to a national audience in Game 4.

Tags: Attendance Chicago Bulls Pacers Vs. Bulls 2011 Playoffs

  • Ian

    “The truth is that Indianapolis is a fair-weather sports city. And it was humiliatingly on display to a national audience in Game 4.”

    my thoughts exactly. some people may still be bitter about the malice at the palace and other less than pleasant experiences with out past players, but these excuses don’t go very far any more. for the self-proclaimed home of basketball, we sure don’t seem to appreciate our basketball teams very much

  • Dr. McStinky

    Though you’re probably right about the fair weather thing, perfectly good explanations abound for this debacle, and I think you were a little quick and harsh in throwing Indy fans under the bus.

    Chicago fans had a week to buy tickets. Their team has one of the biggest fan bases in the league, due to their 6 titles when the G.O.A.T. played for them. Guys like that are once (or none) in a lifetime, but somehow it looks like the Bulls have found 2 in a generation. I’ll stop the conspiracy innuendo there (ahem, lottery fix).

    And it’s Chicago for Pete’s sake–the 3rd biggest media market in the US–which by an unfortunate geographical oddity, happens to be a Saturday drive away. Of course there aren’t going to be any “fair weather” fans there, or in New York, or in LA, or in Boston… Because they have enough people to fill the seats even when their teams aren’t as good. And their management has more money to spend to ensure the teams stay good. It’s a vicious cycle.

    Sorry to go off here, but I was one of “the few, the proud” who made it to the game on Saturday. Call me meek if you want, but I was the guy in section 225 who turned around and started a “S-A-T, S-A-T” chant after an especially ridiculous hoop-and-foul call for Rose that brought about an MVP chant from their crowd. It “rose” up again, at least in that section, louder and louder throughout the rest of the game. I was loud, proud and did my best. And it was nice to see the Chicagoans walk out with their hopes dashed.

    It was also nice to see the guy get thrown out who threw a t-shirt from the t-shirt cannon back (a la the ol’ Wrigley home run tradition–hilarious, right?) that hit Mel Simon’s banner on the way down. Too bad they couldn’t have kicked out the drunken a-holes who were booing and yelling “Pacers Suck!” during the National Anthem. No joke.

    I leave you with a question…give me evidence of a similar small market where the same thing wouldn’t happen with attendance, especially after 2 years of off-the-court incidents followed by 4 years of mediocrity, and I’d be happy to listen. Sacramento ring any bells (no pun intended)?

  • LP

    “self-proclaimed home of basketball”… which state consistently sends more teams to March Madness?? Cali might be the only one who consistently sends as many as Indiana; compare population stats. It isn’t so unusual for even our community colleges to make the big dance. We are the home of basketball.

    Now for this Pacers vs Bulls stuff, it is true that we have been spoiled by the Colt’s success. However, Chi is 10X bigger than Indy. And Chi has several straight years of making the playoffs for fans to look forward to. Chi had a number 1 over all draft pick to get excited about (and 8 other top 10 draft picks in the last 10 years) on top of a superstar like Boozer joining in FA, while the pacers have NOT drafted a single player higher than 10th since Rik Smits in 1988. We don’t have any superstars rostered (and i don’t think we’ll need them). The team has been rebuilding and is only now back in the playoffs. Cut us a break!!

  • http://basementball.blogspot.com Sam

    All you people that say we’re “fair-weather”, can just shut up! The Colts have been here for 30 season, hardly that of the tenure of the Bears, Steelers, Jets, Giants, Packers, or Cowboys, and only have ONE Super Bowl win. The Pacers have never won an NBA championship, and our city has a pop. less than 1 million. Indy is also less than 3 hours from Chicago and Cincy, and not that far from Detroit. Whether you like it or not, we are the “crossroads” of America, and that means people from everywhere live here. I know several families that are from Pittsburgh and Chicago, and still support their teams.

    This city is still young, and still rather small. We will always be the home to people from all over the country, and will never be as loyal as cities as Chicago or Philly or Pitt.

  • T.O.

    I’m not sure you can call Indy a “fair weather city” either. I’ve seen years where other cities (the ones you cite) didn’t support their team after years like we have. If I watch the game on TV (and take care of my 4 kids and wife while doing so), and I (and others like me) fair weather?
    If the stadium held only 10,000 and we sold it out (compare % of stadium to market), are we fair weather?
    What other city would hold a telethon for their team for Pete’s Sake? What other city, really think about it, has endured more in terms of lottery luck (Ewing, Jordan (ok, not so much luck as stupid), etc), injuries (Stepanovich, Kellogg), and just awful scenarios (the Brawl and Tinsley – yes those two are equal in their destruction), and still clicking? C’mon …. not sure I blame you or the media for calling the fans out – but “fair weather city” probably crosses the line.
    I, for one, would like to have been there, but again kids, wife, cost of tickets, AND a babysitter, (not to mention EASTER weekend) probably take it out of my hands for many years to come. I will still watch on TV (incl games on the west coast swings in the middle of Feb). I will still buy jackets and hats, etc. and there are many more like me.
    Maybe a better word/phrase than “fair weather” is “cost conscious”, “value oriented”, or “not stupid”.

  • Adriano

    I’m from another country, don’t live in Indiana (Central VA) and don’t root for either team. And I was shocked and felt embarrassed during the game.
    True Pacers fans should feel bad about the support, and, in my opinion, some of the excuses mentioned in the article and comments, although probably justified and correct, tell me that this city may not deserve a team.
    Unfortunately similar situations happen in other NBA towns. The team I root for (time for you to blast me – Miami Heat fan since 1990) have even worse fans that your Pacers. They rarely show engagement with the team and most (when they actually show up) have no idea of what’s happening on the court.

  • Chris D.

    Be careful with the f-word. As someone who grew up in Indy (and now lives in NC), I sitll make at least one home game and one away Pacer game per season (usually at Bobcats unless I can plan work travel to put me in another town when the Pacers visit). I was hot during the game on Saturday. I’m with Dr. McStinky on this one at least partially.

    1. There are few geographical NBA-market missmatches where something freakish like this could happen. Chicago-Indy. Chicago-Milwaukee. Houston-New Orleans. Dallas-OKC. Even then, the second two are a stretch. I’d love to see what happens if the Lakers and Clips ever meant in a game that meant something. Maybe then they could sell out Staples. Talk about fairweather fans!

    2. I have friends in Chicago and visit on occasion. Many people in Chicago are very big Chicago sports fans. Most have one team they follow well and then they are round-robin fans of the other four teams (unless they are exclusive to the Cubs or White Sox). In any given year, at least one of the other four teams is doing well, so they bandwagon. In a metro area of 9 million, I’ll bet a least 500K diehard Chicago sports fan will rally to which ever team is up. A playoff birth only furher juices them. So, finding 15K-20K to roadtrip to Indy with bargain-basement ticket prices is no surprise. This is no discredit to them. They are just doling out their attention and money rationally.

    3. It’s not the Pacers have been so bad lately, it’s that the franchise seems to have a generally “down” personality. Anyone who’s worked in the corporate world knows how the business will take on the personality of the big boss. For years now we’ve had Bird, Carlisle, and JOB setting the tone. Nice guys, but cool to the point of passionlessness. Vogle is the first to let the team show any real personality in the post-Reggie era. We never knew who these guys were until 40 games ago!

    4. Finally, building on #3 above, you can’t underestimate the need to redefine this franchise in the post-Reggie era. When I was growing up, Reggie was the Pacers. If anything hurt me about the Malice at the Palace, it was that those punks threw away Reggie’s last (and best) chance to win a ring. I couldn’t care less about the hoodlums in D-town or the NBA’s “family friendly” reputation. (They didn’t owe me, the fan, an apology.) Having one flamboyant star define the team for his entire career creates a cult of personality just as you’ll find with Bobby Knight or Peyton Manning (who picked up Indy’s loyalty post-Reggie). As a fan base, we weren’t accustomed to a changing cast of characters except as it pertained to building toward a championship with Reggie. This team needs to find one enduring personality to market or, more likely, a franchise reputation. We need to be able to answer the question: “What is Pacer basketball?” I couldn’t begin to tell you till four games ago. Even now, I’m still scared Bird (and/or a lockout) will screw it up over the Summer.

  • Long-time Indy fan.

    Indy is not a fairweather fan base — it’s a shell-shocked fanbase.

    No other fanbase has had to endure the embarrassment of The Brawl and then the subsequent off-court legal issues of it’s players. People forget the impact those events had on our fanbase.

    And let’s not kid ourselves — most fan bases are fairweather. Any team that goes through a period of poor performance loses attendance. The Pacers coupled the “incidents” along with poor play for 5 years, and Indianapolis frankly isn’t a huge city, and is more focused on the Colts these days, and it’s not a huge deal.

    The good news is, the organization has cleaned itself up. And if the Pacers continue to play like they have in this series, the fans will return. Indiana has people that *want* to cheer for a basketball team, they’ve just been waiting for their team to represent them properly again. I didn’t feel well-represented by a team with more arrests and charges against them than wins.

  • Derek Unverzagt

    But Indianapolis IS a fair weather fan city. As a die-hard fan of both the Colts, and Pacers it irks me to no end. When the Colts are Peyton-less and far removed from playoffs, the sea of blue and white turn into a sea of blue and yellow and Pacer support will soar; I will not be surprised by this one bit.

    I love both my teams, and having my allegiances constantly challenged because I am a Hoosier is damn annoying, but also well deserved. The ‘real’ nap fans treat the word “fair-weather” as an insult and shouldn’t take it lightly. I’ve supported my teams through too much crap to be considered fair weather.

    And the attendance was not that bulls heavy at game 3, behind the bulls bench was stacked red, but the rest I’d say was 60/40 pacers at least. At least my section was Pacer heavy.

    On another note, I must say it’s amazing to see the Pacers playing to their potential, and playing hard. I’ve been defending them for too long.. It’s kind of nice to see the media on their nuts

  • Tripp

    All that and the Pacers still won. Go figure.

  • Aaron Baker

    What’s your point? Whether we are fair-weather or not, makes no difference. I’ll readily admit that I am a fair-weathered fan, but that is for several reasons. Primarily, the money it costs to go see a game is too much when I don’t think they have a good chance to win. I’m a hard working guy, without a lot of discretionary income, and I’d rather take a kick in the nuts rather than attend a game where the team I’m passionate about is going to lose. I’d rather stay home and watch it in HD, and if they lose, it’s much easier to take than if I had spent hundreds on the experience–I think that’s just good sense!

  • Sickened/Ashamed

    You people that are trying to justify and say Indy isn’t fair weather are ignorant. Indy has some of the worst fans in the league no matter what the sport is.

    Don’t give me this crap about the brawl and Jamaal Tinsley and the rest of those thugs ruined your opinion of the Pacers. We have ONE player left from those teams, and you know who that is? Jeff Foster. Jeff Foster is everything you would want in a player to cheer for. He plays hard everytime he is on the floor and represents his team and city just as well, if not better, than a certain 6’5″ quarterback with a laser, rocket arm. And the rest of the guys out on the court play just as hard as JF and produce better numbers than he does.

    Ok so you want to support a winning team? So do I, but if you don’t support them while they’re losing they’re not going to be around to support when its time they start winning again…Seattle, anyone? We’re very fortunate to have even be the hometown of a professional basketball team, and we could lose them in a heartbeat. I wouldn’t blame Herb for a second if he decided it was in his best interest to move the team to another, more loyal city. The Pacers had the worst average attendance this season. They made the playoffs meaning they were better than seven other teams in the East. They had a better record than four teams in the West. Tell me why those 11 teams should have a higher attendance than the Pacers unless the Pacers fans are fair weather? The Timberwolves, in Minnesota, had the worst record in the league and still managed to attract more fans. I would understand why people wouldn’t go to see those games for obvious reasons but it makes no sense why Indy still won’t embrace the Pacers.

    It all starts from the top in this city. The city leaders don’t want to dole out the bucks to help Mr. Simon pay for the costs of running the stadium, yet they willingly raised taxes and helped Irsay build his alter or worship for Peyton. They are sending out a message of “We don’t care about the Pacers” so the fans in turn think the same thing and don’t show up for the games. And the worst part is, in six or seven years when Manning is gone and the Colts will be lucky to go 8-8, that stadium is going to be half empty every single game except for when we play Cincy or Chicago and their fans fill over half the stadium like they did for the game on Saturday.

    Were 16 straight playoff appearances for the Pacers not enough for you fair-weather fans in Indy? That’s more than the Colts have done. The Colts have one Super Bowl win in 13 years Peyton’s been here and their playoff record leaves a ton to be desired. I don’t want to think about how bad its going to get at Lucas Oil when Peyton finally is gone.

    One more point then I’ll get off my pedistal. If you want to support a winning team that team needs good players. Our team is adequate right now but not good enough to be better than 4th or 5th in the East. Therefore we’ll be drafting in the middle to the back end of the first round. That will only add more role players and we need a star, a go-to-guy that is willing to take the shots at the end of the game which is quality none of our players have. The only way we’re going to get that star is through free agency or trade. What would make a player want to come to a city where its own home court isn’t even a home court. I would love to play for the Pacers but that’s only because I live and grew up in Indiana and LOVE this state and it’s basketball teams.

    Indiana is not the basketball state, just because we have a few good college teams doesn’t mean a thing. Indiana is the home of the fair weather fan. I hate to say it since, like I said, I’m a hoosier. But it’s true and anyone who tries to justify his fair-weather-ness is ignorant. Please, people, get some sense in you and support this team before we don’t have one to support.

  • keith

    There are no excuses. Pros in indy are fair weather fans. I was at the game cheering on my pacers, and I was pissed off at the turnout. Stop trying to justify the turnout, we need real fans. and to be honest I would have been so pissed if tbr pacers move, but if they decide to move after tis season I would not blame them because we have the shittiest fans in the nba.

  • Tyler Kunkle

    If fair-weather means going to games 3 and 4 and not wanting to go to game 6 in order to avoid the fans of Chicago (who seem to be, on the whole, of even intelligence with Derrick Rose), then so be it.

    I’d rather be a Pacers fan who saved the money on the ticket, than a Bulls fan who bought a ticket and got escorted out for throwing shit on the court.

    Chicago – always the shitty city.

  • LP

    Mr Sickened/Ashamed, the city did pay to cover Conseco costs, and Timberwolves fans had Kevin Love setting HUGE NBA records.

    I was a Colts fan when Jeff George was quarterback, and I will be after Peyton is long gone. Enjoying the ride, like I’m enjoying Pacers resurgence.

    Hope they don’t get moved.

  • Robert

    When I watched part of that game I heard fans cheering for both teams. Completely unacceptable for the playoffs.

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