The Philadelphia 76ers lost to the Orlando Magic, 113-100, on their first of a back-to-back-to-back. There was a lot the Sixers could do better – namely, their bigs (cough, Spencer Hawes and Elton Brand, cough) could have actually done something to help Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams defend the pick-and-roll. The Magic also hit some insane shots, and that put their team over the top. But this is all I’ll speak of about the Sixers-Magic letdown – there are more important things to get into, namely, what the front office will do to respond to this collapse. At least that is what the team’s passionate twitter following discussed following the game, and I think that’s what more important going forward than any individual game result.
After the lockout ended and before the season began, there was a general feeling of optimism surrounding the Sixers. New ownership took over, trying to solve the problem of an apathetic fan base. One method the front office used to lure fans was a series of three commercials, like most teams utilize. While the swoon has resulted in many knock-offs, the slogan “Passionate. Intense. Proud.” was used as the tagline for each commercial. The commercials included one highlighting the Sixers’ “youth”. Another highlighted historical moments, such as A.I. stepping over the helpless Tyronn Lue. And the third highlighted Doug Collins’ path from kin of the 9-73ers to now, as coach. This video is embedded below:
Now, I don’t have NBA league pass because I’m cheap. But I cannot image many teams doing what the Sixers did with Doug: featuring him in an advertisement for the team. In most cities, coaches are there to be fired when performance doesn’t match the owner’s expectations. But here, they are featured as a way to draw fans in. I cannot express how unique that must be. The Lakers sell tickets through Kobe Bryant. The Heat sell through the Big 3. The Clippers sell tickets through “Lob City”. The Sixers sell tickets by selling fans on their coach.
Usually, the coach’s seat is one of the more tenuous one can be in. According to a New York Times article from 2008, the average NBA coaching tenure lasted 2.64 seasons, with the median a tidy 1.3. With Jerry Sloan now retired, that number should be smaller. In other words, the Sixers were selling the fans on someone that, on average, would be fired 18 months later. Never mind Doug’s history of wearing his teams out after 3 seasons (it’s happened three times already – this current Sixers season is seemingly a fourth), the idea of marketing a coach is absurd unless he’s Sloan and has more power than anyone on the roster. And as it turned out, Sloan maybe didn’t quite have that security after all.
So after reading that, it seems like an awful idea to make Doug the center of attention. However, once you get deeper into it, maybe selling the fans on the coach wasn’t the worst idea. The Sixers lack a top tier NBA player. As much as I love Andre Iguodala‘s game, his personality isn’t an advertiser’s dream. He is seemingly a quiet, smart guy who doesn’t pose for the crowds or create hype around himself. Evan Turner was still trying to shed a bust label. He’s still trying to shed that label, so it was probably a good idea not to based an ad campaign around him. The rest of the roster is similarly uninspiring. There was no one player to reliably sell to the fans, which is part of the beauty of this group of players but also a problem for both the future of the franchise as well as the marketing department.
Moreover, the current front office was only responsible for only a few players on the current roster, as well as none of the mainstays. However, the new owners loved Doug’s personality, and it seems like Rod Thorn and Doug work well together. Maybe they had little choice, but maybe they chose who they wanted to lead them.
The start of the season made the decision to highlight Collins a good one. The new ownership capitalized, with lowered ticket prices and a new game atmosphere (for my account of the game experience, click here). And when the team was winning and when the potential to get better seemed real, they brought people in. And the team’s success was predicated on being a true team. No superstar. Deep bench. Hard workers. Strong defense. While Iguodala was selected as an all-star by default, Collins was credited more than anyone else for the success.
Now that they aren’t doing so well, the blame has to fall somewhere. Usually, the masses call for the coach. But, this isn’t happening. The fans, whether through the commercials or the soundbites or whatever, are largely in Doug’s favor. He’s gritty and tough and he cares and there’s no superstars and they’re sensitive and they’re quitters, and all that. He has the fans on his side, possibly in part due to the ad campaigns. And as much as they have his back, I think the front office has the same idea. They have no sentimental connection to most of the roster. They didn’t draft Lou Williams or Jrue Holiday. They didn’t sign Elton Brand. This is a new front office, and Doug Collins is beloved.
There will be changes this summer. I am sure of it. And I think they’ll choose Doug over the players. He will return, while the cast of characters around him changes. Because the organization made him the star, and the stars usually get preference in the NBA.