Thursday, January 23, 2014

Apathy & Fan Regret Main Worry for Orlando Magic

It’s a scary time to be an Orlando Magic supporter. This franchise won’t be in the postseason again come April, after missing the playoffs last year for the first time since 2006. Fans will be challenged to emotionally and financially support a franchise that can’t begin to fathom contending for a championship until summer 2014. And that’s the best case scenario. You’re looking at 2015 and beyond most likely. Meanwhile, the Miami Heat are seeking their fourth NBA championship, while the Magic just have their 2 Finals appearances. More and more folks living in Orlando - transplants and natives - seem to be wearing the red jerseys of our rivals down on South Beach. 

Those Magic fans who don’t want to learn the business of the new CBA-driven NBA are understandably frustrated and flat out pissed off to have seen the likes of Dwight Howard, Ryan Anderson, and JJ Redick be dealt away by GM Rob Hennigan without name-recognition coming back in return (Tobias Harris the exception). Those fans could care less about cap space or draft picks. They want physicial assets of talent. We’re waiting on the fates of veterans Arron Afflalo, Jameer Nelson, and Glen Davis to see if any of them get traded away, and if Magic nation can get its hopes up for the upcoming offseason. 

At what point do even the most dedicated of Magic supporters who attend games start looking around and see those $15 tickets for Orlando City soccer and the Solar Bears and go: ‘You know, I could go to one game of each and it’s still cheaper than my Magic ticket. They’re winners, and I don’t know when this Magic team will turn it around. If the Magic don't seem to care, then why should I be giving them my money.’ In my opinion, It’s already happening.

Give the Magic marketing crew and the still new Amway Center credit. They’re still getting over 15,000 people to show up on most games. Depending on what website tool you prefer to utilize, Orlando is ranked around 23rd in the league. That's respectable for a franchise that currently has the 2nd-worst win-loss record in the NBA. It’s not always just Magic fans though. We’ve had to deal with visiting fan bases invading Amway Center the past 2 years. The bus loads of Brazilian tourists are a massive help. Hopefully the tourists keep flocking in when they find a reprieve from the theme parks. The other factor that's good and bad is the corporate sponsors who own the box suites and get plenty of tickets to hand to their employees. Great for the turnstiles, not so solid if you're counting on people to scream their support of the on-court product. 

There’s just no where near the buzz of a 'home court atmosphere' like there used to be. A lot of that has to do with being in an arena that’s about 4 times as big as the old one. Noise just doesn't amplify like it did in the old building. Some of it is the extra activities you can do at Amway Center that didn't exist at the O-Rena. The bigger problem is the aging fan base that populates the lower bowl of Amway Center. Funerals are louder than what the first 10 rows of people at the arena produce noise level wise. That's if they're even occupying their seats. In fairness, there's not much to be excited about lately. But how often do you really see anyone your parents' or grandparents' age go crazy and 'embarrass' themselves with screaming and other fan interaction activities in this portion of the United States? 

Let's do some math. The Magic are in their 25th anniversary season. Let's say for instance that you're 25 years old in 1989 and are an inaugural season ticket holder. That's best case scenario. Odds are you're in your 60s or 70s presently and still attending. Maybe your kin now attend. Anyway, back to the 25-year-old. You went through the teams's early growing periods with a big smile on your face because Orlando is a major sports city now.

Hopefully life has treated you well and you've been doing well enough financially to still have your tickets. Hopefully personally you're happy and have an awesome spouse and outstanding kids. You're at least 50 now and have your AARP card. You've been able to get the entire family hooked on this franchise and they're fans for life either because of the mid-'90s run, Penny's Jordanesque period, Heart 'N Hustle, the T-MAC era, and/or the SVG-Dwight title-worthy teams.

Congrats, I salute you. Now what? You've gone from 1989 to 2014. You're older, you're not as patient. You've now spent 2 seasons watching a product you know isn't competing and praying to God '14-'15 won't be the same. You're not as excited. In fact, maybe the Magic have made you miserable since you feel like you're wasting thousands of dollars. The pure joy of the in-game experience isn't there, and no amount of free food and perks can prevent the feeling of disgust for the one non-human thing that you always adored from developing deep in your soul. Maybe it's not even disgusts, it's apathy. You don't care. You've become Mistress Meh or Captain Careless. You see Jack 'Sweater Vest Guy' Nelson and Dennis 'The Fat Guy' Salvagio and mock them for being old geezers who have more than a few screws loose. You'll get bright spots of relief here and there, like Vucevic's rebound record, but it's not enough. You're sick of the word 'tanking'. You think Jacque Vaughn is Johnny Davis. You've owned blenders that are older than Rob Hennigan. You're watching the worst on-the-court Magic basketball product since Matty Guokas was coaching and Pat Williams was the General Manager. The difference is there's no grace period of forgiveness. The franchise isn't new anymore.

The Magic should have an endless cycle of elder fans exiting for the afterlife or full-time retirement, and replacing them should be professional working types that are half their age who may or may not have spouses and who may or may not have children. These career-minded folks should have grown up with the Magic being in their sports-loving blood. They've got money to go unwind at a game to drink, eat, and watch basketball. It's not working out like that. Part of it is economical hard times. The Orlando area ranks low in cost of living in the country when it comes to markets that have over one million people, but Orlando also ranks very low when it comes to average salaries. So it's cheap to live here, but there isn't too much money to spare for attending large chunks of a Magic season. The Magic are not the only viable sports show in town.

For $250, you can purchase solid to outstanding FULL-SEASON OR HALF-SEASON TICKET seats to the following: UCF Knights football, UCF Knights basketball, Orlando Solar Bears hockey, Orlando City soccer. I'm neglecting the Predators because the Arena Football League is on shaky ground. That's 4 DIFFERENT SPORTS for $1,000. Those four alternatives cover the entire calendar year. What can $1,000 get you for Magic games? Well, take a look. You're either stuck in the O-Zone - where you do get a decent view and at least some potentially rambunctious company - or maybe you can get a handful of games in the lower bowl. 

That's what many people that live and spend time in Orlando are doing. People are done watching the Magic be terrible for 41 games at this moment. They're pushing the Magic to the side and picking 2, 3, or all 4 even of the season ticket sporting alternatives available to them. They're getting more bang for their buck. 

So here's a great honest question: 'Why do you choose to attend Magic games?'

Let me preface by saying, don't quit on your team and please keep spending money on this franchise if you already have been or are thinking of doing so. It's a great luxury viewing experience to have, being able to spend money on entertainment. This is one of the better franchises in the NBA. It's just a tough recovery period at the moment. You're not allowed to answer if you're gifted tickets. Of course you go if it's free. 

If you don't know my background, I'll give you a summary. I was born in 1988 in Orlando. I've been raised here. I've thankfully been able to travel enough to get a feel of what the country and the world is like. Yes, the outside views Orlando as basically nothing but Disney World. However, people from all corners of the world know about the Magic. I've been a diehard Magic fan since I could piece together memories.

I grew up watching those '95 and '96 teams. There were tears, something you don't want to see from a 7 or 8-year-old who is just watching a game. But see, it's not just a game. It's a release from daily life. It's an opportunity to love and support something that you know (or think you know) can be a constant entity you can support. You know the basketballs are being bounced from October until (if lucky) June. Then you have the Draft, then Summer League (which Orlando gets to host!), and then back around comes another season. It's awesome.

From 1998 I spent over a decade, on and off, parking cars for my family business. I've feasibly seen millions of Magic fans walk to and from the no-longer-existing O-Rena and gauged their interest, their dedication, their love, to the franchise they support. I've also been lucky to have earned free tickets, and owned various ticket plans during that time. I've seen some of the best and worst moments in person during that time. I was in the O-Rena when Darrell Armstrong stole the ball and robbed the 76ers of a win. I was there for Mike Miller's last game in a Magic jersey that overshadowed one hell of a comeback against the Hornets. I was in the building when McGrady put up 62. I endured WAY too many 2003-2004 season contests. I was there for Dwight's grown man 28-point, 26-rebound game. I've been in the O-Rena for various playoff highs and lows. I traveled to Atlanta to see the Magic sweep the Hawks in 2010. My point is, I understand why so many people are avoiding the Magic right now. It's not hip, it's not cool, it's painful to watch a game on most game nights, the young talent growing isn't even satisfying at this time. 

I'm going to be 26 years old in May. I have a full-time job in banking and am very lucky to be an accredited Magic media member in my spare time as well. I have to be a financially responsible adult and pick and choose where and how I splurge my earnings. I get to attend every Magic home game and I get fed on top of that as a media member. No complaining on my end. I'm living a dream having all of this access to coaches and players. With that said, I would not spend money on a Magic ticket plan right now. If the on-court product is supposedly tanking, then so would my wallet. I'd be glued to my television, interacting on message boards and Twitter, and ponder how and when this Magic franchise will get it's act together again. I was a half season ticket holder for the Solar Bears last season. If they make the playoffs, you'll definitely see me there. I've attended a lot of Orlando City soccer games and am a proud 2014 season ticket holder as I'm in line to reserve seats for the 2015 MLS campaign. I'm also a multi-year UCF football season ticket holder since graduating as a Knight. In case you don't know, it's a damn great time to be a Knight.

I will cry like a little sissy girl when the Magic win a championship, member of the media or not. Whether I'm still living in Orlando or not. It's not a matter of IF, it is indeed WHEN, because God damn it I still believe. We believe in Magic. That's never going to change. There isn't a bandwagon fan in the world that will dampen that feeling of my home team winning a major championship. I've been on board with this franchise since birth.

Why do you choose to attend Magic games? You can pocket the money, watch or DVR the game that will more than likely end in another loss, get your highlights of Oladipo or Vucevic or whoever, play your tank BINGO, and throw down some of that money on the Solar Bears or Orlando City soccer. Hell, even the Predators if you're not a UCF fan. 

Why do you choose to attend Magic games? If I'm asking the question (THIS GUY, the most diehard Magic guy around), then what does the Magic franchise think the rest of the community is doing (or already has done)? They're bleeding season ticket holders by the hundreds and thousands over the past few years. The once outstanding in-game experience of a Magic game is dying, and the outside world is noticing. I keep hearing the stories of Orlando citizens who have owned season tickets or plans for DECADES and just can't find any motivation to continue attending. The Magic front office and ownership needs to think long and hard about how they want to approach the 2014-2015 season. Can you honestly afford to keep feeding Magic fans your 'process' and rebuilding spiels while sacrificing your current support base and the future generation of Orlando natives? 

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