Fan Fare

Fan Fare

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

I am a sports fan.

A HUGE sports fan!

Anyone reading for any part of the 6 years here already knows this. My psychosis is on full display for all to see. But that doesnt mean that in my fervor that I am unaware of the part I play in the process. I am an observer. And, I am a source of revenue for the teams and leagues I follow. That is why I am bombarded with garish signage, internet offers and commercials as a reward for my visits to a stadium or arena and in my near constant TV viewership of athletic endeavors. Its a badge of honor that I have watched over 500,000 Anheuser Busch commercials in my lifetime. (I wont even mention the Viagra and Cialis commercials that seem to dominate national broadcasts these days, but that number is growing rapidly every day!) It comes as part of the price to enjoy the ultimate reality shows of our times.

For as much as sports exist to entertain, like any other business their continued existence is dependent on their ability to turn a profit.

They say its a game, but its really a business. And, as we all know, business is business. This leads to plenty of off-field drama and reality shows. It also makes a fan think.

The two areas I find interesting are:

1) Who is responsible for a franchises financial viability?
2) What responsibilities exist in the team-fan relationship?

Of course financial viability should be the responsibility of those running the franchise, right? I mean they put up the cash for the right to own. The main focus then must be to understand your target consumer and to give them what they want in the quantities that they desire. Im a believer here of the more you win, the more you make. Thats simple enough. Its the bottom rung of the competitive hierarchy that seems to have the most money problems, isnt it? That would make sense. They then have the choices to make in their fight for survival in this win-or-else world we live in. Sometimes though, as time has gone on, we have had the unique opportunity of being sold on the civic pride angle of having a professional sports franchise in our midst, no matter the scope of their on-field miscues. Whatever! I bring this up again of course in lieu of the Cubs latest grab for IllinoisChicago public funds. I know the headlines said that the Cubs were going to use their own money, but lets be real here. Someone is going to pay. Who might that be? Well, first of all, I would think the neighborhood might have to make a donation and that is in addition to what they have already donated to their local alderman to protect their interests.

To be honest, Ive never really had a problem with this, although I would also agree that the neighborhood should have some say on what occurs there. But ultimately, the Cubs have made everyone in that neighborhood a lot of cash and my guess here is that everyone in that neighborhood knew the franchise was right next door when the bought their property or opened their business. I would think the Cubs are well within their rights to get their payments from rooftop owners since those owners make a ton of cash directly from selling an experience related to someone elses business. But when you want to start shutting down public streets to effectively increase your business footprint, who directly benefits from that? And who would suffer? If I owned one of the Clark Street bars I would be very concerned about the negotiations going on with city hall.

Its with this in mind, that when I hear the improvements in and around Wrigley Field will enhance the guest experience, I reach for my wallet. Because thats what the bottom line here is. Upon my arrival to Chicago 18 years ago and my initial visits to Wrigley, I often wondered aloud (because thats how I wonder!) and later in this space, why the team didnt own the buildings surrounding the stadium poaching off their business. For most people, myself included, there is only a limited amount of time allotted to going to a game. The team should understand this and act accordingly. The common denominator of all of the stadiums built since Camden Yards in Baltimore was the number of options that a ticketholder has once they enter the ballpark. There are still options in the neighborhood, but the fun starts once you go inside and head down Eutaw Street. (I often tell folks at the bar, you havent lived until you get a picture in front of the stadium with the Babe Ruth statue and then go inside and have Boog Powells sweaty head add extra flavor to your barbeque beef sandwich before the game!)

So I can understand the Cubs trying to grab as much fan cash as possible, its their game.

And heres where the relationship should be honest. The enhancement is for one reason and one reason only. Again, no problem with that, just be upfront.

You know, like NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. Did you see his heartfelt apology to the fans for the lockout? Please.

His only job is to make money for the NHL owners. He apparently is pretty good at this. Since he took over 20 years ago, NHL annual revenue has risen from around 500 million to the current 3 billion. Wowza! For a niche sport in this country, thats impressive. Part of the collateral damage of this ascension though, were the three forced lockouts of their primary expense, the players. Did he apologize the other two times? I cant remember. Or care. Im a hockey fan. I just want to see the best players play. I dont need crocodile tears.

In a way, this lockout could end up working out to the NHLs favor. With the condensed 48 games in 99 days schedule, us fans are expecting more exciting, playoff-style hockey than we would see in a normal regular season, which of course will make everyone in the NHL more money in the long run. Funny how that works. Not funny ha-ha, but funny.
Because in the long run, its about the product. Do you think the Hawks public relations blitz right now would have had the same resonance 10 years ago? Thats what a Cup will do for you.

Add the NBA and the NFL to this labor strife mix.

Will the fans come back? Of course we will. Were fans. What else do we have to do?
In todays world fans will show their support but it comes in many different ways. No longer, I think, is a fan measured by how many games they go to. Who has the time, and more importantly, the money?

The fan today spends plenty on team merchandise and has to be able to watch any game, at any time, wherever they are. Thank you smart phone!!

And after spending all of your cash on jerseys and league subscriptions, who can afford going to the actual games? Add in to the fact that they are giving away big-screen HD TVs, why would you want to leave the house?

Me, I have to be compelled to go to a game. Two things do that. One is an over-the top experience for the large sum of money I know that Im going to invest. Wrigley held that for quite a while, but I have to admit, it looks pretty cool over my fireplace also and I dont have to worry about parking or a trough. Ive been there more recently for concerts. Now that is something that is worth the money. Seeing an iconic musical act in one of the iconic structures of all-time. Paul McCartney? Roger Waters? Bruce? Now thats priceless.

The other, and you would think this is unbelievably obvious, a winning product.

People want to be a part of something special, not a bridge to nowhere. Going to see a team that is near the top of their league is always cool and will always be the major part of the equation. That is an enhanced guest experience every day of the week.

If you build it, they will come. With their wallets open.

Fans like us, baby we were born to pay!

The consummate pro: How Taj Gibson has become the Bulls' version of Udonis Haslem

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USA TODAY

The consummate pro: How Taj Gibson has become the Bulls' version of Udonis Haslem

The 2011 Eastern Conference Finals between the Bulls and Miami Heat featured three future Hall of Famers in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Derrick Rose had been named the youngest league MVP in league history weeks earlier. Luol Deng was blossoming and would earn All-Star nods in each of the following two seasons. $82 million man Carlos Boozer had averaged 17.5 points and 9.6 rebounds in his first season with the Bulls. The series was loaded with star power.

But buried deep in that series was a matchup of unsung reserves that influenced the series far greater than their numbers in the box score indicated. Udonis Haslem averaged just 4.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 22 minutes in the series – the Heat won in five games – but his impact was felt nonetheless, in part because of the physicality he brought against an energetic second-year forward named Taj Gibson.

“When we played them in the Eastern Conference Finals, Gibson had an incredible impact on that series, and (Haslem) was just coming back from an injury,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said before Saturday’s tilt between the Bulls and Heat. “And we thought that was probably the missing component in that series early on, was having a player like UD to match up against (Gibson). And that really helped us close that series.”

Five years later Haslem is on the final leg of his NBA career. He’s only appeared sparingly in seven games for the Heat in this his 14th NBA season. But the two-time NBA champion has had a lasting impact on the Heat organization – so much so that they allowed him to miss Friday’s game to attend his son’s state-title football game in Florida – and has etched himself in Heat lore, despite never averaging more than 12 points or nine rebounds in a season.

It’s not unlike the career path Gibson has taken in his eight seasons in Chicago. The now-31-year-old Gibson has spent the majority of his career playing behind the likes of Carlos Boozer, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah. And while he’s been an integral part of the Bulls’ rotation since joining the team in 2009, his role has never matched his ability or production. It’s why Haslem said he sees so much of himself in Gibson, an unselfish, care-free teammate, yet also someone who is willing to work every day despite the lack of accolades.

“Taj plays hard, man. He’s a guy that gets all the dirty work done. The banging down in the paint, he knocks down that 15-footer, (he) rebounds,” Haslem told CSNChicago.com. “A lot of similarities to myself when I was a little younger. Like you said, unsung. Doesn’t look for any attention, doesn’t look for any glory. Just goes out there, is professional, and does his job every night.”

And in his eighth NBA season, Gibson has done his job every night incredibly well. Through 23 games he’s posted career-best numbers in field goal percentage, rebounds, assists and steals, and isn’t far off in points and blocks per game. His 16.9 PER would be a career-high.

He’s done all this with little real estate in the spotlight. Jimmy Butler has cemented himself as a legitimate MVP candidate, and free-agent acquisitions Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo have earned headlines.

But Gibson has been as reliable and consistent a frontcourt player as the Bulls have – he’s one of three players to have appeared in all 23 games this season – and he’s playing some of his best basketball while the Bulls are mired in a mini-slump.

“He’s a rock for us on this team,” Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s going to go out and do his job. He’s never going to complain about his role. He’s going to put on his hard hat and make the little plays that may not show up in the box score, but help you win.”

Including Gibson’s 13-point, seven-rebound effort in Saturday’s win over the Heat, he’s averaging 12.6 points on 58 percent shooting and 7.3 rebounds in the Bulls’ last 11 games. He’s corralled 16 offensive rebounds in that span – including two on Saturday that he put back for layups – and is the main reason the Bulls entered as the league’s top offensive rebounding team in the league (and second in total rebound percentage). The Bulls are also nearly six points per 100 possessions better defensively with Gibson on the floor.

Gibson’s and Haslem’s career numbers are eerily similar – Gibson has averaged 9.3 points on 49 percent shooting and 6.4 rebounds, compared to Haslem’s 7.9 points on 49 percent shooting and 7.0 rebounds, with this year excluded. And both players accomplished their numbers while acting as the third scoring option, at best, on their respective teams. Wade, who spent 13 seasons with Haslem, also sees similarities in the two forward’s games and personalities.

“Taj does his job. He doesn’t try to do too much. Some nights he’s featured a lot. Some nights he’s not. He’s out there to do his job, wants to win,” he said. “(Haslem and Gibson) are very similar. He has that mentality where he’s a workhorse and he’s going to do whatever it takes.”

Added Spoelstra: “Incredible amount of similar qualities. In my mind both those guys are winning players and have all the intangibles and toughness. Doing the little things, the dirty work, both those guys embody all those qualities. We’ve always respected Gibson because of that.”

Gibson is third on the Bulls in field goal attempts per game, the first time in his career he’s been higher than fifth in that category. The Bulls are using him more than ever before, and it’s paying off. He's in the final year of his four-year contract with the Bulls, and is looking at a significant pay raise in free agency this coming summer. Whether his future is in Chicago or elsewhere, don’t expect him to change his persona or mentality anytime soon. Much like Haslem did for years in Miami, Gibson has defined being a consummate professional, teammate and player.

“When you’re on championship teams, competing for a championship, trying to go deep in the playoffs, trying to do special things, guys are doing to have to sacrifice their game. Everybody can’t play big minutes; everybody can’t take the shots,” he said after the Bulls’ win over the Cavs on Thursday. “I’m one of the guys that sacrificed my game for the good of the team. Whatever the coach wants me to do, I’m going to go out and do (it).

“If a coach wants me to set 100 screens and not take a shot, I’m gonna do that because I’m about helping the team. And that’s what I’ve been doing all these years. As long as I’m out there enjoying myself, having fun and playing with great teammates, I’m blessed.”

Morning Update: Bulls take down Heat for second time this season

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USA TODAY

Morning Update: Bulls take down Heat for second time this season

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