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Fan Experience At IZOD a Joke

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The New Jersey Nets are taking an interesting approach to ticket sales this season.  Their ability to sell tickets has been so underwhelming that they have resorted to coming as close as possible in the Ticketmaster era to literally giving away tickets.

A few weeks back, a relative forwarded me a link advertising a Nets promotion offering "complimentary" tickets to any of several games in December and January and a few select contests over the course of the season.  All I had to do was go through Ticketmaster's standard online Nets ticket sales and use a coupon code provided on site, and I would have clinched my attendance privileges at the IZOD Center.

This sounded too good to be true, of course.  It wasn't.  A few clicks later, I had acquired four lower level seats to last night's Grizzlies-Nets contest for a total of $6.50.  The tickets were listed as $0.00 but "[included] a $0.75 ticket fee."  Why that is, I'm not sure, but I'm not complaining.  Ticketmaster hit me with its standard nonsense, a $3.50 order processing charge, and the tickets were mine, to be left at will call.

To this point, I should really be a bit more positive.  As a fan who loves going to games anytime, anywhere, it's fantastic to have an opportunity like this, and it's cool of the team to offer such a promotion (in contrast, the last time I bought four tickets to a Knicks game, they ran $160 and were supposedly acquired below face value).  I'm grateful to the Nets for that, and I should preface the rest of these remarks by saying that because I went to the game with a couple of people I really enjoy being around, and because I would watch hoops from the middle of a crowded prison if need be, I had a blast on a personal level last night.  But with that said, each trip to the IZOD Center makes it clear that giving away tickets might be the Nets' only way to get bodies in the seats, and the IZOD arena experience is as bad as any I've had.

Forgetting the fact that the East Rutherford arena is located in the less-than-optimally-accessible Meadowlands complex, the experience inside is a mess.  ESPN lists the Nets at averaging 15,399 fans per game (the 77 percent capacity ranks 24th in the league), but there is no doubt that is in tickets paid.  It's hard to imagine there were anywhere close to the reported 11,552 observers at the arena last night as 6,000 seemed a generous estimate.  In fact, we were partially responsible for two no-show attendances on our own as a complete stranger handed us two more lower level seats on our way in, both listed at $85 face value.

As was the case in my visits last season, the fans that were in attendance showed little to no interest in the basketball game.  There was little hoops talk amongst the sparse clusters in the stands around us, and there wasn't even much of that standard "Our boys are playing, let's get a win" buzz that most arenas seem to have a night-to-night basis.  With the exception of one breakaway Vince Carter dunk, the crowd couldn't be bothered to make any noise without prompting from some dopey scoreboard graphic imploring it to get loud, and even then the response was pedestrian (which led to an increase in the amplitude of the blaring music from the sound system, presumably as compensation).  It legitimately felt as if I were in a building semi-full of people who flatly didn't care about the supposed main attraction, a step down from feeling as though I were at a Celts home game for a green visit a season ago.  The only word that comes to mind to describe the IZOD crowd is "nondescript."  The fans add nothing to the atmosphere.

Oddly enough, in a place with so few spectators, security manages to be as inflexible as imaginable.  On several occasions over the last two seasons, I've attempted to walk down into the lower level just to watch players shoot around well in advance of the game.  On each occasion, security denied that request (something I can't remember happening at any other basketball arena or baseball stadium I've attended), refusing to grant anyone access into a section for which he wasn't ticketed, even with more than half an hour to game time.  Too bad.  One would think the organization would want as many people around the court as possible when the cameras start rolling.  Baffling.

The one guy in the building who does seem to care at all about the game is PA man Gary Sussman, as evidenced by his over-the-top pronouncements for every Nets play of any consequence.  While he is no doubt to be commended for bringing the energy, the corniness gets to me from time to time: "Did you SEEEEE VC?", "Yi-normous!", "VC off another Yi-Z feed" and some purely incomprehensible screaming for every Brook Lopez dunk all made appearances throughout the evening.  The more I think about it, the more of a highlight of the IZOD Center experience this becomes.

The possibility of being left to one's own thoughts during a break in the action is all but none.  Until the game's final television timeout at the 2:14 mark in the fourth quarter, we were constantly bombarded with either the underwhelming Nets Dancers or some odd gimmicks that involved contestants engaging in any number of confusing behaviors, including adults shooting baskets while attached by bungee cords and kids dribbling through cones in oversized sneakers and then missing lay-ups.  The real problem with these contests was the accompanying ring leader who ran around screaming into a bullhorn, thus essentially forcing spectators to pay attention to the nonsense occurring on the court, all the while reminding us, "In the event of a tie, a previously held coin toss has determined our winner."  Each of the first two contest winners was indeed pronounced by previously determined coin toss.  Would it seriously be such a sin to leave folks to their own devices for a few minutes each night?

The fans don't come.  The fans don't seem to care.  Security isn't particularly friendly.  The parlor games are especially annoying, even in a sport where more and more arenas seem to rely on them to keep ever-fidgety fans occupied during timeouts.  That the Nets are being kind enough to provide practically free tickets is a really cool step in the right direction, and for all my complaining, I'd take the team up on any future offers.  But that doesn't change the fact that the IZOD Center offers one of the worst arena experiences around.


Some notes on the basketball portion of the night, which featured a sloppily played 100-89 Nets win over Memphis:

  • Marc Gasol is the worst defender this side of Zach Randolph.  He's absolutely clueless.  The man is slow-footed and doesn't get back down the floor well in the first place, but he only compounds it by consistently losing his man and doing a miserable job defending the screen and roll.  Gasol had trouble all night figuring out when to switch and how far to go to effectively hedge on screens, and the result was open dunks galore for Brook Lopez.  Lopez went 8-for-11, mostly on uncontested finishes.  The defining image of the two centers for the evening was a second-half play on which the Nets set up their offense and found Lopez standing wide open for a dunk in the middle of the lane just as Gasol was crossing the timeline to get into the play.  Meanwhile, not a single Memphis player showed the slightest inclination of rotating to the paint to put up any sort of obstacle for Lopez.  Mind-boggling.
  • For as much as I enjoy ripping on him, Vince Carter was great.  He looked interested from the start, knocking down several mid-range jumpers and leaping into the stands to save a ball in-bounds during his 13-point first quarter.  He played efficient basketball, took wise shots and led the offense beautifully all night, finishing a smooth 6-for-11 from the field en route to 25 points, 12 assists and six boards.  Hard to envision a more impressive all around night for VC.  No loafing to be found.  Well done, sir.
  • VC also has the special ability to snap into position to preen for the cameras as soon he releases the ball.  It's uncanny.
  • The lack of motion in Marc Iavaroni's offense is astounding.  Many of the Grizzlies do little to no moving without the basketball in their hands.  O.J. Mayo in particular was repeatedly guilty of jogging to a corner at the beginning of a play and then standing there through the entire set.  Rudy Gay did some of the same, and on one occasion, Iavaroni called a set that led to both players jogging to the left corner to chill.  Mass confusion ensued.  For all the offensive talent on this team, it's easy to see how the lack of useful movement or cohesiveness between its components short-circuits the 26th-ranked offense.  
  • Make no mistake, for all the dysfunction as an offensive unit, the talent is there.  Rudy Gay's explosiveness to the basket is a sight to behold.  He made Yi Jianlian look silly on a play that started outside the circles above the left elbow and seemed to end a step later with Gay flushing the ball home from the right side of the hoop.  His quickness and leaping abilities are incredible, and he's got plenty of scoring touch away from the basket as well.  Mayo canned four treys and made a couple of flashy dribble moves to get himself good looks from mid-range and in the paint.  Both are impressive individual talents who have a long way to go as far as functioning in an effective team offense is concerned.
  • One more Mayo downer note: He had not one but two entry pass attempts turn into turnovers because he failed to even get the ball above his own man.  The lobs were deflected and knocked away at nearly the point of release on both occasions.
  • Yi looked good, knocking down several jumpers en route to a 20-point night on 7-for-13 shooting.  Same goes for Bobby Simmons, who scored 10 of his 12 points in the first quarter, mostly on shots from the left baseline, two of which came from beyond the arc.
  • The Memphis point guard situation is a long way from resolved.  Both Kyle Lowry and Mike Conley looked shaky at best. Each had the ball taken away from him in the backcourt, and neither looked particularly adept at running a professional offense.  Lowry is a tough player who earned multiple opportunities to convert three-point plays by finishing lay-ups with contact, but he also missed a couple around the rim after creating space for himself.  As for Conley, as my close friend and mentor The Babe noted, "He was the quickest player on the court in college.  That isn't so here, and that takes away a lot of what he can do."  Amen.

The highlight of the night was, of course, a stop in the city en route to Jersey for a bite at Gyro II.  There is nothing like taking a few more years off my life expectancy with the world's sweetest sauce, some greasy gyro meat and burnt onion rings.  Mmm.

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