Saturday, June 12, 2010

Even if you win, they won't come

Towards the end of the Albany Patroons' 2nd run in the now-defunct Continental Basketball Association, I talked to an usher at a game, curious about the decline in attendance. I was politely told that Albany was more of a high school & college hoops town now, unwilling to support pro basketball, despite attempts to keep the pro game relevant. Indeed, to people in Albany, CBA means Christian Brothers Academy, not the Continental Basketball Association, and Siena's average attendance at the Times Union Center blew away the Patroons even at the peak of their powers.

Fast forward to 2010, and the Albany Legends of the International Basketball League (IBL). I finally decided to take in a game on Friday, and while the Legends won, I was disheartened by the lack of attendance. It was even worse than the Patroons a year and a half ago. By my best estimates of a head count, I'd say there weren't even 100 people inside the Washington Avenue Armory on Friday, unless you include team staff, players and coaches from both teams, cheerleaders, game officials, and concessionaires. To say that there were about 60-75 people in the stands would be not only generous, but close to accurate.

Here's the problem. Entering play tonight, the Legends, at 11-2, are in 1st place in their division with 7 games left. Normally, a winning team would mean increased attendance, but not in this case. The local media only covers them when it's a slow news night. It's baseball season, and folks are more inclined to remain at home and follow the Mets or Yankees. Oh, yeah, there's also that little thing called the NBA Finals between ancient rivals Boston & Los Angeles. Worse, the Legends don't have a radio or television deal, and the two radio outlets likely to pick them up already have contracts for the Mets & Yankees. Time Warner Cable, also, isn't bothering to air any games. So what's a fan to do? Scope the team's website, of course, and it's linked to the IBL's site.

Any solutions? No. Legends management is swimming upstream against a difficult tide. Even if the Legends win the IBL title, that doesn't mean a ticker tape parade down State St., because it'll be the quietest championship in the city's history. Come to think of it, I don't think any Albany sports team has ever gotten the ticker tape treatment. And that's the worst shame of it all.

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