As the Sixers surge, fans stay away

As the Sixers surge, fans stay away
January 15, 2012, 11:34 pm
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Its that high-pitched noise that sneakers make on a gym floor. You know that sound. That skidding, squeaky sound you hear when a basketball player pivots on the hardwood.

Screech.

You can hear it during a high school game in an empty gym. You can hear it during warmups in a college game if you arrive early enough.

You should not be able to hear it during an NBA game. Especially one on the home court of the team with the third-best record in the league.

Screech.

Thats how you know 76ers attendance is dreadful. When theyre in the middle of yet another blowout win, and Evan Turner dribbles to his right, then changes direction and drives to the basket, and his sneakers make that screeching sound and everybody in the ghost-town arena can hear it.

Thats bad.

Here are the numbers: Through five home dates, the 76ers are averaging 13,402 fans per game. That ranks 29th out of 30 NBA teams. Since drawing 19,408 for the home opener, the 76ers have averaged less than 12,000 per night.

The wins keep coming and the fans keep staying away.

Only the Pistons -- whose 3-9 record is sixth-worst in the NBA -- are drawing fewer fans per game at home than the Sixers, who are 9-3 and 5-0 at home.

New owners Joshua Harris and Adam Aron have done everything possible to create a terrific family atmosphere at the Wells Fargo Center. Theyve cut ticket prices. Theyve added some great promotions. Theyve improved concessions.

None of it has helped. Yet.

Its only five home dates, but Sixers attendance so far is worse than its been in 15 years.

Two years ago, the 76ers were one of the worst teams in the NBA. A nightly embarrassment. Remember Eddie Jordan? Remember 27-55? That team drew more than this one, averaging 14,224 fans per night.

But the sad reality is that the Sixers have been one of the worst-drawing teams in the NBA for years. They havent been out of the bottom 10 in NBA attendance since 2005, when they averaged 17,870 for 41 home dates.

Have people given up on the Sixers because they just havent been that good lately? No winning seasons since 2005, no playoff series wins since 2003? Perhaps. But the Knicks havent won a playoff series since 2000, and theyve been in the top 10 in attendance every year since.

Actually, interest in the 76ers is increasing. TV ratings are up 60 percent from last year. We just havent seen that interest translate into fans making their way to the Wells Fargo Center.

The main reason for the sagging attendance is probably just the economic reality of being a sports fan in Philadelphia right now. The Eagles always sell out. The Phillies always sell out. Flyers, too. When you budget your entertainment dollar during tough economic times, how much is left after a couple Eagles games, maybe half a dozen Phillies games and a bunch of Flyers games?

And maybe the absence of a bonafide All-Star is keeping people away. People used to jam the place to see Allen Iverson score 30 a night, whether or not the Sixers were winning.

But 13,402 a night? For this high-flying team? For Lou and Jrue? For Iggy? For Thad and Elton and Jodie?

Its early, but this sure looks like the best 76ers team since the 2001 trip to the NBA finals (and drew 19,651 per game), but so far its their worst attendance since 1996, when they went 18-64 (and drew 11,935 per game).

The last time the Sixers had a playoff team and drew this poorly was 1986, when they went 54-28 and drew 12,523 to the Spectrum.

But things were different back then. The NBA had not emerged as the big-time league it is now. That 12,523 figure actually ranked ninth in a 23-team league.

Maybe fans are just still jaded by the last few years to buy into what Doug Collins and Co. are doing. Maybe theyre reserving judgment until deeper into the season. Maybe if they get to the midway point 21-12 the fans will start showing up. Maybe if they truly have a shot at a three seed when mid-March rolls around, theyll start showing up.

But havent you seen enough yet to buy in? This team plays smart, fundamentally sound, unselfish basketball. Theyre young, theyre fun, theyre fast. Theyre blowing people out. They play basketball the right way, the way we were taught to appreciate -- by working tirelessly on defense and running people off the court on offense.

And if you want a star, you have one in Collins, who in two years has taken the slop that Jordan left behind and turned it into one of the most exciting teams in the league.

Whats keeping you away?
E-mail Reuben Frank at rfrank@comcastsportsnet.com