September 22, 2011
In-Game Entertainment Rises in Prominence

Prior to being hired by the Hornets in 2005, every NBA game Id attended as a fan was in the Northeast, at arenas in Toronto, Philadelphia and New Jersey. Although philosophies have changed around the league over the past six years, the way I recall the fan experience at Northeastern NBA venues back then was best summarized like this: You showed up to watch the game, the game was played and then you went home. I honestly dont remember much in the way of entertainment during timeouts, although Im sure there was some.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I witnessed my first-ever Hornets home game on Nov. 23, 2005. On the night before Thanksgiving, the Hornets hosted the Timberwolves in Oklahoma City, a relatively nondescript early-season matchup between teams who entered with records of 4-6 and 5-4, respectively.

I still remember the night like it was yesterday. During every two-minute break in the action, there was some kind of pre-planned form of entertainment, including humorous Hugo the Hornet skits, performances by the Honeybees, videos on the large BuzzVision screen introducing Hornets players, you name it. To someone accustomed to a more traditional basketball atmosphere, it was like a non-stop assault, with virtually no down moments for fans to just chill in their seats and wait for the game to re-start following a timeout. It was unlike every NBA setting Id ever seen.

Of course, it helped that the Hornets-Wolves clash turned out to be one of the most dramatic regular season NBA games Ive watched the Hornets rallied from an 18-point deficit to win 84-80. But the atmosphere was certifiably electric in the building. It was hands-down the most fun NBA game Id ever attended. After experiencing how non-stop the entertainment was during stoppages in play, I turned to the people sitting near me in the fourth quarter and incredulously asked, Wait, do they do this every game?

While the Hornets were one of the first NBA teams to make in-game entertainment a major priority, six years later its become almost universally prominent at each arena. For example, only two other NBA teams had in-arena emcees when the Hornets introduced Rob Nice to handle that role in 2003-04. In 2010-2011, virtually every NBA club had an emcee. Another sign of the leaguewide change in philosophy occurred in 2006, when the Boston Celtics became the 30th and final team to introduce a dance team (funny side note: Ive heard some crusty Celtics fans say it never wouldve happened if dean of the old school Red Auerbach were still around. Thats not true, though: the dance team was created in May 2006, five months before Auerbach passed away).

I always find it interesting to hear fans debate with each other about how much other stuff besides basketball should be part of NBA games. On one end of the spectrum, there are diehard fans who just want to watch the game and dont need music or other entertainment to enhance their experience. On the other hand, though, consider how many people attend games who dont fit that hardcore-basketball demographic. Among the fans who dont necessarily know the Xs and Os of hoops yet are thousands of young children, whose attention span also may not be conducive to sitting to watch an entire 2 1/2-hour game.

Prior to each of the last few seasons, weve sent out a survey to Hornets season ticket holders, who we profile on a page of our GameTime program. One of the questions we ask them is: What do you enjoy most about attending Hornets home games? The first time we sent out the survey, it surprised me to read the responses and see how many people wrote Well, I wasnt a huge basketball fan and still dont necessarily love the sport itself, but I had so much fun at the games that I decided to buy season tickets. Or theyll write something to the effect of I love the Hornets, but whats really great is being able to bring my kids to the game. My children especially enjoy watching mascot Hugo the Hornet and the Honeybees.

The motivation for NBA teams to make in-game entertainment a greater aspect of home games is certainly more complicated than that, but when you see the changes that have taken place in the last half-decade or so, the presence of children is certainly a major factor.

As a writer for an NBA team for the past five-plus years, Im obviously not anything close to what someone would call a casual follower of the sport. Even before I worked in the league, the NBA was a significant part of how I spent my free time during the winter months. But at the same time, I understand the reasons behind why NBA game entertainment isnt necessarily tailored for people like me. Its geared toward fans who even if they didnt watch all 48 minutes of the action or enjoy the on-court outcome still want to come back for another game.

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