Whether it is during a shortened season this year or in a full season next fall, the Utah Jazz are going to have the challenge of putting the pieces of their part of a damaged league back together after the NBA lockout.
As will all teams in the league, the Jazz coaches and players are going to need a period of time to adjust to get back into playing shape. There will be bad passes, bad communication on the court and the normal growing pains expected from a young team that will be learning to play together.
While the on-court adjustments are normal and expected, the bigger problem the Jazz will face is with the fans.
In combination with the Jazz coming off of one of the worst seasons in team history, the lockout has pushed more fans away from the club than this small market team can afford to lose. The Jazz are not like the bigger market teams in the league who have millions of fans in nearly every state. They do not have the luxury of playing in one of the nation’s most populated cities, nor do they have movie stars at games every night.
Even though Utah Jazz fans are usually a very loyal group, and most of them will be fans of the team regardless, there are three things that the team must consider to keep them happy or bring back those who left the team.
Whenever a season starts, the Utah Jazz are going to have to employ one of the most aggressive marketing campaigns they have ever used.
Jazz players and coaches need to be consistently featured on television and radio shows, make many more promotional appearances and be seen on billboards and even on McDonald’s cups. They will have to find creative ways to get the community excited about the team, and to do that they must be visible.
They will need to have events where fans can meet the players, or perhaps they can return to a method they once used of putting a Jazz player in the community and having fans look for him. When he was found, he signed autographs and gave away free tickets.
One of the biggest challenges to the Jazz increasing the exposure of the team is the 12-year television contract the team signed with Fox Sports Net Utah a couple of years back.
Gone are the days of the free over-the-air broadcasts on KJZZ 14, a local station that once carried the majority of games.
The Jazz must figure out a way to increase team exposure among fans if they want to bring back a stronger fanbase.
More Community Involvement
The second thing the Jazz must do to rebuild their fanbase is to be more involved in the community than they have in recent years.
In addition to the many community partnerships and activities that they already participate in, they need to increase efforts to help those organizations and businesses that are part of the collateral damage of the lockout. The Jazz will need to work more closely with businesses to offer ticket deals, support businesses and help to increase advertising opportunities for smaller organizations.
Even though many fans and businesses may be quick to forgive and forget, the Jazz need to continue and increase the efforts they are making.
In the past they had a promotional deal with a gas station chain that offered free tickets with several fill-ups. At one time they also sold season tickets for as low as $5 per game. They need to return to promotions like this to get fans back into the arena.
One thing they may want to also consider is giving away tickets to help fill the arena. While many of the games against the elite NBA teams will sell out on their own, there will be nights when teams like the Bobcats or Raptors are in town and there could be a lot of empty seats.
Giving away tickets to games that will not sell out would be a good situation for both the Jazz who would have people in the arena to buy T-shirts, nachos or a big foam finger and the fans who couldn’t otherwise make it to a game.
This increase in community involvement may increase costs for the team initially but would pay dividends in the long run with showing fans and the community that they will work together to make the team and the community successful.
This one seems a bit obvious and is difficult to guarantee, but nothing brings the fans back quicker than winning.
The Utah Jazz find themselves in a similar situation that they did at the start of the 2003-2004 season, when the Jazz fielded a team without a superstar.
Having then lost John Stockton and Karl Malone, no one expected the team to perform at the level they did. Many thought the team would end up with the worst record in the league, but the Jazz did not. Instead, the team ended with a 42-40 record and narrowly missed the playoffs. That season was exciting because the team exceeded expectations and was winning when they were not supposed to.
After last season, many fans once again do not expect much from the team although the talent and potential is there for the team to be successful.
If Tyrone Corbin can find a way for this team to avoid long losing streaks, beat some of the elite teams in the league like they did last season when they knocked of the Heat and the Lakers and make it into the playoffs, excitement will increase and fans will see the season as an improvement over last year.
Ultimately, winning is the one thing that the Jazz must find a way to do the quickest. If fans are subject to another season like last year, things could get ugly and the small-market team could struggle to stay viable.
If the Jazz use these methods to reach out to the community and the fans, the team will recover quickly from the lockout and be back to business as usual.
Putting together another team that contends for the title won’t hurt either.