For Hawks, home hasn’t always been where heart is

Hawks fans had no reason to cheer in playoffs against Orlando last year. (Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com)

Hawks didn't give fans a reason to cheer in playoffs against Orlando last year. (Curtis Compton)

This can be a strange and fickle sports market. Teams don’t get a huge window to grab the public’s attention, and when they lose it it’s hard to get it back.

The Braves had it in the early to mid-1990s, then lost it when fans became jaded. The Falcons had it with Michael Vick, then lost it amid the blur of calamities that followed, and even three winning seasons haven’t brought back everybody. The Thrashers had it for about five minutes. But even their hard-to-beat-down fans eventually were crushed by franchise ineptitude, and it will take time to reconstruct bridges (assuming nobody phones Bekins).

This is the Hawks’ window. Blow this and it will be some time before anybody looks in their direction again.

They played two road playoff games at Orlando, winning one and having a good chance at a second upset in the other. That was impressive. But now that they’re home, will they play like they care? Or will they treat their fans similarly to the way Egyptians were treated to plagues in the Old Testament?

Locusts! (A 41-point home loss to New Orleans.)

Frogs! (A 34-point home loss to Philadelphia.)

Boiling seas! (Six home defeats in March by increasing deficits: 7 to Oklahoma City, 13 to New York, 14 to Los Angeles, 15 to Denver, 21 to Miami, 33 to Chicago.)

The answer to Hawks' problems aren't on a video screen ...

The answer to Hawks' problems aren't on a video screen ...

The Hawks’ home record during the regular season was 24-17. That ranked 16th in the NBA. Many want to blame the lack of success on poor fan support. The problem with that theory is that the only playoff team with a worse home record than Atlanta this season was the Knicks (23-18), who are one of the best-supported teams in the league.

“Sometimes it feels more like a road game,” coach Larry Drew admitted Thursday. “Maybe our guys don’t respond to those things very well.”

. . . and it's not in a marketing slogan, either.

. . . and it's not in a marketing slogan, either.

But Drew knows: Empty seats or booing fans or too many folks in the crowd pulling for the other team are not legitimate reasons for losing. Teams lose because they lack talent, or interest, or focus.

How about if the Hawks give people a reason to show up and cheer?

Doesn’t the saying go: “Home is where the heart is”?

“At home at times [this season] it didn’t feel like we had that confidence of the crowd, but I feel like our crowd feeds off what we do,” Al Horford said. “So if we have some highlight plays and really get it going, the crowd buys into that. Or we play hard. That’s all the fans ask for. It’s really disappointing at times we don’t do that as a team.”

Bingo.

This sports market has always supported two things: 1) Georgia football; 2) Something else. No. 2 always changes, either because of fluctuating success, the perceived level of commitment of ownership and management or, as Horford said, just flat out effort.

In short, fans want to be given a reason to believe. If the Hawks win two home games over the Magic, watch how quickly their bandwagon fills up.

“We have to go out and compete, regardless of who’s out there,” said Joe Johnson. “We’ve gotten past that. We understand where everybody stands on that.” (And yes, the remarks drip with irony given his remarks about the fans a year ago at this time.)

Top to bottom, the Hawks probably face more uncertainty than anybody in the playoffs: ownership (Atlanta Spirit is looking for a buyer), general manager (Rick Sund could be done after this year), coach (Drew’s contract offers little security), roster (a shakeup could be forthcoming).

But a strong showing against the Magic would help. It would get people excited. The Hawks need to take advantage of it, because these windows don’t open very often in Atlanta.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

69 comments Add your comment

Josh B

April 21st, 2011
4:18 pm

First? Is Sund’s contract up after the season?

Brandon from Warner Robins

April 21st, 2011
4:35 pm

Jeff,

What do you make of Hollinger’s piece on Drew holding Horford out with 2 fouls?

Big Game 3. Phillips should be packed and ready to go…

Reid Adair

April 21st, 2011
4:36 pm

Yeah, just ask Joe Johnson.

Jeff Schultz

April 21st, 2011
4:37 pm

Josh B — Nothing official but most believe his contract is up. Also he had previous suggested to some he might retire after this year but nobody certain now.

Jeff Schultz

April 21st, 2011
4:38 pm

Brandon — Didn’t read story but saw his tweets and know he’s attacking decision. Most disagree with decision, including me. My thought was Horford should’ve gone back in with 5 mins left in half, at latest. That said, people shouldn’t lose sight of fact Hawks battled back and trailed by 2 with 2 mins left, so it can be debated how much that was a factor.

Brandon from Warner Robins

April 21st, 2011
4:42 pm

i think the Hawks MUST take both games at Phillips.

Benjamin

April 21st, 2011
5:05 pm

Jeff, is there any chance that the Hawks might move to a different city?

I just get a weird vibe from this whole ownership situation, and with a lot of cities out there looking for teams, part of me wonders about that possibility. It’d feel strange not having a basketball team in Atlanta.

Rishi

April 21st, 2011
5:07 pm

Sund needs to go. While I like the Hinrich deal, giving Marvin Williams a contract extension is UNFORGIVEABLE. Also, ASG please sell the team to someone that really wants to make the Hawks a winning franchise.

Freshfromatl

April 21st, 2011
5:09 pm

They’re gonna blow it SMH. PROVE me wrong Hawks!

tom

April 21st, 2011
5:11 pm

i don’t think the NBA would say OK to a move by the hawks. but the last time people thought like that gave birth to the Thunder. who knows

heartofdarkness

April 21st, 2011
5:11 pm

Your list of sports this market supports omitted barbecue eating contests.

2011-2012 Hawks Marketing Campaign

April 21st, 2011
5:18 pm

LOSING: IT’S HAPPENING AT THE HIGHLIGHT FACTORY

or

NOW YOU KNOW: LARRY DREW IS A BARGAIN BASEMENT COACH

Ryan

April 21st, 2011
5:20 pm

Actually, the Marvin contract made sense. He was coming off a career year and looked to be on the rise. No one expected Horford to be on the ball as much as he is, therefore Marvin doesnt get the ball as much as he needs to be effective. Some people play off the ball better than others and Marvin just isnt one of those people. Hence why if ATL did get a big name PG either that player, or one of the other big names would suffer statistically.

Coach D

April 21st, 2011
5:21 pm

Jeff, Hopefully we’ll have a miracle such as the water parting for Moses. This year the playoffs are open for the Hawks. IF we can get by the Magic, I don’t think the Hawks are too intimidated by the Bulls. Now, as for the Heat and Celtics I can’t say they aren’t intimidated by them.

JOSH SMITH FOR 3!!!

April 21st, 2011
5:29 pm

Nope, not even Moses Malone can help this team now.

honest_abe

April 21st, 2011
5:32 pm

jeff: don’t you think the lack of local support is also tied into the perception that ownership cares more about making money than winning? i.e. selling kobe bryant jerseys at phillips?

Jeff Schultz

April 21st, 2011
5:35 pm

Benjamin — Hawks aren’t moving.

Jeff Schultz

April 21st, 2011
5:36 pm

Heartofdarkness — Sorry about the barbecue eating contest thing. Support for that never wanes.

Jeff Schultz

April 21st, 2011
5:38 pm

Honest Abe — Yes. ASG is damaged brand so when bad things happen to teams ownership is going to get blamed, and fans don’t want to support ASG’s “products.” … Also, the Kobe jersey thing was a major blunder, and they stopped that practice.

blazerdawg

April 21st, 2011
5:50 pm

ROSS!!! Go Braves!

Jeff Schultz

April 21st, 2011
6:04 pm

That was random.

Nannyrut

April 21st, 2011
6:15 pm

Yes Larry, it feels like a road game when you are getting blown out by 30+ by teams like the Lakers, Celtics, and Bulls. Keep those games competitive and of course you will hear the ATL crowd. Boston players said the 2008 playoffs at Philips was the loudest arena they had ever heard.

Peter

April 21st, 2011
6:23 pm

Jeff…….the leader..Joe Johnson said he didn’t care if the Fans showed up or not……so gee how is he going to get paid when the Spirit looses money ?

Let’s see how a jump shooting team behaves when they have all going their way ?

Najeh Davenpoop

April 21st, 2011
6:31 pm

Great article. You summed up ATL sports fans perfectly.

We will support title contenders and superstars. We’ll even support up and coming teams when we don’t know how good they can be yet (see 2008 NBA playoffs — one of the best playoff crowds I’ve seen at an NBA game, and not just because I was at every game).

Also…

““Sometimes it feels more like a road game,” coach Larry Drew admitted Thursday. “Maybe our guys don’t respond to those things very well.””

The Hawks did pretty well on the road this year. Until that season ending losing streak when they basically gave up on the games since they were locked into the 5 seed, they were above .500 on the road. If it feels like a road game, that shouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. Most of their worst losses were at home anyway.

Najeh Davenpoop

April 21st, 2011
6:35 pm

“Actually, the Marvin contract made sense. He was coming off a career year and looked to be on the rise. ”

Marvin was a restricted free agent. Just one year prior to that they made restricted free agent Josh Smith go find a deal on his own, and ended up getting him for an affordable rate when he signed an offer sheet with Memphis. Marvin is a significantly worse player than Josh, so it made no sense for the Hawks to bid against themselves to give him that deal.

swatguy

April 21st, 2011
6:45 pm

Is David McDavid as an owner in the making? He is the one cheated to begin this ASG travesty. A deep pocketed ownership is most needed and shakeup in personnel follows.

joey1

April 21st, 2011
6:45 pm

hawks win in 6 games

James on Pharr Rd

April 21st, 2011
7:48 pm

My take on the Hawks fan base/ Atlanta is very similar, but different in a way to the L.A scene. Similar in the sense that many folks that live in this city are considered the high maintenance type that fluctuate towards a popular brand (on and off the court) that is high profile. When LA was stinking it up after the Shaq departure/blow up, the fans actually became as passive as what Phillips has become accustomed to on a nightly basis until Gasol rolled in.(Conspiracy theory for another day) There will be those that make the Falcons’ argument contending that the city stood by the team after Vick left: but the truth of that is a lot of the city connected with the “high flying status” that Vick gave this team-national t.v audience, polarizing figure e.t.c…. After Ryan established himself as a winner, things became better.

However, where we depart from the LA is the fact that we do not have a high flying brand on the court, and many believe that if we could get a solid team, and not just good players-marketable players, then the “flakey fans” will claim ownership of this product.Some people wrongfully think that this is not an NBA town: alot of pro athletes love this city and live here: when LBJ, Kobe, Wade, AI and Camelo are scheduled for games in town, they have events planned for months in advance.(alas AG entertainment)

This city can claim more ownership with this team, but it will have to mean investment-L.A type investment, over the cap.

tremaine

April 21st, 2011
8:04 pm

The hawks would be crazy to leave Atl. I think Atl is a goldmine for basketball. Fans just want to see effort and a commitment to winning.

RollDog

April 21st, 2011
8:09 pm

been a season ticket holder for 14 years. we have not renewed for next season. If they don’t win this series and at least take the next opponent to seven games, I’ll not renew.

swatguy

April 21st, 2011
8:15 pm

It would help if the Hawks had a “personality” on the roster or even coach. @James, have Ryan really established himself as a winner? I think not. In fact Vick has, again. Matty Meltdown has left us wanting. The new ownership will do well with a personality make-over in management. Perhaps Magic as co-owner and GM. Everything Magic touches is gold.

AUG2424

April 21st, 2011
8:20 pm

The bottom line is they must play hard. The fans don’t show up because of all the home blow outs. It is all about effort. The fans rallied around them against the Celtics in ‘08. I don’t want to hear the excuse “the fans are the problem.!” The problem is the Hawks don’t play hard at home! No more excuses!

gerry cooney

April 21st, 2011
8:29 pm

the nba ain’t leaving the black mecca.

Harpie

April 21st, 2011
8:42 pm

The Hawks will win NOTHING if they don’t get a decent coach. All the talent that they have on this roster, and no one to lead them. Drew is an IDIOT!

Section 303

April 21st, 2011
9:23 pm

RollDog, that’s one of the stupidest ultimatums I have ever heard.

PMC

April 21st, 2011
9:42 pm

I don’t think it’s right to call the market fickle when the teams in this town have never consistently been very good for any length of time, most people aren’t from here and their parents never had any connection to the team for the most part. The culture is a college culture because the region never had pro teams until the 60’s.

It’s NEVER the fanbase’s fault they don’t show up. These guys make millions of dollars and tickets are ridiculously expensive. Give the people a freaking reason to show up and they do. Atlanta is an event town. Anytime there’s a great event they show up. If it’s not a big deal though, no one is wasting money and time watching it.

PMC

April 21st, 2011
9:44 pm

At some point in history, perhaps we will finally marry an owner, a GM that knows what they are doing, a good draft pick and a player that warrants that slot.

In the history of this team and this town the drafting record is deplorable. If you want them to pay for stars… you have to give them stars….. NOT Awful Marvin Williams.

Peter

April 21st, 2011
10:22 pm

PMC for all the Sheldon William’s, the Marvin William’s, the Jeff Teague’s, the AC Law’s…..we did draft two guys in the end…..Smoth, and Al….but you are correct, the draft choices, the money to JJ and Marvin, have put this team behind the 8 ball for years !

Wait ….. we did draft Pau Gasol……but I guess he wasn’t good enough to be a Hawk ?

hawkfan

April 21st, 2011
10:55 pm

Fans are definitely not to blame … it’s as simple as supply and demand. Supply your customer (fans) with a good, reliable, product (Hawks team) and demand (ticket sales, attendance) will follow. On the contrary, if your product is as shaky as Bibby’s defense or Marvin’s productivty, then yeah … demand may waver.

But the bottom line is that loyalty is earned, not given.

Dr. Warren

April 22nd, 2011
12:56 am

The two playoff series against the Bullets in the late 70’s were the peak of Hawks enthusiasm in Atlanta. I’ve yet to be in an arena louder than the Omni was during those great games.

TheAntiMe

April 22nd, 2011
6:32 am

It has always been easy to blame the fans for an Atlanta team’s problems. Heck, even the “fans” blame the fans.

JustAThought

April 22nd, 2011
6:40 am

Kudo’s hawkfan……………………..Just because these professional clowns jersey reads ATLANTA on th front, don’t mean I’m just going to throw money their way. If they don’t earn it, they don’t get it. My opinion is they got to do a whole helluva lot more if they want my support/loyalty/money.

JustAThought

April 22nd, 2011
6:43 am

And no I don’t think or fill they will do it this playoff season or one in the near future…………Just plain PATHETIC that’s what they are!

Jimmy Jam

April 22nd, 2011
7:04 am

They won’t, Atlanta teams never do and never will cease the moment, be it the Braves, Hawks or Falcons. Expect two straight home losses this weekend…The Falcons had home field throughout last year and was embarrassed their first game, the Braves came home tied 1-1 against the Giants and dropped the next two. So as I said, expect the beat to go on with the Hawks.

Bob Rathburn

April 22nd, 2011
8:55 am

Let me tell you something, if I see another bad call I am coming out of my broadcast booth and bitch slapping the first ref I see…..thats right I said it!!

JSS

April 22nd, 2011
10:09 am

@ Jeff Schultz, Najeh, and PMC….
Co-sign Najeh, young man you summed it up very well!

PMC, sorry but the Atlanta sports fan are as fickle as a child who has never been asked pay for anything in their life. Now, that fact has created a sense that the entire well is spoiled throughout the entire observing pundit world. The Falcons problem were in place long before Michael Vick ever was even born. They lost most of this town when they laid down in the last 6 minutes against the Cowboys in January 1981. They didn’t earn it back until the 1998 Super Bowl run. I could go on about the side shows of the early 90’s but it emphasizes the perception of the fan base. The rest is public knowledge. You can not go from the frenzy that was 1991 World Series, the 1988 Hawks-Celtics series, or as far back as 1980 “2 months of the Flames” (when Jim Craig was post Olympics) and not see the pattern.

But here’s the good news, NY sports are just as “fickle.” Ask anyone who was Yankee fan between 1965-1976, or a Rangers fan between 1980-1990, or Knicks fan the last six years about being “fickle.”

Oh yeah, Hawks: “Make It Happen!”

PMC

April 22nd, 2011
10:14 am

well, you certainly have a greater perspective than me JSS.

PMC

April 22nd, 2011
10:16 am

If you live here, you can’t really do much more than hope for better times.

At least the NBA as a whole is back to being really fun to watch again.

PMC

April 22nd, 2011
10:17 am

When we have good crowds at any event in town it’s a lot of fun, it just doesn’t happen that often.

Zing

April 22nd, 2011
10:46 am

On-point comments on the fan base, but one big glaring fact was left out. This city is such a city of transplants, that the core fan base for the home teams is actually kind of small (with the exception of Georgia football and, to a lesser extent, the Braves). So, yeah, unless the home teams are kicking serious butt or “on the rise” and playing hard, the non-core transplant fans– those whose loyalties lie with, say, the Celtics, Knicks, Bulls or whatever– don’t come out, because they just don’t care all that much. I think that has changed a little bit over time and will continue into the future, but I really see that as the big reason why the fans don’t come out in droves–there just aren’t that many of them.