By Mike Chappell
May 7, 2004
Donnie Walsh realized regaining the trust and support of leery fans would be a season-long venture for the Indiana Pacers.
"I knew there was going to be a certain wait-and-see attitude about our team this year," said the Pacers CEO, aware of the damage done by three consecutive first-round postseason exits.
Walsh's patience was put to the test when the Pacers failed to sell out either of their first-round Eastern Conference games in Conseco Fieldhouse against the Boston Celtics. But it finally was alleviated Thursday when the Pacers opened their second-round series against Miami.
After five straight non-sellouts in the postseason, 18,345-seat Conseco Fieldhouse was packed. Credit strong sales in the past few days. Approximately 2,700 tickets remained unsold Monday afternoon and the figure still hovered around 1,300 on Wednesday. Saturday's Game 2 also is sold out.
Earlier this week, Walsh admitted he was concerned by the lack of first-round sellouts. Yes, he allowed, the economy continues to pinch fans' wallets even though the Pacers haven't raised ticket prices since after their trip to the NBA Finals in 2000. And, yes, a first-round pairing with No. 8 seed Boston was a tough sell.
But in Walsh's mind, the Pacers had atoned for their past sins.
"I think we answered all the questions," he said.
The Pacers set a franchise record with an NBA-best 61 wins during the regular season. Jermaine O'Neal and Ron Artest were All-Stars. O'Neal finished third in the MVP voting. Artest was named Defensive Player of the Year.
Yet seats were available at the fieldhouse when Boston visited.
Walsh said the team's marketing department was in overdrive as the playoffs approached.
"We were out there -- billboards and signs and radio and television," he said. "Everyone's talking about it."
Indianapolis' Keith Woodard and his wife, Leah Bryant, were season-ticket holders during the regular season but decided to wait until Tuesday to buy tickets for Game 1 of the Heat-Pacers series.
"It was a matter of timing," Woodard said. "We didn't know who they would be playing. So we waited until we found out."
Woodard and Bryant were part of the raucous sellout crowd that jammed the fieldhouse Thursday night. The objective was realized -- a sellout and a Pacers victory. It made a prophet of Reggie Miller.
"We've got to hold up our end of the bargain," the veteran guard said earlier this week. "If we continue to win, then I'm sure people will come out."
Fans in Miami have stoked the Heat's playoff fire. The team averaged 20,181 in four first-round games against New Orleans in the 19,600-seat AmericanAirlines Arena. Games 3 and 4 against the Pacers, set Monday and Wednesday, are sold out.
Not that it eased Walsh's concerns, but the Pacers weren't the only team that had trouble with first-round ticket sales. Of the 39 first-round games, 10 failed to sell out.
The Western Conference's top seed, the Minnesota Timberwolves, sold out only one of their three first-round home games and fell short in the opener of their second-round matchup against Sacramento in the 19,006-seat Target Center.
Jason LaFrenz, the Timberwolves' director of marketing, admitted one sellout in four postseason games by a team that features league MVP Kevin Garnett "is a little surprising."
"But being in the Western Conference, we get the late start time," said LaFrenz. "Our games start at 8:30 and don't get over until after midnight. That has hindered us."
Saturday night's Game 2 is sold out and LaFrenz anticipates a similar result for all remaining games at the Target Center.
Tracking ticket sales
Here's a breakdown of how many first- and second-round playoff games have sold out. Included are the matchup, the number of games in the series and the number of sellouts:
Celtics-Pacers 4 0
Bucks-Pistons 5 4
Hornets-Heat 7 5
Knicks-Nets 4 3
Nuggets-Timberwolves 5 3
Rockets-Lakers 5 5
Grizzlies-Spurs 4 4
Mavericks-Kings 5 5
Heat-Pacers 1 1
Nets-Pistons 1 1
Lakers-Spurs 2 2
Kings-Timberwolves 1 0