Wizards Also Coming Up Empty at the Gate

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By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 6, 2009

Wizards fans expressed displeasure with their team during Monday's loss to Memphis and again during Wednesday's loss to New Jersey by booing and eventually streaming out of Verizon Center with time remaining on the clock.

What should be more disturbing for the team, however, is how many fans are not showing up in the first place.

A season-low crowd of 11,442 was announced for Monday's loss to the Grizzlies, and the team said only 12,602 attended Wednesday's blowout loss to the Nets at Verizon Center, which holds 20,173 for basketball. Those figures reflect tickets sold, not actual bodies in the seats. The crowds appeared to be much smaller, given the mostly empty upper deck and pockets of empty seats in the lower and club levels.

Through 25 home dates, the Wizards (10-39) rank 20th in the league in attendance with an average of 16,552 per game.

Last season, when the team overcame a rash of injuries to win 43 games and make the playoffs for the fourth straight season, the Wizards ranked 15th in attendance with an average of 17,962.

The team's poor record, injuries to three-time all-star Gilbert Arenas and starting center Brendan Haywood, and the overall economic downturn have been factors in the attendance drop, according to Peter Biche, the team's president of business operations and chief financial officer.

"Injuries have been huge," Biche said. "Brendan is not as high profile as Gil is but it's hurt us, obviously. Gilbert is two things: He's fabulous on the floor and he's also fabulous from a personality standpoint and fans are drawn to that. A guy who can score 30, hit the game-winning shot and also has that charisma, that's a dream for someone who is marketing him."

The Wizards are still marketing Arenas -- featuring him, as well as Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, in television ads that run during broadcasts, and the Sixth Street side of the arena is draped with a banner depicting Arenas in action. There is no timetable for his return.

Arenas, who signed a six-year, $111 million contract last summer, recently met with a knee specialist in Miami and has ramped up his level of activity in non-contact workouts, but he has yet to practice. According to a source close to Arenas, the guard is considering sitting out the remainder of the season so he can be 100 percent for next season.

As the team waits for Arenas, Biche and his marketing and sales staff are coming up with innovative ways to keep the turnstiles moving. On Saturday night when the Wizards beat the Clippers, for example, an announced crowd of 18,227 showed up in part because of a deal that allowed season ticket holders to give away free tickets to friends.

Also, as part of what it calls "The Wizards Economic Stimulus Offer," the team provides a certain number of upper-level seats for $11. Some $40 upper-level seats have been dropped to $20, and the team has various offers aimed at driving group sales such as "Guys Night Out" and "Kids' Day."

The Wizards are hardly alone. Although ticket sales throughout the league are roughly the same as last season at this point, most teams are barely keeping pace even with special ticket packages and other incentives.


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