As dismal year ends, Cavaliers phone it in

Posted: Sunday, April 06, 2003

CLEVELAND - There's very little the Cleveland Cavaliers can do about their awful record, the NBA's worst. Now they're trying to stop from losing something more precious than games: fans.

The Carlos Boozer Archive

Cavs players made phone calls this week to some season-ticket holders, thanking them for their loyalty and asking for patience while the club rebuilds.

"At first, I thought it was kind of sad that they had to have players calling," said Mike Mural, a construction contractor from Rocky River who had a 10-minute chat with rookie forward Carlos Boozer of Juneau. "But it was great. I was really impressed."

Home attendance has plummeted for the Cavs, who play in front of as many empty bright blue seats as full ones in 20,562-seat Gund Arena most nights.

Cleveland is drawing a league-low 10,970 fans - a drop of 4,204 from a year ago and down nearly 8,000 from 1994. The club wouldn't disclose its season-ticket base, but it's also down substantially.

"It has dropped for the past few years," said Ed Markey, the club's vice president of communications.

The Cavs never have made the NBA Finals since joining the league in 1970-71, and they last qualified for the playoffs in 1998. At 14-60 through Thursday, they've now lost at least 50 games in each of the past four seasons and could lose 65 this year.

Cleveland has had four different coaches since 1999. The Cavs have been plagued by poor draft picks, bad free agent signings and costly injuries. And owner Gordon Gund might sell the team.

All of it has resulted in a fan base that wavers from disgusted to apathetic - and back again.

"It's been tough," said Mural, who has purchased some kind of ticket package since 1994. "But honestly, this year has been the most fun I've had."

Like most pro teams, the Cavs pamper their season-ticket holders with perks like autograph sessions, complimentary tickets and priority seating for concerts.

Monday's calling campaign was the latest bonus.

"It's part of our overall customer service plan," said Chad Estis, vice president of sales and development. "We want to provide them with a unique experience."

Mural's began when a team sales representative approached him at a recent game and told him his favorite Cleveland player would be giving him a call.

"I said, 'Yeah, right,"' Mural said. "Then Carlos called me on my cell phone. He said he wanted to say 'Thank you' for coming to the games. I told him I just wished they could win a few more."

Mural said Boozer told him he loved playing in Cleveland and they talked about Duke - Boozer's alma mater - losing in the NCAA tournament.

"The guy was incredibly nice," Mural said, adding that he "didn't think it was fair" to bring up LeBron James, the Akron high school star who many think could revive the Cavs.

Boozer and his teammates enjoyed working the phones.

"It was great," he said. "We also got to find out what they do and a little bit about them. But we really wanted to thank them for coming to games, even in the bad times."

Estis said the players did not work off a script and were only told to thank fans and encourage them to attend the home season finale, when the Cavs will unveil a new logo and colors for next season.

"Once they got into it, they were having a blast," Estis said.

As a result of the players' calls, Estis said, several season-ticket holders committed to renewing for next season.

Mural agreed to another half-season package to see the Cavs, partly because of his few minutes on the phone with Boozer.

"The Cavs don't dribble the ball or shoot it that well," he said. "But they're trying to get it turned around."

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