SBD/March 7, 2011/Events and Attractions

Nets-Raptors Games Draw Sellout Crowds At O2 Arena In London

Nets-Raptors games at O2 Arena drew sellout crowds over weekend
London's O2 arena drew 18,869 fans for Friday's Raptors-Nets game, and the crowd was "described as a sellout despite small patches of empty seats and ticket prices that topped out at almost $850," according to Ravi Somaiya of the N.Y. TIMES. Fans attending Friday's game, the first regular-season NBA contest to be played in Europe and the first of two games between the Nets and Raptors at the O2, "seemed willing to forgive the low stakes and to dismiss any notion that the players might be fatigued." The crowd was "made up mostly of die-hard British NBA fans, often wearing the jerseys" of the Heat or Lakers. Some fans "came from other parts of Europe, no doubt drawn by the Raptors' international roster," and the crowd "favored the Raptors." One fan said, "It's pretty busy even though it's all so American." He echoed a "theme that was used by many of the fans, who are used to the quieter and more austere sporting occasions" overseas (N.Y. TIMES, 3/5). In Toronto, Doug Smith noted the fans "had no real rooting interest in either team, and didn't really care that much who won." They "just wanted to see an NBA game that mattered; the final score was secondary." Raptors G DeMar DeRozan: "The atmosphere was definitely different. I think the crowd was going for both teams. When we scored, you'd hear a large amount of people cheering for us and vice-versa. It was definitely exciting." Nets coach Avery Johnson: "I thought the crowd was outstanding. They were here early, they cheered for both teams." Smith noted "for long stretches," the majority of fans "watched in relative silence, roused only by outstanding plays." But Raptors coach Jay Triano said, "There was a buzz in the building, and as soon as we came out, our players were excited." The NBA, "treating the game as a grand experiment in trans-Atlantic regular-season play, did everything in its power to make it seem like a typical night out at a game" (TORONTO STAR, 3/5).

TIMES ARE CHANGING: In Toronto, Dave Feschuk wrote the NBA "had to have liked what it saw." The capacity crowd "seemed genuinely enthusiastic about watching a couple of NBA teams that aren't quite ready for many marquees." The EPL "isn't packaged anything like the NBA," but "for one night, at least, an arena full of customers seemed to appreciate the pace and the noise and the scores of the NBA product." Whether they were "giddy from seeing it all for the first time, or falling in love at first sight, is something only time will tell." Feschuk noted European expansion was "once a no-go because these shores didn't have the U.S.-style arenas to fit the NBA's revenue model," but "that's changing." AEG President & CEO Tim Leiweke, whose company owns and operates the O2, said, "We clearly have an economic model that can work for the league long-term, but we're going to need six or eight of these (arenas) in the right markets, and we're working on that." NBA Deputy Commissioner & COO Adam Silver said European expansion is "not right around the corner." Silver: "We hope to see it in a decade from now. ... To actually create a division that competes on a regular schedule with NBA teams in the U.S. is something where there's an enormous number of unknowns, and we're going to continue to study it. ... (But) we think if any league can do it, we can do it" (TORONTO STAR, 3/5). Silver added, "We're seeing the arena infrastructure come online here in Europe ... and we're hopeful in the next decade that this may become a possibility, be a division in Europe." Silver said Friday's game "felt like a regular-season game back in the States." Silver: "The early results are in ... and it's been incredibly successful so far" (NBA TV, 3/5).

THRILLING FINISH: O2 arena also was sold out for Saturday's Raptors-Nets game, which the Nets won in triple overtime, and Raptors President & GM Bryan Colangelo said, "I have to say the people here in London got their money's worth." Colangelo said NBA officials "worked with us to make sure there was recovery time both on the front end of the trip and on the back end." Colangelo: "Even with the travel, leaving (Sunday) morning and landing in the afternoon and getting a normal days rest. It all works" (TORONTO STAR, 3/6). In London, Brendan Gallagher wrote Saturday's "massively entertaining contest ... certainly kept a capacity 18,869 crowd at the arena itself on their toes, even if a few had to leave early to catch their trains home." Saturday's crowd was "much more partisan and beery than Friday's." Friday's game was a "classy affair," but Saturday "had the raw emotion, drama and wow factor that all sports fans enjoy." It was a "belting weekend in town for the NBA with both teams ... seeming to relish the big stage" (London TELEGRAPH, 3/6). In N.Y., Mattias Karen wrote Saturday's game "featured four missed buzzer-beaters and provided exactly the kind of thrilling finish league officials were looking for when they decided to bring regular-season games to Europe for the first time." A "few hundred British fans ... left the arena between the end of regulation and the third overtime period -- although it was more likely to make sure of making the last underground train home" (N.Y. POST, 3/6). The AP's Steve Douglas noted the games were "branded a success by players and officials from both teams." Saturday's game "raised the excitement levels through the roof." Raptors F Andrea Bargnani: "The crowd was unbelievable" (AP, 3/6).

BEST WE HAVE TO OFFER? In N.Y., Mike Lupica wrote, "Let me see if I have this straight: Nets vs. Raptors is the game that's supposed to help grow the NBA in Europe? Isn't that a little bit like using Charlie Sheen as an advertisement for impulse control?" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/6). YAHOO SPORTS' Eric Freeman wrote, "Ultimately, the NBA is going to survive in Europe because of its own efforts to appeal to fans on the continent, not indirect measures like the Olympics." The Nets and Raptors played in London to "test the viability of playing regular season games in Europe on a consistent basis" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/4).
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