September 24, 2014

Season Ticket Packaging

My 2014-2015 Wizards season ticket package arrived in the mail yesterday afternoon. Or more accurately for me, it arrived when the front desk staff in my condo building felt good and ready to tell me, which meant it really arrived at just after 10 pm last night. Despite the fact that I rarely seem to get up early enough any more to have spare time before I take my walk to work, I picked it up this morning as soon as I saw last night's email from my concierge in my inbox. It was just too much to resist. I love the day this package shows up. It means that the start of the new NBA season is pretty darned close. As I write this post, the first preseason game is only 12 days away!!

Over the years, the arrival of this day has been pretty exciting. One of the thrills of opening the FedEx package from 601 F Street each fall was seeing what the tickets looked like. Which players were deemed important enough to have their mugs printed on the tickets and the graphic design of the tickets could provide anywhere from 10 minutes to hours of entertainment for this Wizards-starved fan. I think the 2011-2012 tickets showing only the then new unity hand and monumental ball logos were the worst ever while the 2003-2004 tickets which featured a unique design on each ticket featuring (I think) every player on the roster were the best. Of course, two years ago, the Wizards eliminated any joy of checking out the new tickets by going all electronic. I lamented this fact last year; no need to re-hash that again this year.

The paper tickets disappearing two years continued a general downward trend in season ticket packaging and presentation that has proved disappointing over the years. I realize I'm not really buying the objects that come in the season ticket package that shows up in late September or early October each year. I'm really getting the chance to see my team play on 41 nights at Verizon Center over the next few months. On a good year (and last year was a good year) they may play more than 41 games at home, and I'm not talking preseason here. But it is nice when there is some thought applied to the packaging. This year the package contained a credit card sized access card preloaded with the tickets, a quick overview of how to use the electronic tickets and a few lanyards and pins. If I can't get something to touch and hold and look at inside the package, it's a nice consolation if the wrapping is interesting or thoughtful.

I first bought Wizards season tickets right before the 2000-2001 NBA season; my tickets that year showed up in an envelope with little fanfare. I assume I bought them after season tickets had already been mailed which accounted for the crappy packaging I got for my $410 investment in Row G of Section 402 of Verizon Center.

The next year, though, my season tickets showed up in a cardboard locker-like box, complete with my name on a sticker on the front of the "locker" likely pasted on by someone on the Washington Sports and Entertainment staff. Kind of low budget but better than a plain envelope. The Wizards followed that season's tickets in 2002-2003 by delivering my season ticket package in a paint can, complete with the words "Inside: Everything You Need to Get Into the Paint" on the lid, which you had to pry open with a screwdriver, just like a real can of paint. Now this was pretty cool. It's really corny and what the hell am I going to do with a paint can? but at least someone over there at the Washington Wizards is thinking about the consumer a bit.

Those two years (especially the paint can) represented the gold standard of Wizards season ticket packaging in the last 15 years for me. Sad, but true. I still have both the "locker" and the paint can. You can repeat the previous sentence if you want although I won't. After those two years, I started to wonder what the heck I was going to do with these things. I'm a collector by nature so I want to hang on to these things in some useful way. After the season ticket holder party before the 2003-2004 season which offered fans the opportunity to get stuff autographed by the players, I finally hit on the idea of getting the season ticket packaging autographed by the entire team as a memento of the hoped for good times to remember the season by. This worked great in 2004-2005 and 2005-2006, when the season tickets arrived in a large embossed cardboard box. I managed to get a number of great signatures on both of those boxes which I still use as a backdrop for some of my bobblehead collection.

Folders: the worst!!
But after 2005, the quality of the packaging went way down, basically devolving into an oversized envelope with a packet of tickets and a folder containing the critical information you needed to understand the benefits (besides the tickets) of being a season ticket holder. The folders contained the slogan that the marketing folks came up with to pump hope into Wizards fans for the current season, like "Ready to Rule" or "Go All In". Some of the folders had the year of the season on them, which provided a perfect reminder and context for the signatures I inevitably tried to get on the folders, but other than that they were mostly completely disappointing.

This year's tickets (sorry, no tickets) showed up in a old fashioned kid-style metal lunchbox, which is way better than the no effort folders that we got for years and years. I am so happy to see those things die in favor of something more substantial. This continues a two year trend (can two years be a trend?) where the season ticket packaging is starting to get better and it is very welcome (last year was a pretty well made cardboard container with the new "DC 12" season ticket holder logo). I'm not going to get super excited about the lunch box; I'll give it essentially about a B-, especially considering the Wizards promotional schedule has included several lunch boxes in the last 10 years or so, but it's making some effort to make us long time season ticket holders feel like the team thinks about these things. I'm not sure I'm getting my lunch box signed by the players, but I might; It would be nice to continue the tradition I started 10 years ago. Congratulations, Wizards, you are making progress in this department. Keep going. Let me know if you need help.

Lunch box: huge step in the right direction.

September 17, 2014

NBA Mascot Rank Update

August and September are without question the slowest months in the NBA schedule. These are the two months where I start to get the shakes waiting for the new season to start. There's only so much reviewing of the schedule I can do for those 61 days. So to keep myself busy the last two Augusts, I spent some time ranking team mascots (last year) and names (this year) from 1 to 30. Or perhaps more accurately from 30 to 1.

I had no intention to re-ranking the mascots since last year but the last 12 months have seen seismic shifts in the NBA mascot landscape and I just wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't provide an update before this coming season. So here's the updated list, in one post this year rather than five. Get ready for a whirlwind mascot tour.

30. Los Angeles Lakers: Last year the Lakers were tied with the 76ers, Clippers, Knicks and Pelicans for 26th through 30th place. This year, I've broken the tie and assigned actual rankings to each team; basically no more ties because ties just suck. The Lakers finish last because they have never made any effort to get a mascot and I like them less than the other team that's in this same category. Call it unfair if you will but it's my blog.

29. New York Knicks: The Knicks join the Lakers in the bottom two because they have also made no effort to ever get a mascot. They finish ahead of the Lakers because I used to be a Knicks fan.

28. Los Angeles Clippers: OK, I know what you are thinking. The Clippers haven't ever had a mascot either; how come they finish ahead of the Lakers and Knicks? Clipper Darrell. That's all I have to say. He keeps them from dead last.

27. Golden State Warriors: Last year the Warriors finished 25th because they axed their terrible mascot. This year they get no such bump because, well, they still haven't come up with a new mascot. The Warriors were actually tied with G Man (I split the Wizards' polar opposite in cool mascots last year) for 25th. This year, despite the fact that G Man is still around, I'm just ignoring his existence for the purposes of this post.

26. Philadelphia 76ers: The Sixers finish second in the No Mascot category (see number 16 below) because the last mascot they had, Hip-Hop the rabbit, was way worse than the Warriors' Thunder the blue muscled guy. They get more credit for offing the bunny than the dubs get for killing the blue freak.

25. Boston Celtics: The Celtics' Leprechaun mascot is still obviously a human dressed like a leprechaun. With all other mascots, I can suspend belief and imagine the furry outer mascot shell is real. With the C's mascot, I can't.

24. Miami Heat: Burnie, the Heat's I-have-no-idea-what-this-thing-is-supposed-to-be mascot slips two spots this year through no fault of his own I guess. The fact he's 24th is through fault of his own. I still have no idea what this thing is. Also, I dislike the Heat very much, so he gets no special favors from me.

23. Houston Rockets: I'm still confused by the bears and cats that have been adopted as mascots for teams that seem to have no ursine or feline affiliation. Clutch the Rockets Bear drops two spots along with the Heat's Burnie just because two teams moved ahead of him.

22. Indiana Pacers: The Pacers mascot, Boomer, is still a cat. I don't understand the connection. See the Rockets at number 23.

21. Portland Trail Blazers: Like Boomer, Blaze the Trail Cat is also still a cat. I don't understand the connection here either. See the Pacers at number 22 and the Rockets at number 23.

20. Toronto Raptors: The Raptors name is the worst nickname in the NBA hands down now that the Charlotte franchise has ditched the horrendous Bobcats name. Note to Toronto: switch your name to the Huskies, change mascots and you will for sure see a huge bump in this ranking. I guarantee top ten for at least one year. The Raps still finish ahead of a bunch of other teams because their horrible mascot at least matches their horrible name.

19. Phoenix Suns: A franchise named Suns has a gorilla for a mascot. I don't get it. Go the Gorilla is likely ranked too high. I'm probably conceding something to the fact that most people consider this to be an historically great mascot. I don't. Go should feel lucky to be ranked 19th here.

18. Memphis Grizzlies: The franchise name is Grizzlies; the mascot is a bear named Grizz. Congratulations, Memphis, you can match your mascot to your team name. Not everyone can. Just make it look more like a bear and you will see a bump in the future. Fix the nose at least.

17. Utah Jazz: Awful name for this franchise but it's not about the name here and their bear mascot, the imaginatively named "Jazz Bear" looks better than Memphis'. Also, I still believe there are bears in Utah, even though I still haven't checked.

16. Brooklyn Nets: Last year, the Brooklyn Nets had an awful mascot, the terrible BrooklyKnight who was  sort of a cross between a medieval knight and an urban superhero. The Knight was half scary and half ridiculous and had questionable, if any at all, relevance to the name of the team it was supposed to be representing. In July of this year, the Nets issued a statement that the Knight would no longer be the team's mascot, replacing him with absolutely nothing. Last year, the Nets finished 23rd in this ranking; this year, by fielding no mascot at all, they jump to 16th. Fantastic move!

15. Cleveland Cavaliers: I considered moving the Nets no mascot above the Cavs just simply because of LeBron James returning to Cleveland but ultimately my conscience got the better of me. It won't happen often with LeBron. The Cavs drop two spots to 15th. I still love Moondog. Cleveland, please get rid of Sir C.C. I'll move you up if you do.

14. Minnesota Timberwolves: Their mascot is still a wolf and is still too straightforward while also being non-threatening to get any sort of praise from me. Crunch is at 14th because there are an awful lot of awful mascots out there in the NBA.

13. Dallas Mavericks: I still love Champ. I'm still unconvinced that a horse is the right way to go here. Good enough for unlucky 13. No better this year.

12. Sacramento Kings: Last year, I considered my top 10 to be really the cream of the crop in mascot land. This year, it's the top 12. Unfortunately for Slamson, he's still on the bottom of this group. Good mascot. The worst of the best. Nothing to sneeze at.

11. Detroit Pistons: Nothing new to say here. Good looking mascot. Relevant to the Pistons in a clever way. Hooper is still a boring name, although it is still basketball themed, which I guess counts for something.

10. New Orleans Pelicans: This is the one I had been waiting for when I wrote my rankings last year. As of last August, the New Orleans franchise had a new name but had not unveiled their new mascot. This year, they have and they rocket up this ranking into the top 10. Pierre T. Pelican has to be the only mascot who underwent a makeover in his first year but the makeover was definitely the right thing to do. The original Pierre (shown at the top of this post) had some kind of godawful hard plastic orange beak that looked like he had swallowed a human heart or a small child's butt (I can't decide which). The Pels obviously realized this was a mistake and made it into an event. Halfway through the season, Pierre broke his beak and emerged from "surgery" with a softer, gentler beak. Magnifique!

9. Oklahoma City Thunder: I'm warming to Rumble, the Thunder mascot. I think this double entendre name represents the state of Oklahoma well. Also, I've seen Kevin Durant's movie Thunderstruck (or enough to understand the plot anyway) since last year and Rumble positively stars in that flick. Edges out Pierre because of the whole beak fiasco.

8. San Antonio Spurs: The Coyote had another stellar season, capped off by his Spurs knocking off the defending champion Heat (thank you, thank you, thank you). This accomplishment offsets the Coyote losing his eyes in a game this season. If I were a kid, I might be frightened by this.

7. Atlanta Hawks: What a mess Atlanta is these days. Bruce Levenson and Danny Ferry and the rest of the bunch down there in Georgia almost affected Harry the Hawk's hold on the seven spot. Harry's fortunate that the whole eyes thing happened in San Antonio.

6. Denver Nuggets: Rocky is still solid at number six. Down one spot from last year, we are still in hall of fame territory here.

5. Milwaukee Bucks: I had the chance to watch Bango in person since my last ranking in a very cold Milwaukee this past March. Not sure I'm heading north in winter too many times in the near future to watch hoops. I still love Bango though.

4. Chicago Bulls: Benny the Bull still keeping it real at number four. Down one from last year, but it's not his fault.

3. Orlando Magic: Stuff the Magic Dragon was my surprise pick at number two last year. It was even a surprise to me in many ways. This year Stuff is getting back towards the territory I think he should be in. Top three is still very impressive for something that looks like a larger deluxe version of Fuzzball from the Captain EO movie.

2. Charlotte Hornets: Hugo is back and all is right with the world. I hate praising the Hornets again (last month I ranked their team name number one in the NBA) but Hugo making his appearance back both in the league and in Charlotte is truly a sign that things are headed in the right direction. Hugo (like the rest of the Hornets' branding) is meaner and leaner this time around. No way are kids who are fans of the visiting team looking for a hug from this dude this time around. Welcome back, buddy. Much deserved.

1. Washington Wizards: G Wiz is still the best. It's still a homer pick but until we win an NBA title, I'm keeping G Wiz right here in the top spot so I can at least say we finished first in something.

That's it for this year. If I had my way, the Celtics, Raptors and Grizzlies should make some adjustments here. With the exception of the Raps (which involves an entire franchise re-brand) the minor tweaks to the Leprechaun and Grizz the bear would pay off instantly in these rankings. Think about it Boston and Memphis.