Playoff Pacers still courting fans

Pacer Paul George poses for pictures with fans.
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The Indiana Pacers take on the New York Knicks in game four of their NBA Eastern Conference Semifinal series tonight at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Certainly, now is an exciting time for the team. 

But just hours before tipoff, tickets are still available, signaling a potential disconnect between the team and their fan base.

Their fieldhouse is decked out for the playoffs. But a quick look around Indianapolis for a Pacers banner or flag suggests not all fans are on board this year's playoff train. And tickets are still available for tonight's game for as little as $35 - the game is still not a sell out.

Those who study sports marketing say Indiana is still a basketball state, and Indianapolis still supports the Pacers.  But the rebuilt Pacers are still a relatively new team. And despite campaigns to introduce players, many people are still unfamiliar with who's on the court.

"The promotions are just so small and so limited and so aimed at getting people into the seats," said Kim Donahue of IU's Kelley School of Business, "instead of 'come get to know this player, come get to know that player.' And you can be loyal to a team, but you build a very strong loyalty to the player."

The best local example of player loyalty may be Peyton Manning.  Even though he's been in Denver for more than a year, you still see his number 18 jersey everywhere. People are still Colts fans because of Manning.

The Pacers are still rebuilding an image after years of on and off-court distractions that included disciplinary action and criminal behavior.

"I hate to use this analogy," said Donahue, "but the Pacers broke our hearts. We won't go over old stuff, but they broke hearts and so now you're asking us to trust them again. You need time, and we need to know who it is you're asking us to trust."

So how does the team continue to regain that trust? Like any broken relationship, regaining trust centers on getting to know someone, getting to understand where they are coming from and similarities you may have with them.

As an example, Pacer George Hill, from Indianapolis, went to Broad Ripple High School and played for IUPUI. Experts say the more you know about a player, the more you like, and you will become a bigger fan of the team.