Whenever the Chicago Bulls play the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse they bring along a good chunk of their large and throaty fan base with them, creating an atmosphere closer resembling a high school game. The combination of contrasting colors and boisterous support for their team never fails to annoy the local Pacers fans, not to mention the players and organization as a whole.
General manager Kevin Pritchard expressed his frustration with the situation after the game on Sunday and even solicited suggestions for a problem with only one answer.
Does anybody else get upset that their was so much red in the stands last night. Very frustrating. What can we do to change that? @pacers— Kevin Pritchard (@PacersKev) March 4, 2013
The current rivalry between the two teams started budding in the first round of the 2011 playoffs and if Pritchard thought Sunday night at the Fieldhouse was bad, he would've been stunned by the situation in the Game 3 of that playoff series. At that time, the Bulls were a one seed and seeking a championship while the Pacers had zero expectations as an eight seed. The Pacers showed up well in that series, but by the time Pacers fans realized their team was battling the Bulls to the wire in each game, Chicago fans had already gobbled up a good third of the seats at the Fieldhouse and made it sound like they have more than half.
Since that playoff series, I've been to each of Chicago's visits and the situation has improved and that is about the most the Pacers organization can hope for aside from one scenario playing out on the court. So here are a few thoughts about the situation, which I have to admit I kind of enjoy.
- First, since the Bulls fill up one of the largest NBA arenas past capacity each night, not only are tickets scarce for the huge Bulls fan base, which extends into northern Indiana, but any available tickets are also quite expensive. No doubt many fans make plans long in advance to see their Bulls in Indy where they can actually finda ticket and for a fraction of the cost. Consider, TiqIQ still has tickets to the Pacers/Celtics game for $11 while the upper deck seats in the United Center for the Bulls/Jazz game are at $52.
- Personally, I've come to enjoy the back and forth between the fan bases, the Fieldhouse is always electric and all of that red seems to bring out the best in the local fans. On Saturday night, I went to a packed Carmel High School gym for a game between Carmel and North Central. The atmosphere was insane and coincidentally the stands were packed with dueling fan bases in blue and gold (Carmel) and red and black (NC). The game didn't live up to the hype, but all of that juice in the building brings an edge to the game which you can sense at the Fieldhouse with the Bulls in town.
- As I was leaving the Fieldhouse last night, there was a subdued group of about 15 20-something Bulls fans standing around with blank expressions on their face. Long gone was the hype and excitement of heading to Indy to rep the Bulls in enemy territory. Instead, the whole group gave a vibe of the night's buzz wearing off with the stark realization that the pending hangover would include a late night trip home and brutal Monday morning. Was it worth the effort?
- That last question is the only route to a solution for the Pacers. The best way to keep Chicago fans from coming to the Fieldhouse is ruin the fun by beating the Bulls. The more the Pacers win, the higher the demand for tickets from the local fans. If they are beating the Bulls, some of those Chicago fans who make the trip may take a pass the next time recalling the way their last visit finished up. The only other viable solution is for the Bulls to hit hard times which is highly unlikely with Derrick Rose still in the early stages of his career. Chicago management could screw things up by trying to remain too cap friendly team. Of maybe Thibs will wear out Rose whenever he returns by packing five years of NBA minutes into three years.
So pardon me if I don't get appropriately exercised over the situation, I tend to prefer the added excitement. Besides, I'm still getting used to the fact that the Pacers are a legit contender in the East, capable of handling anything thrown at them in the Fieldhouse. It has only been about two calendar years since Frank Vogel took over and turned things around. Before that I sat through plenty of less than entertaining nights at the Fieldhouse with any hope so far in the future it required patience just to be patient.
Fortunately, Vogel and the front office were able to fast-forward the process to improve the team on the court, making huge strides over the last two seasons. Now the franchise is trying to wait patiently for the fans to pick up the pace and pack the Fieldhouse.