Wale and Fan Commitment to the Wizards
D.C.-area rapper Wale has been covered quite a bit on this site. But he wouldn’t be if I didn’t think so highly of his music. I mean, Soulja Boy was flown in for a Wizards-Cavaliers playoff game in 2008 and I barely mentioned it … because it’s friggin’ Soulja Boy. He is absolutely terrible.
First Wale just wasn’t that into the Wizards, rather he rooted fo the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then his fandom for the Denver Nuggets, as well, came to surface. “I gotta be honest, I’m not the biggest Wizards fan,” Wale once said, putting his hometown team further away than the back seat, shutting them in the trunk instead. Of course, Andray Blatche cautioned us not to believe that Wale really wasn’t a Wizards fan. And maybe Blatche was right, Wale did show up for a decent share of games last season, in the on-the-house seats the team makes available for VIPs.
In late May when the Wizards’ draft lottery chances became a hot topic, Wale revealed that he was rooting for his hometown team to win. Clearly after they did, Wale’s attention deficit toward the Wiz came to a record-screeching halt. The bandwagon became heavier, and that’s okay.
The reality is also that the Wizards haven’t had anyone with huge star power for some time. Wale was unheard of on the music scene the last time Gilbert Arenas was relevant. Now the rapper is readily expressing his excitement that John Wall will be part of a new generation of stars in D.C., the “freshman class” (and Donovan McNabb). And the difference is that Wall’s hype is propelled by basketball talent, not by a $111 million contract. Fans loved Arenas when he was on top, but Wall is seen as one who will change the direction to the franchise, rather than someone putting up numbers in a high-octane offense.
ESPN the Magazine recently released its 8th annual edition of ‘Ultimate Standings’ for pro sports franchises, ranking them “according to how much they give back to fans for all of the time, money and emotion they invest in them.” The results employ financial analysis, team research and fan surveys. Out of 122 total MLB, NFL, NHL and NBA franchises, the Wizards ranked 120. That’s bad. Worst than I ever imagined, although it seems foolhardy for me to think such a low ranking wasn’t possible.
In the category of fan relations, described as “openness and consideration toward fans on the part of players, coaches and management,” the Wizards ranked dead last. That’s expected to change though. To say that Ted Leonsis has already flipped team-fan relations 180-degrees could be seen as an insult to the Abe Pollin regime. But according to the rankings, there’s no where to go but up.
More damning, perhaps, but certainly indicative of my impressions amongst Wizards fans, is the cold rating on fan commitment. On the scale of 1 to 5, five being growing intensity of fan commitment and one representing commitment getting colder, the Wizards rated 2.38, second worst in the NBA to 2.17 of the Philadelphia 76ers. The coldest teams in other leagues were the Florida Panthers (NHL, 2.60), Baltimore Orioles (MLB, 2.78) and the Buffalo Bills (2.99) … all topping the Wizards in case you didn’t notice.
People love star power, and John Wall has the power to bring out the stars, such as Wale. Many are calling D.C. a basketball hotbed just waiting to explode with passion, but how long will it take? Throwing blind faith in Wall now, via celebratory marketing campaigns and a player getting a day in his honor before ever stepping on the court, attempts to ignite that basketball spark faster in hopes that the product will pay off.
And well, it seems that Wale is here to help too. He and all other dormant fans of the team are welcomed back with open arms. It now seems silly that part of Wale’s previous distance from the Wizards was the result of some sort of “run-in” with DeShawn Stevenson. Yet, that also serves an ironic microcosm of greater distractions (Arenas’ gun ordeal being the latest), which dissolve DMV fan commitment to their NBA basketball team.
John Wall is here to be that glue that brings it all together.
Unfortunately I was still in New York during John Wall Day at the Verizon Center. But TAI’s media correspondent, Adam McGinnis, was on hand and stopped to briefly chat with the attending Wale (video below).
“The energy is good. I think he’s the type of player we’d been needing for the past 10 years,” Wale said about Wall’s arrival to Washington (ouch for Gilbert Arenas). “There hasn’t been this much hype since Jordan came out,” he continued. Fair enough.
On impacting the fans, Wale says that Wall will be good for ticket sales, the economy and the community. And finally, the rapper calls the potential Wall-Arenas combo the “best backcourt on the East Coast.”
An abundance of hope never fails to exist on the D.C. sports scene. It’s just that few fans, aside from crazed Redskins faithful, are willing to stick around when times are tough. Here’s to better times for all in the future.