Pro Basketball in Erie, Part 3: Getting from Them to Us

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The following post is the third and final in a three-part series. Catch up with “Pro Basketball in Erie, Part 1: The NBA Problem” and “Pro Basketball in Erie, Part 2: The Basketball Food Chain.”

If we’re ever able to get to a point where we all agree that the NBA is home to the best basketball in the world, and if we tweak the D-League in effective ways to make it a foundational feeder system for the NBA as part of the basketball food chain, we still aren’t quite where we need to be to support the Erie BayHawks. Fans need a reason to embrace this team, and that only comes by building a relationship over time.

Erie is currently home to a handful of minor league sports teams. In baseball, we have the Eastern League’s Erie SeaWolves, the AA-affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. We have the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League. We have the Erie RiverRats of the American Indoor Football Association. And we have the Erie Illusion, an Independent Women’s Football League team.

The SeaWolves are the longest-tenured Erie franchise, having begun play in 1995. The Otters began play a year later in 1996. I’m not much of a baseball or hockey fan, but I grew up with these teams as part of my town. There’s a connection there, and I try to make it to at least a game or two a year (again, noting that I’m not a big hockey or baseball fan.)

Obviously, the BayHawks want to become part of Erie the way the SeaWolves and Otters have. It does take time. That’s how you reach the casual fan, the Erieite who isn’t necessarily a basketball fan, but likes sports and wants to enjoy a fun night at a reasonable price. That shouldn’t be a problem. And if it is, that’s an issue for the BayHawks advertising/marketing/public relations people to address.

The more pressing issue, in my opinion, is getting the basketball-watching public of Erie to buy in to the BayHawks. They need to infuse BayHawks into the basketball fabric of the city. I think their decision to host a basketball camp this summer at Family First is a great idea. It makes them relevant for a time during the offseason, exposes their brand to a younger generation, and hopefully turns kids on to the idea of BayHawks basketball.

The organization needs to continue to find ways to infiltrate other areas of the Erie basketball scene, starting from the ground up. Get out into the community and build some new basketball courts or renovate some of the playground courts found around the city. Get involved with schools. Fans are probably familiar with the “NBA Cares” community-service program, but did you know there’s also a “D-League Cares” effort?

Well, apparently it exists, but after one year of the BayHawks in Erie, I just now found this out researching this blog post. So, clearly there’s more they can do—both in terms of helping and letting the community know how it’s helping. Get out into the community. Get out to the schools. Get the grade school and high school students on board and their parents will follow.

Once they start following, the real test will kick in. The true test of sports fans’ commitment to their team is the us-or-them test. As a native Pennsylvanian, I’m familiar with Pittsburgh. Although I don’t have any rooting interest in any Pittsburgh-area franchises, I know plenty of people who do. Take the Steelers, for example. Technically, the Rooney family owns that team. But if you take a trip through Pittsburgh on a Sunday in November, you’d think every person in that city owned them.

Obviously Erie is a smaller city and the D-League is hardly the NFL. The point is that the ultimate goal of the Erie BayHawks franchise is to get the basketball fans of Erie to transition from talking about the Erie BayHawks to talking about OUR Erie BayHawks. Any real sports fan knows that’s when sports really becomes meaningful. Watching MY Lakers or MY Raiders is always more entertaining than watching any other NBA or NFL game. Hopefully someday soon, I’ll be able to say I’m watching MY BayHawks and feel the same way. It’s not an impossible task, but it’s not an easy one either.

I hope our community’s basketball fans are on board with me wanting this to happen. Pro basketball can matter in Erie, Pa. The Erie BayHawks can become our team.

Let’s make it happen.

NBA, don’t let the D-League experiment get out of hand. This league is still a baby. Be a good parent and give your child the love and care it needs. You need to continue to use it as an NBA-testing outlet while remembering to give it enough financial and promotional support to keep the league and the individual franchises stable.

And finally, D-League franchises, make the commitment to whatever small city you’re rooted in. There’s room for professional sports in places that aren’t New York, L.A., Boston, or Chicago. There’s a novelty about minor league sports that the great people of places like Erie can appreciate. Give us a hard-working, winning business model and basketball team that cares about the community and gives back to its fans.

Finally, fans. If the D-League gives us that. If the BayHawks really do make that effort to be the Erie BayHawks—to be OUR BayHawks—let’s show them what we know about basketball. Let’s get Tullio Arena rocking. Let’s make our voices heard. And let’s put our stubborn reservations about the NBA aside and give the pro game another chance.


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About this blog/blogger

Blog Talk BayHawk is an unofficial Erie BayHawks blog covering the NBA D-League. It features opinions and information about the NBADL and the Erie BayHawks. Blog Talk BayHawk is written from a basketball fan’s perspective to fill In the gaps left by professional journalists’ coverage of BayHawks basketball and the Erie professional basketball scene.

Matt Hubert is a 25-year-old writer and basketball fanatic born and raised in Erie, Pa. He graduated from Mercyhurst College in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in English and a dual concentration in writing and creative writing. Matt's not wavering from his stance as a lifelong Los Angeles Lakers fan, but he will cover the BayHawks' NBA affiliates in Cleveland and Toronto when it makes sense to do so throughout the year.

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