Monday, March 24, 2014

Basketball takes from Milwaukee

After heading to Milwaukee for some hoops this weekend (and having my voice recover yesterday), I had some reflections on the games played on the court, the product that was part of being an attendee at the Bradley Center "fan experience", and the scene outside of the BC. We'll alternate the good and the bad.

Good thing
The sea of red inside of the arena. I'd guess that out of the 18,000 in each of the Badgers' two sessions that 15,000 were supporting Bucky on Thursday, and probably 13,000 on Saturday. Michigan was easily the second-most followed team (hence the fewer amount of Badgers being less on Saturday), but the Badger presence was overwhelming, and engaged. Saturday's crowd was as loud as I can recall a Badger basketball game being, and I have little doubt that home-court advantage played a key role as Bucky came back from 12 down at halftime, and then found that second wind to push through for good in the last 70 seconds of the game.

It also showed if you went around downtown Milwaukee before, during and after these games, as the bars and restaurants were jam-packed with Badger red. Many seemed to be locals and fans that usually don't make it over to the Kohl Center very often, which made it all the more interesting and fun to be around and discuss things with (it felt like more of a Packer-ish crowd). I noticed the same type of situation when I went to the Rose Bowl back in 2011, and I'd guess some of that is related to many of these fans viewing the game as a one-time event as opposed to one of many games they've observed (like you would in Madison). I'm not saying that a filled Kohl Center wouldn't have been as loud or crazy, (given the stakes of the game, I bet it would have), but it certainly seemed the composition of the crowd was a bit different than your average home game for Bucky. I also bet the NCAA loved seeing that type of atmosphere and a sold-out crowd for the first two rounds, which is why they changed over to the pod system to keep top seeds like Wisconsin close to home.

The other games were fun to attend as well (although many ended up as double-digit games). I even got to see my first in-person March Madness Buzzer Beater to end Thursday night!

Now onto a thing that wasn't so great.

Bad thing
But there was another definite difference from a Badger game at the Kohl Center, and that involved TV timeouts. During March Madness, the NCAA fits in an extra minute of commercials during every regular scheduled timeout. A regular-season stoppage can cause a break in momentum, but it's not onerous. Add in another minute? It is a brutally long wait, and kills a lot of flow. It's even worse when there's a sequence where a coach may call a timeout a minute before the scheduled timeout, so that's one long break. Then play resumes, there's another stoppage, and you get ANOTHER extended TV timeout (much like the stupid TD-commercial-Kickoff-commercial sequence that you see in the NFL). It's absurd, and has stretched a typical college basketball game from 2 hours to 2:15 or further during this tournament. The product during March Madness is great, with tension and emotion and many excellent games. But these extended timeouts can really cut into the enjoyment of attending the event in person. This can be solved with 2 modifications.

1. STOP THE GREED- The NCAA and the networks don't need to slam in an extra minute of commercials. Use the principle of scarcity, keep the timeouts shorter, and charge more if you have to. It keeps the game moving, and makes the game more enjoyable to witness in person.

2. All called timeouts within a minute of the regularly-scheduled TV timeout has to be 30 seconds. The coach and/or players are usually just re-setting a play, subbing and trying to change momentum anyway. It's an easy change to shorten that timeout, and it won't affect the ability of a team to succeed or fail.

Good thing
On the flip side, given that the NCAA is largely running the show, you don't get as many of the silly in-game promotions that you would see at the Kohl Center and many other college arenas. Instead of Kimmy encouraging some college kid to "shoot for QDoba" during a timeout, we usually had highlights and/or a college band playing tunes. And I'll add that unlike UW, most of the bands had songs that were first recorded after 1975....some even came from the 2000s! It was somewhat refreshing to consistently hear pep band music during the game's breaks, even if those breaks were too long.

Bad thing
But the NCAA also needs to stop playing the same tune as they would have in the past in some ways. The highlights they would show on the video board were often things that had happened several minutes ago, and they refused to show live look-ins to tight games that were going on. For example, the Dayton-OSU game was tight and in the final seconds during a timeout in the Badgers' game on Thursday, and they wouldn't show live coverage on the video board. A notable amount of fans booed, expecting that type of info to be shown at a sporting event these days (they have at Badger football games, for example), and instead they had to check the updates on their phones or go back under the stands to find a TV showing the game. This is 2014, GO TO THE LIVE BROADCAST!

Also, when you got underneath the stands to watch other games end, the Bradley Center's TVs were horribly lacking. They were often located in the handful of lounge areas around the BC concourse, and those areas were not big enough for the crowds that would stand and watch the action. And this was on the more "luxury" 200 level- I imagine the 400 level was even worse. The BC can handle giving people room in the stands with convenient concessions, but fans are demanding more out of their in-game experience, and the NCAA needs to recognize this (the Badgers do, it's why they're spending $1.4 million for upgrades to Wi-Fi and adding TVs in Camp Randall's concourses for next year).

Good thing
Knowing the area makes for better parking and entertainment options. We found an off-street lot on Thursday morning at Water and Juneau and paid $10 for the rest of the work day- not too bad in big city, and the walk was only 4-5 blocks (if a bit brisk due to the weather). Between games around 5, we rolled out to a nearby street meter, paid $1, and we were good for the rest of the night. Saturday was even better, parked in the same area at 10-hour meters for FREE (since they don't charge for many meters on weekends) and had no problems. It also seemed like many of the out-of-towners didn't venture past a 1-2 block radius from the Bradley Center, which made it a whole lot easier to head across the River for postgame drinks and not have to squeeze through a mass of humanity (as I had to do at Buck Bradley's Thursday afternoon).

Bad thing
Security lines were much worse than you'd see at a sold-out Kohl Center. Some of this is because the Bradley Center has you file in 2-3 lines at each entrance, while the Kohl has numerous gates inside the glass doors, which not only keeps fans warmer, but makes the individual lines much smaller. Plus, they were wanding people at the BC like you were going through security lines at the airport,(they just make you open your jackets and check your bags in Madison), which slowed things down even more. Maybe the thought is that security gets upgraded because March Madness is a bigger-profile event than a regular-season college game, but nearly 13 years since 9/11, do we still have to live with the fear mindset?

Good thing
The sights and sounds you see from the other fans and team-associated personnel at an event like this. Along with the hoops itself, I find it to be the most enjoyable part of going to March Madness- the out-of-towners getting to check out the town and make their presence known. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel noted two particular Michigan fans in a Bill Glauber "game atmosphere" story from Saturday's action. The first involved a guy who knows the Bradley Center well.
For Milwaukee fans, there was a compelling father-son story to savor. Sitting up in the stands with the Michigan fans was former Bucks player Glenn Robinson.

And down on the floor was Robinson's son, Glenn III, a silky-smooth 6-foot-6 sophomore forward who scored 14 points for Michigan.

"It's nerve-wracking," Robinson said as he described what it was like to watch his son. "You want to see him play perfect."
Big Dog was shown on the video board during both Michigan games, and got big ovations from the crowd. He broke into a smile and waved. He's still one of my all-time favorites since I saw him light up UW for 42 points in a double-OT game 1993.

But another Michigan fan was stealing the show on the video board during timeouts. They first caught her as the Michigan band playing the song officially known as "I Can't Turn You Loose", and she was joining the other folks in yellow in doing this.

An exuberant Michigan fan, 83-year-old Elaine Zatkoff,....was up and cheering throughout the game.

"I love it," she said of watching the Wolverines. "We're really big Michigan fans. We go to all the games."

Usually, a fuss is made over her husband, Roger Zatkoff, a renowned Michigan linebacker who played four seasons for the Green Bay Packers in the 1950s and was a member of the 1957 NFL Champion Detroit Lions.

Roger Zatkoff was delighted that his wife was cheered by the crowd.

"She's the same hot chick I married 63 years ago," he said.

There were hours upon hours of these types of crowd cutaway shots of good fans like Mrs. Zatkoff in between some good basketball this weekend (and to the BC's production crew's credit, they were pretty good at finding the fans). I thought Milwaukee acquitted itself quite well with the event, as it usually does when it gets to show off downtown to outsiders. Another 10-15 degrees of temperature would have been nice (especially Saturday), but it was a great way to spend a couple of days last week with a group of 4 other friends. And now I have 3 days to recover before the Madness starts again.

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