- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 27, 2001

The Washington Wizards' lack of fan support was so distinct last season that individual conversations could be heard throughout MCI Center during games.

Thanks to Michael Jordan's comeback, the decibel level not only will rise exponentially, so, too, will the Wizards' revenue and demand for tickets to their games.

During the first 24 hours after Jordan made his second comeback official, the Wizards sold more than 1,000 season tickets, pushing the team's total above the 13,000 mark. Local brokers in the secondary ticket market were swamped with calls yesterday.

And 10 opposing teams ranging from rising power Toronto to lowly Atlanta were actively marketing seats to games against Washington, with each posting strong sales. Inclusion into other team's promotional offers usually is reserved for perpetually popular teams such as New York and the Los Angeles Lakers. Now the Wizards also are considered a must-see team.

"As you might expect, it's been very, very busy today, and has been since yesterday," said Matt Williams, the Wizards' senior vice president of communications. "We ended up having to install a second switchboard for the phones."

The Wizards last year had an average attendance of 15,557, a generous figure considering the considerable number of no-shows each night. Assuming the team sells out all 41 home games this season, an MCI Center basketball capacity of 20,674 and an average ticket price of more than $65, the team stands to reap an additional $13.6 million in ticket revenue.

And that's before considering similar anticipated surges in concessions, parking, merchandising, luxury seat sales and corporate sponsorship.

"We've certainly started doing the math on this, and it's one of many reasons, on a lot of levels, why we're thrilled about this comeback," Williams said.

Single-game tickets go on sale Monday. The team will hold back 1,500 tickets for each game for individual purchase.

The Boston Celtics, meanwhile, have placed ads featuring Jordan in Massachusetts papers touting full and partial season ticket plans that include tickets to see the Wizards in Beantown. The Celtics, already sold out of individual game tickets for Jordan's two visits to Boston, moved more than 300 such packages before lunchtime.

"We've also closed two large corporate sponsorship deals already today," said Stuart Layne, Celtics vice president of marketing and sales. "What Michael does for us is twofold. He provides an impetus for people to make some decisions and buy tickets. But much more importantly, he puts attention on basketball at a time of year when we're working against the NFL and baseball pennant races. It's September 26 and the whole country's talking NBA. In a normal year, that just doesn't happen."

Washington area brokers are fetching as much as $3,000 for prime courtside seats to the Wizards' home opener Nov. 3 against Philadelphia, and most seats during the season will sell on the secondary market for $100 to $400.

"On a scale of 1 to 10 in local fan interest, the Wizards last year were about a 5. This year they're a 25," said Karl Roes, president of Stagefront Tickets.com , a Laurel brokerage. "There's just no comparison. The thing you have to remember is that many basketball fans around here have not seen Michael Jordan play in person."

Meanwhile, retailers are eagerly awaiting their first shipment of Jordan Wizards jerseys next week. The Jordan jerseys will be the centerpiece item of an MJ merchandising blitz certain to reach at least the tens of millions of dollars.

"Even though we obviously saw this coming, we couldn't move on starting to produce product until the decision was absolutely 100 percent," said Eric Oberman, spokesman for Nike, which will produce many of the jerseys. Nike's Jordan Brand, of which Jordan is a lead executive, also is readying the 17th version of the Jordan signature basketball shoe for release early next year.

"This is certainly a big deal, and we're obviously pushing to meet the demand wherever it pops up," Oberman said.

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