A month after Harold Katz purchased the Philadelphia 76ers, a photograph of "Dr. J" -- Julius Erving, the six-foot-six forward for the team -- appeared in most of the nation's newspapers. It showed Erving kneeling at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem; the caption explained, "When Erving reached Tel Aviv... he placed an overseas phone call to Harold Katz... Erving, who is not Jewish, asked Katz, who is Jewish, what to see in Jerusalem. 'Go to the Wailing Wall,' Katz said, 'and pray for our team."
But while Erving, the rest of the players, and 76ers fans have been praying, Katz has been implementing the same management and marketing techniques that built Nutri/System in order to turn the team around. Philadelphia, though it has generally had an excellent team, is not a great basketball town; fans give their loyalty -- and their dollars -- to baseball and football first. And the 76ers have been so close to so many NBA titles that the average fan is now emotionally exhausted and refuses to invest a great deal in their future.
"In sports, it's the same old story -- they're not going to draw until they win," observes George Shirk, sportswriter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, "but, with the '6ers, it's worse, a case of they're not going to draw until they win it all."
Katz isn't sitting back waiting for that to happen. Since he took over the team, he's been making most of the good moves. He put Darryl Dawkins on notice when the center's superstar salary didn't result in superstar points, a significant mid-season signal to the rest of the team. He promised to go after corporate ticket sales by hitting every major company in the Delaware Valley; he's nearly done so. But he's also gone after the middle-class sports fan, the person who might purchase one or two tickets a season, a market that former owned Fitz Dixon never successfully reached. He retained a new ad agency, Elkman Advertising, which has launched a "This Place Is Jumpin" television and radio campaign and has made good use of special promotions like a "God and Country Night."
But Katz's best idea may have been his attempt to lure Wilt Chamberlain, Number 13, the hometown hero who led the 76ers to their only world championship in 1966-67, out of retirement. Though Chamberlain, who is now 45, eventually declined, the notion captured the imagination of sports-writers and the front pages of many newspapers for nearly a month.
The result? During their first 22 home games, the 76ers had an average of 12,100 attendance, more than 2,000 more fans per game than they had last year -- an increase of 20%.