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Are You Not Entertained (At Bucks Games)?

Yes, but...

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Miami Heat Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

On January 3rd, my cousins’ family went to their first ever Bucks game. The Bucks were playing their second consecutive home game against the Washington Wizards, after losing the first on New Year’s Day. They bounced back with a win that, you may recall, featured Giannis’ career-high 55 points. No, I’m not jealous. Not in the slightest.

They were understandably impressed with Giannis, but their impression of Giannis was colored by the broader spectacle of the game. My aunt was particularly taken aback by the degree of in-game entertainment. Giannis alone provided an incredibly entertaining performance, and yet every moment he was not flying to the rim was stuffed with t-shirt tosses, credit card relays, and, shudder, the reverse cam. It was hard for my cousins’ family to take a breath between Giannis’ exploits because they were figuratively, and sometimes literally, pelted in the face with entertainment. I thought their review was particularly interesting because, in my view, in-game entertainment is meant to attract basketball neophytes like them; instead, it seemed to have the opposite effect.

This led me to ponder the role of in-game entertainment at Bucks games and make a case that less is more.

Why is there in-game entertainment in the first place? There are a lot of factors in play. First, and honestly second, third, and last, is sponsors. Two rows of fans would not be competing to cartwheel a rectangle as fast as they can if said rectangle did not look like a credit card from BMO Harris Bank. In-game entertainment is yet another way for brands to shove their logos into the subconscious of the hoi polloi (not to mention their actual products, which are often deployed as prizes). This reason alone means that it is here to stay.

Second, in-game entertainment adds to the experience of being at the game rather than watching it at home. If the TV experience of a game roughly approximates the in-person experience, there is little reason to actually go to the game - a fear that is partly reflected in blackouts for local markets. You are spared from commercials at the game (even if the in-game entertainment functions as such), and you can’t catch a t-shirt at home.

Third, as I mentioned above, in-game entertainment is meant to appeal to the non-basketball crowd. A group of people may go to a game where the basketball is simply the backdrop to having a good time. (Indeed, my cousins’ family went to the game in part because they had heard good reviews from my family, who you may recall were particularly enthralled with The Amazing Sladek...) In-game entertainment functions like cheeseburgers at Mexican restaurants - it allows a group of people to go to the game even if one of them doesn’t like basketball.

Yet, for the same reasons that my cousins’ family were taken aback, I think the degree to which these latter reasons actually hold up is questionable. To the second reason, I’m not sure the chance at a free t-shirt justifies attending a game in person. To the third reason, Bucks game is an expensive proposition for folks uninterested in basketball, and I’m not sure the person who isn’t interested in basketball would be interested in the in-game entertainment (especially when many of these activities are basketball-related!). What’s more, the Bucks are a really good team! The on-court product is highly entertaining in its own right - even when players aren’t scoring career highs. Maybe the Rim Rockers would be better received on a team that wasn’t dunking on a nightly basis.

Taken together, although in-game entertainment won’t be going away, I wonder if there should be less of it. This would have clear benefits for fans who do not enjoy it or are overwhelmed by it. Moreover, fans who do enjoy it would still get to enjoy a good amount of it - and, hopefully, the content that remains would be the most entertaining. (I’d be curious in polling - which the Bucks might do in house? - about the proportion of fans that fall into these two camps - or three, included a middle ground.)

But what about the sponsors? I’m sure they could think of ways to stuff themselves further into the remaining in-game entertainment, or other facets of the stadium experience. Further, they presumably want to be associated with good experiences - if some fans are pissed off watching the credit card relay, that may be a negative for BMO Harris Bank (although bad news is often still good news). Last, and perhaps most importantly, if less in-game entertainment entices fans who either do or do not enjoy it to continue attending Bucks games, that ensures long-term eyeballs for the sponsors.

Yet, having made this case, there is another route limiting in-game entertainment, albeit one that places responsibility on the individual: ignore it. My uncle did just that and had a wonderful time.