It's no secret that the Cleveland Cavaliers are struggling this year, playing near the bottom of the eastern division standings, and playing in front of some of the smallest crowds in the league. This year the Cavs joined an NBA trend and added a male to their dance team in an effort to pump up the fans at Gund Arena. Although the dancer's skills were enough to land him a solo spot on the squad, he was subsequently fired. 90.3 WCPN's Tarice Sims reports.
Tarice Sims: It's 11 o'clock on a Saturday and 25-year-old Bryan Martin is in the midst of doing what he loves. He teaches a dance class at the Morgenstern Dance Studio in Beachwood. Martin tried to expand his dance career last summer when he was one of roughly 90 people who auditioned for the Cleveland Cavaliers dance team. Martin was thrilled when he became the first man to make the cut. He says he was supposed to be a surprise for the audience - but at the home opener he says he felt less than welcome.
Bryan Martin: The women were out on the court dancing and I had to make my grand entrance and all you heard was this big roar they were like "BOOOO," I was like, "ah man," but I had to keep dancing. That's what I love to do and that's why I auditioned for the dance team.
TS: After the routine was over Martin says he started to have second thoughts about his new role.
BM: It was a mixed emotion for me. I didn't really want to go out the second time that we were supposed to go out. So, my coordinator was like well you know after all the boos and stuff you may want to wait until the next game to go back out. You introduced yourself so let it sink in. And see how that goes.
TS: But the fans never accepted Martin's presence on the all-female dance team - and he was let go shortly before Christmas. The team's dance coordinator never gave him a reason for his dismissal and the Cavs reserve the right to terminate a dancer, for what they say can be any reason, no reason, with or without cause or notice.
Fred Johnson was in the stands during one of Martin's performances. Johnson says he was sad to see Martin go but he admits his presence caught him off guard.
Fred Johnson: It was a shock for me, but you know truth be told he was the better dancer than the women were. He seemed to have a lot more energy. And he was really into it. And obviously it was a big step for him and it takes a lot of guts for a man to come out and do something like that.
TS: Johnson says even though he has seen men cheering at games in the past, there is an expectation by fans that the dancers will be young attractive females. In fact, in the Cleveland Cavaliers Dance Team handbook it mentions that the dancers overall appearance should be modest and feminine. Sports writer Terry Pluto makes no secret of his dislike of the dance team, mostly he says, because of their presentation. Pluto doesn't care for the "skimpy" outfits and he says he's not alone. In his Akron Beacon Journal Sports column published back in November, he offered ideas to inspire and energize the crowd. One of his proposals was to get rid of the dancers... period.
Terry Pluto: I don't think dance teams sell a single ticket and I think that to a number of people that I received e-mails and talked a lot about the cheerleaders and frankly their outfits and provocative dances are very offensive to people coming to see family entertainment.
TS: Pluto says one fan wrote if they cut the dancers out maybe the team could cut prices. But it's not exactly a huge savings. As a Cavs dancer Bryan Martin says he received $8 an hour for rehearsals and $12.50 per game plus wardrobe. Still Pluto maintains if the organization wants to invest in ways to energize the crowd there are better alternatives. He says unfortunately because of NBA trends it's hard to branch out and be original.
TP: You'll hear the same songs in just about every NBA arena. You'll see just about the same promotions in every NBA arena. The NBA PR department does some strong suggestions of what you ought to do you know that kind of thing, and surely there's a quote un-quote part of the package it began with the Laker girls and all that. Well, that may play fine in LA but if you're a really good marketer you tailor your marketing to your market. In other words what works in LA in New York may not work in Portland or Cleveland.
TS: One marketing tool that hasn't worked at many of the venues is the appearance of men on the NBA dance teams. In 1999, boos from a New York Knicks' crowd greeted six male dancers who accompanied the all female team onto the court. A spokesperson for the Cleveland Cavaliers says hiring Martin was "just an experiment" one of many marketing and promotion ideas that didn't work out. Still most fans agree despite attempts to entertain the crowd through dance, or free giveaways the one sure way to energize and excite the crowd is simply for the basketball team to win games. In Cleveland, Tarice Sims, 90.3 WCPN News.