With less than 20 games remaining on the New york Knicks schedule, and perhaps also the Carmelo Anthony era, there has been no shortage of blame to go around on why things have gone horribly wrong this year. Some have blamed it on poor coaching while others have pointed to injuries. But at the source of it all, everyone knows, is James Dolan himself — the singular reason the Knicks have been the NBA’s most dismal franchise year after year. Fans know this better than anyone, and this month they are making sure their distraught voices are heard through various forms of protests, petitions, and boycotts.
Of course, an awful conference and an underwhelming March schedule still allow the Knicks a chance at serendipitously making the playoffs. However, that glimmer of hope is not enough to mitigate the profound level of disappointment Knicks fans have in their franchise. There’s no other way around it because even despite their current three-game win streak, this season has been nothing short of a complete and utter disaster. This is why a couple of bold fans have gotten together and have combined the prodigious power of social media and rage to organize a sharp riposte to Dolan’s leadership.
On March 19, fans will be storming the Garden to protest “the systemic and consistently recurring lack of responsible decision-making at Madison Square Garden” while all throughout the month petitions for the removal of Mike Woodson as coach, and against James Dolan litter the web. I got in touch with some the passionate fans behind these actions to learn more about what they hope to achieve.
One of the organizers behind the March 19 protest known as KF4L (Knick Fans For Life) is Mark Griffin, a business analyst for an automotive company and devout fan who has followed the Knicks since he was eight years old. Also staging a separate retort of his own against Dolan through the form of an online petition is Jake Sarachek, a college student who has been a fan since the late ’90s.
What was the final straw in getting you to organize this?
Mark Griffin (who is behind the March 19 protest): I’m not sure if there was a final straw. It’s been a culmination of things throughout the year: The firing of last year’s GM and the rehiring of Steve Mills, the Chris Smith fiasco. The list goes on.
Jake Sarachek (who is behind a separate online petition): I just cannot take the current Knicks roster with the lack of heart, chemistry, and commitment that they have shown this year, especially considering the direction we all thought we were headed in after last season relative to where we have been for most of the last 15 years.
How many people are you expecting at the protest?
MG: Due to the media coverage, we expect more people to show up obviously. Anywhere between 50-100, I would imagine.
Has there been any interesting communication from MSG to you regarding the protest?
MG: None at all.
While protests against teams are always an interesting story, history has showed that they rarely are successful. Knicks fans themselves have even tried something like this before back in 2007 when an over-sized pink slip addressed to Dolan got signatures from passersby but mustered nothing more than a few laughs from confused tourists. One time, a website called “Sell The Knicks” was even constructed to bring attention to Dolan’s horrible decisions. Nothing came of that, either, other than swift action from MSG’s legal team once anti-Dolan shirts began to be sold on the site. There was one time a fan protest sort of worked but it happened overseas when fans of Halesowen Town FC organized a boycott of home games until the owners eventually sold the rights of a team that was grossly mismanaged financially. So what will these protests achieve?
What is your goal?
MG: The goal is initially to just have the voice of the fan heard. We understand that changes may not come directly because of a protest but it’s still important to speak up about something you care about so much.
JS: The goal of the petition is to bring awareness to the NBA and the general public that as fans of the Knicks, we will no longer tolerate the product we are being given and we demand some type of change.
For the jaded Knick fans that don’t think James Dolan cares about a petition, why should they still partake in this?
JS: Dolan definitely will not let a petition or any form of protest factor into his decision to sell the team. It is a very profitable, money-making enterprise, and he cares about his money way too much to ever give up anything that would get in the way of adding to it. However, it is not Dolan we are trying to get to; it is the NBA as a whole along with the general public. As I say in the petition, the NBA completely relies on its fans to drive its profitability.
Fans may recognize Dolan as being the Knicks’s clueless owner, but in reality he presides over a number of enormously profitable ventures that includes properties in sports (Rangers and NY Liberty), media (Cablevision and MSG Network), and entertainment (Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall). In the scope of all the revenue being made from these different silos, it’s a crushing reality check that fuming fans will probably have no chance of changing much about the dysfunctional but profitable MSG Company culture. After all, with sky-high ticket charges pricing real fans out of MSG and a $30M a year sponsorship from JP Morgan Chase keeping the Garden propped up, it’s no wonder that despite the Knicks ineptitude, they are still one of America’s most valuable sports franchises. However, that could be changing due to factors that have nothing to do with Basketball.
Here in New York, Dolan’s Cablevision is a notoriously maligned Cable provider that still has nearly 3 million subscribers, but the model of cable television is something that may actually be in the early stages of death according to recent statistics. Dolan’s stubborn ineptness with the Knicks is one thing, but when it comes to the challenges he will be facing with unstoppable market forces and technological advancements that are altering TV viewership patterns, his business acumen will be greatly tested more than ever before. With more and more people becoming comfortable cutting their cable subscription, that’s something that could really disrupt the status quo more so than irate fans so feel free to explore those streaming TV and NBA game packages.
As for MSG’s revenue, it’s almost been forgotten that the World’s Most Famous Arena may only exist for less than a decade due to a City Council vote that has ordered Dolan to find a different location for MSG in order to make room for a newly improved Penn Station on 34th Street. Remember when I was questioning Dolan’s business acumen? Well this is a guy who saw it fit to spend over a billion dollars on a building with an expiring lease, so take that however you want it. While the future of MSG continues to be a mystery, new event venues like the Brooklyn Nets’ Barclays Center and this year’s home of the Super Bowl, MetLife Stadium, will only rise in both stature and popularity as a place to stage the NY tri-state area’s marquee events. All of a sudden, its seems like the Knicks may be the least of Dolan’s worries but it still doesn’t take away the embarrassment he might feel if the most talented Knick in ages decides he wants out of this mess.
Do you think Melo should re-sign with the Knicks?
MG: If Melo wants to win a Championship with the Knicks we support him. If he decides to go elsewhere we will respect his decision. I will say that there in no better place to win than New York.
Do you think you will achieve anything?
MG: I think if the protest does achieve anything it will be the opportunity to show solidarity between Knick fans that have cried tears and died with every game lost.
JS: Yes I do. We are New Yorkers, we are known for being outspoken and voicing our opinion, and on top of that there are simply more of us than there are of any other city’s inhabitants. I truly believe that if even over 25% of Knicks fans who feel the same way about how James Dolan is running the team unite together to speak up do so instead of just taking the attitude of doing nothing, thinking that we will never be able to make a difference than we can truly make an impact.
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Regardless of what any of these protests results in, I still admire the passion of these fans. As for me, I’ve become indifferent to the constant disappointment and shame the Knicks have brought me for my unwavering dedication. Instead I just stoically observe the games and headlines and take a sick glee in anything that humiliates Dolan’s horrendous tenure as Knick owner and consider it a small but collective moral victory for downtrodden Knick fans. It’s hard to even get excited by an embarrassing race for an 8th seed that will only guarantee a first round thrashing.
The farcical nature of these protests is something that is not lost on me while there are currently some very serious ones taking place over things that actually matter in countries like Venezuela, Ukraine, and Thailand. Then again in today’s world people who are passionate about things they truly care about have great power to mobilize and be heard through social media in ways never matched before. So if a bunch of collective voices can chose who they want to host SNL, bring attention to a unjust law, or topple a dictator; then what kind of fans are we to sit idly by while our favorite team continues to be run into the ground? These fans are ones that want to do something about it. And hey, who knows if it’s already working? With talks of Phil Jackson weighing a reported offer to take control of basketball operations, maybe Dolan has finally realized its time to step aside and let someone else that knows that they are doing put the Knicks on a different course.
Is there any way the Knicks can be saved?
MG: If Dolan hires a basketball person as the President of Basketball operations. If Dolan can give that person complete autonomy and stay out of the way, there is a chance.
Maybe by the time you read this, some of the fans prayers may have been answered.