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Fan Base Not Exactly Built on Star Power

May 12, 2006|Jerry Crowe | Times Staff Writer

You would at a Laker game, but you won't find valet parking for Clipper games at Staples Center. Nor will you find Denzel, Dustin or Dyan.

And you won't find Jack.

What you will find are "regular people, as opposed to corporations," said filmmaker Penny Marshall, the only celebrity who regularly attends both Laker and Clipper games. "I like the Clipper audience better."

With tickets costing about half of what the Lakers charge to see the same opponents, Clipper games generally draw more of a "blue-collar" crowd -- one that is less self-absorbed and more attuned to the action on the hardwood than to the "players" in the seats.

"The Lakers are more about flash," said Michael J. Sammis, a music industry executive and Clipper season-ticket holder who also attends Laker games. "The games seem to draw a more wannabe crowd because some people are more interested in being seen at a Laker game than being at the game itself. As a result, the fans ... are a beautiful, talented, arrogant bunch.

"The Clippers are essentially the opposite. They are more workmanlike, often substituting sheer grit for flash. Their style of play focuses on getting the job done no matter if it's pretty. As a result, the fan experience tends to be ... a bit more hardhat than designer jeans."

The Clippers' crew of forever-forgiving celebrity fans is patient but paltry, consisting of Marshall, Billy Crystal and TV actor Frankie Muniz. The team's history, of course, is filled with failed, forgettable seasons. While the Lakers have won nine NBA championships while representing Los Angeles, the Clippers hadn't won so much as a playoff series before this month.

"Anyone can be a Laker fan," Clipper fan Lucinda Ruiz of Rolling Hills Estates said this week, "but it takes a true believer to be a Clipper fan."

Harold Foonberg of Beverly Hills considers himself to be both. The 69-year-old retired clothier has held season tickets to Laker games since they moved from Minneapolis in 1960, when the best seats at the Sports Arena cost $3, and has held season tickets to Clipper games since they moved from San Diego in 1984.

Foonberg sits in almost the same spot game after game: on the aisle and five rows behind the visiting team's bench at Laker games, on the aisle and six rows behind the visiting team's bench at Clipper games.

The Lakers charge him $210 per ticket, the Clippers $102.

But the discrepancy is understandable, he said, even though he enjoyed following the Clippers more than the Lakers this season.

"I'm a businessman," he said, "and I say the world is based on three words: supply and demand. The demand has always been a lot more for the Lakers than it was for the Clippers, so the Clippers had no choice but to charge less."

One breakthrough season won't change that. Though they reached the playoffs this year for the first time in nine years, the Clippers sold out only one of their three first-round home games against the Denver Nuggets.

That won't be the case in the Western Conference semifinals against the Phoenix Suns. The Clippers put the tickets on sale last week, when it still looked as if they might be playing the Lakers, and they sold out in 10 minutes.

Ruiz was shut out.

"Stupid Lakers," she said.

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By the numbers

The Clippers lack the history of success - and star power- - of their Staples Center roommates, the Lakers.

Years in L.A.

Clippers: 22

Lakers: 46

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Playoff berths

Clippers: 4

Lakers: 42

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NBA titles

Clippers: 0

Lakers: 9

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Courtside ticket cost

Clippers: $800

Lakers: $2,200

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Celebrity fans

Clippers: Billy Crystal, Frankie Muniz, Penny Marshall

Lakers: Jack Nicholson, Dyan Cannon, Penny Marshall, Denzel Washington, Leonardo DiCaprio, Dustin Hoffman... and many more

Source: Times research

Los Angeles Times

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