True Hoop’s Henry Abbott read Anthony Schoettle’s Indiana Business Journal Report on the Pacers’ marketing efforts, and concludes it represents “yet another sign that whatever Indiana’s beef might be with NBA basketball, it might have something to do with culture, or even skin color.”   I’m sure you’ll agree, that’s one heck of a crazy accusation to be throwing around….just because the Pacers would rather make their white first-year coach and team president the centerpieces of an ad campaign rather than Jermaine O’Neal.

The Indiana Pacers recently rolled out a marketing initiative that was in sharp contrast to last year™s campaign, which prominently featured players and proclaimed, œIt™s up to us.

This year™s new television, radio and print advertisements appear with not a whisper from or mention of anyone actually wearing the blue and gold.

The campaign marks a fundamental”some would say radical”marketing shift that underscores the challenges the NBA franchise faces in rebuilding fan support and improving its finances.

New coach Jim O™Brien takes center stage in this year™s ad campaign telling fans how committed he is to hard-nosed defense and the will to win. He even extols the virtues of Conseco Fieldhouse.

In one ad, O™Brien stands alongside the team™s chief of basketball operations, Hoosier hoops icon Larry Bird.

O™Brien was chosen as the primary spokesman for the early part of the campaign, Tom Hirschauer of Publicisi Indianapolis said, because research showed the older, corporate audience that buys season tickets finds him credible.

Part of the shift, Hirschauer said, is because many Pacers fans in this œconservative market don™t identify with the œhip-hop culture some in the NBA have cultivated in recent years.

Pacers fans are more interested in things like hustle, teamwork and fundamentally sound basketball than individual stars, he said.

O™Brien, who replaced Rick Carlisle after last season, might be the team™s best hope for turning things around. But if he™s the franchise™s most marketable asset, local sports marketer David Morton thinks the Pacers are in trouble.

œFans don™t generally come to the arena to watch coaches coach, said Morton, principal of Sunrise Sports Group, a locally based sports marketing consultancy. œThey come to watch players play. There has to be a connection between the fans and players.