The most popular game in town
Updated: 2013-03-17 07:33
By Sun Xiaochen in Jinan, Shandong province (China Daily)
The Gold Lions' success has helped hoops surpass soccer in Shandong
Thanks to the Shandong Gold Lions' groundbreaking performance this year, basketball has replaced soccer as the top sports attraction in Jinan.
Though they've reached the CBA Finals for the first time in franchise history, the Gold Lions have yet to match the success of the city's four-time league-champion soccer club, but hoop fever has seized the city and boosted related businesses.
Take ticket sales, for example.
Shandong's two semifinal home games, on Wednesday and Friday against the Beijing Ducks, were sold out just four hours after the box office opened on Monday morning, according to the team's PR official, Fan Ze.
Fan said the demand even forced the club's ticket operator to limit the number of free tickets given to players so it could offer more to the public.
"(The club staff) used to be able to buy some tickets with a 50 percent discount (from the operator), but this season they didn't have any tickets left for us sometimes," Fan said.
Some players, like veteran forward Cao Zhenhua, had to remind their families and friends of the shortage. Cao wrote on his micro blog "please understand (the situation), I really don't have extra tickets".
It was even harder for fans who failed to buy tickets through official outlets.
A large group of students from Shandong University appeared outside the north gate of Shandong Gymnasium, the Gold Lions' home stadium, almost three hours before the game on Friday, bargaining with scalpers for tickets.
Zhang Yifan, a sophomore at SU, bought two tickets for 1,200 yuan ($193) - triple face value - but felt it was worth the extra money to witness the Lions' 101-82 victory over Beijing at courtside.
"I am so excited to be part of the history of Shandong basketball. I would have regretted it if I didn't buy the tickets," Zhang said after the game.
The atmosphere in the packed 8,000-seat gym could hardly have been more intense. Fans flew colorful banners to support the Lions while chanting "Ban Ta", literally interpreted as "make them suffer", to intimidate the Ducks.
Shandong's every score brought loud cheering and noise from inflatable sticks, while Beijing's possessions were met with boos from every corner of the gymnasium.
It was a vastly different story last season, when the average attendance barely reached 40 percent of full capacity as Shandong missed out the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
"I haven't seen the stands as full as they've been this season for years," said Xu Shaohua, a management official with the gymnasium. "It has been a major sensation in town since the team's 15-game winning streak. It reminds me of the sold-out season in 1998."
Led by current coach Gong Xiaobin, Shandong made it into the semis for the first time in 1998, but was eliminated by Liaoning.
The Lions have made up for the decline of the city's soccer franchise, Luneng.
"This city needs another team to be successful in pro sports after Luneng went downhill," Zhang said. "Luneng's home (Jinan Olympics Sports Center) used to be the most crowded stadium in town; now the Lions' home court has become our new base."
Neighboring restaurants and hotels have profited from the influx of visitors.
The Mingzuo Hotel, just outside the arena's south gate, has been fully booked since Tuesday, said receptionist Zhou Jing.
"Usually, we don't have empty rooms three days before every home game in the postseason," Zhou said.