[At the blog, we heart the long-gone journalist George Kiseda. Here is a brief, but fun, article, that Kiseda penned in 1968 while he wrote for the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. The topic: the Philadelphia 76ers use of a very special musical voice to shill season tickets. Kiseda’s story also ran in The Sporting News on November 9, 1968.]
The first thing you hear is Andy Williams singing “Moon River” and before you realize what is happening, you’re listening to a pitch for 76ers season tickets.
“Hi, everybody! This is Andy Williams. They told me professional basketball is big in Philadelphia, and I bet it is. Well, you can make it even bigger with a season ticket to all the 76ers’ games this year at the beautiful Spectrum. And you can see 34 exciting 76ers’ games, including some battles with my team, the new Phoenix Suns. It’s going to be a great year in the National Basketball Association, and I hope you plan to be a part. Call the 76ers’ office now . . .”
The commercial has turned up recently on most of the local radio stations. It is not the same as, say, Helen Hayes doing promos for the Roller Derby, but some people have wondered what a nice guy like Andy Williams is doing hustling season tickets for the 76ers. After all, you don’t get Andy Williams for union scale.
“It cost 50 cents toll over and 50 cents back on the bridge,” 76ers business manager Pat (No Relation) Williams confessed.
Pat Williams is a 28-year-old promotional whiz kid the 76ers stole out of the Philadelphia Phillies’ farm system. At Spartanburg, S. C., he put 177,000 people in an old ballpark one year with stunts like cow-milking contests and a “we-care” approach toward the customers. Williams was told when he came here, the things that worked in Spartanburg, S. C., won’t work in Philadelphia, and the skeptics were right: In Spartanburg S.C., you couldn’t get Andy Williams to sell season tickets.
Pat Williams was reading Sports Illustrated one day and discovered that Andy Williams is one of the owners of the Phoenix Suns. About the same time, he discovered that Andy Williams was appearing at the Latin Casino. “I thought wouldn’t it be great if we could get somebody to add a little glamour and Hollywood it up,” Williams said.
Armed with a tape recorder and his innocence, Pat Williams went to the Latin Casino that night and stood through the first show. “I whipped back to the dressing room at the intermission and just presented myself,” he said. “I had the copy (for the commercials) on a sheet of paper.”
Surprising everybody but Pat Williams, Andy Williams agreed to do the commercial—free. Last week, Pat Williams got Martha Reeves, of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, to do a commercial for Sneaker Night (November 5)—again, for free. He had Sidney Poitier throwing out the first ball at the opener.
So far, only Miss America has shot him down. He wanted her to do her trampoline thing between halves of the 76ers’ game, but it developed that Miss America is out of shape.
Pat Williams says the reaction to the Andy Williams commercial has been “great, great, but I don’t know how many tickets we sold.”
“The stunts, the gimmicks are fine,” he said, “but the important thing is the personal touch.” He has made it a point to ask customers for suggestions and complaints. In 1968, that is almost a novel approach.
Meanwhile, Pat Williams is watching ads on the entertainment pages. “I see where Dionne Warwick is coming to town—and Connie Francis and Bobby Darren and Sammy Davis,” he said.
“Hi everybody. This is Dionne Warwick. They tell me professional basketball . . .”