By Brad Kallet, WFAN.com
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First they went after Jets general manager John Idzik. And now they've set their sights on Knicks owner James Dolan.
The creators of FireJohnIdzik.com launched Knicks4Sale.com a week ago in order to bring attention to the fact that, in their minds, Dolan has done a grossly incompetent job of running the 10-43 Knicks.
Shortly after Dolan's controversial email to fan Irving Bierman went public, Jason Koeppel -- along with his brother and two friends -- decided to launch a campaign against Dolan, and Knicks 4 Sale was born. The same quartet started the Fire John Idzik campaign. Koeppel, a graphic designer by trade who owns his own business, designed both websites.
The site has its detractors, but so far it's gotten a tremendous response from Knicks fans. Koeppel and his team are looking for $20,000 in donations. That money will cover a billboard outside Madison Square Garden, T-shirts and other not-yet-known creative endeavors. In the first day-and-a-half of business, Knicks 4 Sale raised over $2,000. Koeppel is hoping to have the billboard erected sometime between mid-March and mid-April.
Last week I caught up with Koeppel and Mike Zucker, who served as a "creative consultant" on Fire John Idzik and is playing a major role with Knicks 4 Sale. The two provided insight into why they're taking so much of their valuable time to do this, what their ultimate goal is and much, much more.
The Knicks have been terrible all season. What was it that flipped the switch in your heads and made you decide to launch this campaign?
JK: When (Dolan) sent that email to the fan, and he attacked the fan, we basically looked at it as an attack on all fans, where James Dolan thinks that he is basically entitled to fan support regardless of whatever he says and does. And that's unacceptable to us. We applauded the efforts of that guy who sent the email. But we decided to try to do something that would be a little bit more high-profile, and a little bit more of a creative way to show James Dolan how much we're disgusted with the way he's running the organization.
Here he is again, stepping into the spotlight; having the nerve to say to a fan ... to attack a fan like that. It was despicable. As a business owner myself, I can't imagine (acting that way) if one of my customers sent me an email voicing displeasure with my company. For me to respond like that would just be insane. Obviously, James Dolan doesn't think there are any consequences to his actions, but we're trying to hold him accountable.
MZ: I don't know if we necessarily have a mindset that he's going to resign over a billboard, but it's just to promote fan voice, the power of the modern-day average fan and the impact that we can have. And I think that when he was lashing out at fans, we had all this power with the Fire John Idzik (campaign). And whether he resigns or not, we're going to make sure that we're heard because we have the platform.
John Idzik was fired, and you clearly put pressure on owner Woody Johnson to fire him. Dolan, of course, can't be fired. And there's nothing to suggest that he has any intention to sell the Knicks anytime soon. Is your ultimate goal to see Dolan sell? Or is this more about raising awareness and bringing attention to the fact that Knicks fans are fed up with the job Dolan is doing?
JK: Absolutely. That's 100 percent the point. We are basically just giving a voice to the average fan, and that's why people are investing in it. They're not investing in it with the hope that Dolan will actually sell the team because there's a billboard up for a month. We're not delusional people, we're not crazy. We understand that Dolan makes a lot of money on this team regardless if they're good or bad. And at the end of the day, this is just like Bierman. But he did it quietly and privately, and this is a more public display.
MZ: There may be smaller outcomes that come of this. Maybe Dolan sees the billboard, it embarrasses him and you know what? Maybe it sticks in the back of his mind for a while. "Hey, you know what? Maybe I'm not doing things the right way." Or maybe he does something to get back in the good graces of the fans. Maybe he lowers ticket prices a little bit next year. Maybe he does something to try to appease the fans and it has smaller outcomes. But at the end of the day, like I said, it's just a way of showing Dolan that the fans are not happy. What this is going to do is create one giant coalition of fans. He's gonna really, for the first time, see a unified movement from all the fans that we're fed up with losing.
JK: In addition to (the billboard), obviously as you saw with Fire John Idzik, we're really creative with the way we go about doing things. So I'm not gonna say that we're 100 percent planning on this, but there could be planes, there could be things outside of the Garden. On game days, (we might hand out) "Fire Dolan" banners. There could be people inside Madison Square Garden with banners. You never know. Things will pop up, I promise you that.
You've received plenty of criticism going back to FireJohnIdzik.com. Many argue that this is waste of time, that it won't do anything. They say that this money could go to charity or a much more worthy cause. What is your response to that?
JK: In this day and age, you could say you'd be better off spending that money on charity to anything. You could walk into Madison Square Garden, to the guy standing on the beer line, and say, "You're paying 15 bucks on beer? That's ridiculous. Why don't you donate that money to charity?" You could go into a steakhouse and say, "You're paying $50 for a steak? That's ridiculous. Why don't you donate that money to charity?" To tell people who are spending their money on something that it's a waste of money -- that may be somebody's opinion -- but if the people who are spending the money don't feel like they're wasting their money, they're well within their rights to spend it. A ticket to a Knicks game, what's the average ticket? $250? So to spend $25 bucks on a billboard to voice their displeasure, I don't really see the problem.
We donated excess funds from the Fire John Idzik campaign to the Philadelphia and Cincinnati children's hospitals for cancer research. We feel like we did the right thing there, and obviously we didn't have to do that. But we wanted to and thought that it would be a nice thing to do. We're not a charity. We never pretended to be a charity. We were very open with what we were spending the money on. People are donating and people are well within their rights to donate or not donate. I know that people think, "It's $20,000. How could you waste that on a billboard?" It's a lot of people who are spending a relatively small amount of money per person. It's not like we're asking for $1,000, $5,000 per person. It's $25 here, $25 there. I understand where people are coming from and I respect their opinion. We just hope that they respect ours.
MZ: What does it cost to go to a Knicks game when they're 10-43? Dolan is charging the highest ticket prices in the NBA. Could Dolan lower tickets $20 a seat and donate it? Even big picture, this is just a good step forward for the fan anywhere to -- maybe not make a direct impact -- but now more than ever, seize the opportunity to have a voice.
Are you getting anything out of this personally, or is this really just all about your love for the Knicks and wanting to see change? This obviously takes a ton of your time and is hard work. Are you looking for fame and fortune, or do you consider your campaign a selfless act on behalf of the fans?
JK: We were insulted, as Knicks fans, because when you speak to one fan in the way that Dolan spoke to Bierman, you're speaking to all fans. You have this sense of entitlement to our support, and we want to make it known that you're not just entitled to it. You have to work for it. At the end of the day, yeah, it was personal. If it wasn't personal, and we weren't as passionate about the teams as we are, we probably wouldn't do this. We all made a deal with each other ... When we were doing the Jets one, we wanted to really to hammer the point home that we're not trying to get famous out of it.
We made a deal with each other what we were absolutely, under no circumstances, allowed to do television because we didn't want to be reality stars. We wanted to just be fans that were trying to make a point. We got asked to be interviewed during a pregame show on a major network during the football season. We said "no thanks" and they were shocked. And we got asked to be on the news and said "no thanks." We do radio because we get our voices out there. And we obviously need, for campaigns like these, we need to do some amount of marketing. At the end of the day, we make nothing. We actually were in the negative on the Jets' campaign.
MZ: I think there's already a little bit of notoriety and a little bit of credibility because the Idzik campaign was so effective in getting awareness and getting big and getting the billboard up. And then changes were made and I think that Knicks fans saw the impact that it had, and the Knicks have a huge fan base. So when they saw what the John Idzik coalition -- if I can make it sound that official -- accomplished, I think that they were just all into it because there were no more question marks. They saw how it worked last time. The obvious statistic that I saw was that the Idzik Facebook page, to this day, has a little over 2,000 followers. It's halfway through day two of this (as of last Wednesday), and there are about 1,000 likes for the Knicks page already. Just that as a plain indicator, I can see that this is growing pretty quickly.
JK: At the end of the day, people who supported what we were doing and people who didn't support what we were doing, I'm sure both sides would agree that everything we said we would do with that Fire Idzik campaign, we delivered. If anything, we over-delivered. We were looking to raise money for a billboard, and we wound up putting up four. Nobody had any clue about planes, about banners inside of a stadium, T-shirts, all of that stuff. We just kept going and going and going. And we're going to do the same thing with this campaign. So people, I think, we built up trust with the New York sports fan.
Brad Kallet is an editor and columnist for CBSNewYork.com. He has written for TENNIS.com, MLB.com and SMASH Magazine, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @brad_kallet.
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