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Lockout Made NBA More Popular?
Posted By Jason Fleming On January 4, 2012 @ 12:00 pm In All,NBA | No Comments
During the 2011 NBA lockout there was a lot of rhetoric thrown back and forth between the Players and the Owners, but they weren’t the only ones throwing out ultimatums and take-it-or-leave-its. Fans were doing the same thing. Many fans took to social media to talk about being done with the NBA and sick of money being the only issue. Some talked about organizing protests once the games did come back.
When the lockout finally ended and free agency began with a bang as teams and players rushed to get into training camps and find new teams, a lot of the anger towards both sides seemed to dissipate. Just judging from the email we get and the questions we get in out chats, it seemed like basketball quickly became everyone’s main focus and the topic of people walking away from the league disappeared.
Is that because those people did leave, never to come back? Or is it because with real games now a reality they changed their mind, glad the two sides were able to work together to hammer out a deal even if it did cost them 16 games and force schedules to be greatly compacted?
While it’s absolutely possible some people did walk away, the numbers simply aren’t bearing it out.
On Christmas Day, the day the 2011-12 NBA season began with five nationally televised games. The matchup between the L.A. Lakers and Chicago Bulls earned the third-highest rating for an NBA regular season game in history for ABC and the Boston-New York matchup that kicked off the day with the highest rating ever for a Christmas day game on cable on TNT. The L.A. Clippers-Golden State Warriors tilt on ESPN, the last game of the quintuple-header, earned ESPN’s highest Christmas day rating ever for a NBA game.
Since that day television ratings have remained solid.
Clearly fans tuned in to watch the games, but are they buying tickets? There are lots of reasons for fans to stay home and just watch it on TV these days, between the quality of HD programming, big screen televisions, the number of choices, the comfort of watching from your couch and not dealing with crowds, and the not having to drive home if you want a few beers while you watch. Besides, people are becoming more and more likely to want to multi-task while they watch a game and schedules have become tighter as people pack more and more things into their day. When going to a game not only includes the two-and-a-half hours for the game itself but also another hour or two of dealing with traffic and parking, staying at home and seeing the game for free (well, the cost of one’s cable bill) has its advantages.
But that’s not what people are doing. Actually, as noted in an article earlier this week in The Los Angeles Times, stadiums are fuller than they were last season (through the first week of the season) across the league. Helene Elliott noted 25 of the first 32 games of the season were sellouts and teams were operating at 99.2% capacity.
Check out the numbers for yourself. The table below lists the capacity for each team’s stadium and their average attendance for the last three seasons. Obviously the sample size for the 2011-12 column (through 1/2/12) is small (or in the case of Philly, non-existent), but it’s still telling.
|Portland Trail Blazers||19,980||20,463||20,510||20,497|
|New York Knicks||19,763||19,763||19,728||19,501|
|Golden State Warriors||19,596||19,468||18,692||18,027|
|Los Angeles Clippers||19,060||19,243||17,742||16,343|
|Los Angeles Lakers||18,997||18,997||18,997||18,997|
|San Antonio Spurs||18,581||18,310||18,314||18,089|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||18,203||18,203||18,148||18,003|
|New Orleans Hornets||18,500||16,796||14,709||15,130|
|New Jersey Nets||18,711||15,615||14,179||13,103|
Quick note: See how some teams are averaging higher than their listed capacity (six teams)? Capacity numbers don’t include things like standing room tickets or temporary seating, which some teams can add for games with a higher demand. Also, yes, these numbers don’t represent behinds in seats; they represent tickets sold (or distributed in giveaways). These are the numbers we have to work with and while they represent one aspect of attendance, I freely admit they may not fully represent local fan support.
A full thirteen teams are averaging over a thousand fans more this season than last. While some of that has to do with opening night almost always being a sellout, it also is a holdover from the fantastic 2010-11 NBA season that by all kinds of measures may have been the league’s best ever. The simple fact is fans are still excited and they are still watching and attending games.
Only three teams – Phoenix, Detroit and Cleveland – have seen marked drops in attendance, much of what can be attributed to major letdowns as those teams rebuild from being perennial playoff contenders. Detroit in particular is dealing with being hit harder than just about any other NBA city during the recession, which probably has more to do with their drops in attendance than the team itself, but missing the playoffs doesn’t help.
Yes, it’s still a very small sample size. It’s hard to believe the league could maintain such a high level of attendance as the season wears on and teams play three or four home games in a given week. We’ll revisit the topic later in the year and again at the end of the season to see how the attendance figures are holding up.
For now, though, it seems as if the teams and the players are doing a very good job of bringing back the fans – and bringing in new ones as well.
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