As we slog through the non-basketball portion of the year, we like to shift gears and look at different subjects. Something that had interested me is the NBA’s standing in terms of economics and popularity. Based upon the reports that the NBA salary cap will be lowered the next few seasons, it seems pretty clear that the NBA revenues are not growing. I was wondering whether this dip in revenues was reflected in attendance. Thanks to Basketball-Reference.com we have some readily accessible attendance data. For fun, I took the attendance of each franchise from the start of this decade (2000-01) and again in mid-decade (2004-05), finally also adding this last season (2008-09), to see the progression of attendance. It’s an interesting sampling because the NBA was pretty popular in 2000-01 and the U.S. was still riding in the stock market bubble, while in 2004-05 and 2008-09 are very different times as well. So here’s how it all looks:
Interestingly, attendance has grown steadily over these nine years. There are obviously some problems with the data because we take three random season but it’s fair to say that most teams are either steady or way up since the start of the decade. Here are some other observations:
- The big gainers since 2000 are Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Golden State, and Houston. Atlanta’s gain comes from being decent after years of really playing poorly. The other franchises also are places where fans traditionally come when they win (Boston, Denver, Detroit, and Dallas) and not when they lose. The big gains in Cleveland and Houston can also be attributed to adding players with global popularity and show how important stars are to the health of a franchise. Finally, Dallas gets special recognition for having a good team and Mark Cuban, who was a relentless in supporting the product emotionally and financially. Also, Don Nelson appears to help draw fans in Golden State no matter how bad the team is.
- It’s pretty amazing that the Bulls fill the arena no matter how good or bad they’ve been. In fact that 2000-01 team was so puke bad it’s shocking that they nearly had 900,000 fans come to the stadium.
- Portland is the perfect example of the bounce back market. The Blazers always drew a ton of fans but the bad team with unlikable characters of the mid-2000s drove away this loyal base. It’s nice to see that the fans have responded to another good team this last season.
- The drastic drops in attendance come from Indiana, Minnesota, Philadelphia, and Sacramento. Indiana and Sacramento appear to be pretty huge problems. The Pacers attendance has been dropping like a rock for years, despite a new facility. Part of this is that the team is nowhere near as good as it was from 1993-2004 but numbers seem alarming low at this point. In Sacramento, the fans almost always came out even before the fun Chris Webber teams. There are financial problems here but the team is horrific so it’s hard to know what is the primary factor killing attendance. Philly is in a different category because they were quite good in 2000-01, so the decline to 2008-09 when they had a mediocre team, looks worse than it actually is.
- The ugliest situation, however, might be Memphis. It’s never a good thing when a team that recently moved is drawing nothing and the team is struggling on almost every level. To put matters in perspective, Memphis’ attendance in 2008-09 was worse than in 2000-01, when the Grizz were in their final lame duck season in Vancouver and they were quite bad on the court. I don’t know the end game for this Memphis team but they are going to have to get some competent ownership before they can succeed no matter where they are.