Tag Archives: Chicago Bulls

Attendance in the NBA and NHL

While Cavs fans might feel betrayed by LeBron James, they have shown their support for the team despite a 19-63 record. (Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal/MCT)

Beyond my interest in sports as fan, my interest in the business of sports has grown over the past several years.  One of the aspects of sports business that I find the most interesting are attendance figures for teams in the various leagues. I’m interested in the raw numbers, but also in what cause fluctuations from year to year or within seasons.  A helpful tool for my odd obsession with attendance figures is the SportsBusiness Journal’s Turnstile Tracker.  The SBJ, in its April 4-10 issue, published the latest Turnstile Tracker for the NBA and the NHL and some of the statistics were surprising.  Let’s take a look at the NBA first.

NBA – A couple of things jumped out at me as I was perusing the figures.  These numbers are through March 29, which accounts for between 35-38 of an NBA team’s 41 home games.

1. The Cleveland Cavaliers are 2nd in the NBA in overall attendance at 763,636 fans through 38 games (the Chicago Bulls are first by a wide margin – 803,874 fans through 37 games).  While the average (20,096) isn’t 100% of capacity (which is 20,562 for the Quicken Loans Arena), it’s still pretty impressive.  Cleveland wasn’t competitive this season, finishing just 19-63, and lost LeBron James to the Miami Heat in the offseason. It’s almost like the fans in Cleveland came out to support the team as a way to stick it to LeBron.  Impressively, 24 home games counted at the time of publication, were played before an arena holding 98% or more of capacity.  The only other teams – the Boston Celtics, Chicago, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami, New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Orlando Magic, Portland Trail Blazers, and the Utah Jazz,  to match that are in the playoffs or in Utah’s case are the only thing in town (no offense to Real Salt Lake who don’t play for most of the NBA season). Several playoff teams – the Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies, and Atlanta Hawks – couldn’t match Cleveland’s support.

2. The Philadelphia 76ers played the most games (25 out of 35) in front of crowds that were less than 75% of capacity.  This surprises me.  The 76ers got off to a rough start, but were competitive throughout the season and made the playoffs.  On average only 70.8% of the seats in the arena were filled on any given night.  It’s pretty clear that the Sixers have slipped to #4, and maybe even #5 behind the Philadelphia Union, in the pecking order of Philadelphia sports.

3. Only two teams (the New Jersey Nets and the Indiana Pacers) played before crowds of fewer than 10,000 fans.  New Jersey played a game before just 8,866 fans, and Indiana played before 9,466.  An interesting fact about the Nets – despite playing before the lowest crowd in the NBA this season, the team has enjoyed an 8.6% increase in attendance from last year.

4. Overall, the NBA has seen a 1% increase in attendance vs. last season and is playing before arenas filled to 90.1% of capacity.

It seems like a lot of fans will be missing the NBA if the current labor situation does not get resolved before the start of next season.  The current collective bargaining agreement expires on June 30 and the possibility of a lockout looks more and more likely. That said, there are clearly a couple of markets that probably wouldn’t miss the hardwood too much if the 2011-2012 season if the NBA shortens or cancels its season.

NHL – The NHL, more than the NBA, relies on putting fans in the seats to pay the bills, and is having a pretty good year overall.  The numbers cited below account for between 37-40 of the NHL’s 41 home games. Some interesting numbers:

1. The NHL is averaging only a couple hundred fewer fans per game than the NBA – 17,071 for the NHL to the NBA’s 17,262.  Not bad for a sport that is a distant 4th in the pantheon of American sports.

2. While it might have seemed sad that the Nets and Pacers played before fewer than 10,000 fans, they have nothing on the NHL.  The New York Islanders played a game at Nassau Coliseum in front of just 3,136 fans.  It is worth mentioning that this game was played during the post-Christmas blizzard that blanketed much of the Northeast in over a foot of snow, but other teams were still able to but fans in the seats.  There were 4 other teams that played before crowds of fewer than 10,000 fans – the Atlanta Thrashers (8,461), the Columbus Blue Jackets (9,128), the New Jersey Devils (5,329) and the Phoenix Coyotes (6,706).

3. Of the teams with the 10 lowest average attendance figures (click here to see the list from ESPN – this list doesn’t match the SBJ list exactly, but it is illustrative), 6 are located in the South and 1 is in California.  It’s pretty clear that the NHL’s strategy to expand into the South isn’t working and some of those teams need to be relocate to areas that will support the teams.

4. Chicago loves it NBA and NHL teams.  The Blackhawks and Bulls are the leaders in average attendance for both leagues.  While part of this can be attributed to the United Center’s ability to hold nearly 20,00o seated fans for hockey and nearly 21,000 for basketball, both teams are playing to capacities of over 100%, meaning fans are flocking to see the Blackhawks and Bulls play and are willing to stand to do it.  Impressive.

Philadelphia fans have been turning out in bunches to see the Flyers, but have abandoned the Sixers.

5.  While Philly has seemingly abandoned the playoff bound Sixers, the Flyers have seen an uptick in attendance compared to last season.  The Flyers are 3rd in the NHL in average attendance and have played before 100.9% of capacity over the course of the season.

It will be interesting to see if the NHL capitalizes on the potential NBA labor strife.  If there is a shortened or canceled NBA season, will that mean more fans going to see hockey?  Time will tell.


Post LeBron Reaction

I, like everyone else with even a passing interest in the NBA, spent part of my night watching the LeBron James decision special on ESPN.  He announced that he was “going to take [his] talents to South Beach” and sign with the Miami Heat.   He did this, despite saying that it was tough, with little emotion on his face.  While he said that the decision was tough, his actions were those of a man who had made his mind up a long time ago that he was leaving Cleveland.  He may not have known where he would land or, if you believe some of the information in Bill Simmons’ article, he had an idea that he would land wherever Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh landed.  The fact remains, that despite what LeBron said, he may not have the best chance of winning in Miami.

Miami will use roughly $49.5 million of their salary cap space on Wade, Bosh and King James.  With the NBA setting the salary cap at $58 million.  That leaves the Heat with $9.5 million to fill the remaining 9 slots on their roster.   They currently have Mario Chalmers on the books, as well as Michael Beasley.  It is unlikely Beasley will remain with the Heat, so his salary would come off the books.  Chalmers is scheduled to make $850,000.  That leaves the Heat with $8.65 million to fill the rest of the roster.  They have to hope that some veterans will take WAY less than market value to play in Miami with the Trinity.  There are rumors going around the Mike Miller might be interested in signing with the Heat.  Even if Miller signs, the Heat still need a legit center, and back ups for the Trinity.  I don’t buy that the Heat need a point guard because with Chalmers, LeBron and Wade on the court, there is more than enough ball handling skills to run the offense.  As it stands right now, Bosh, James and Wade will have to play most of the night due to what could be a lack of quality on the bench. What would worry me if I were the Heat management is Wade’s injury history.  Success is predicated on the Trinity playing together, if one of them goes down, who will the Heat replace him with?  Will the Heat luck out the way the Celtics did when they got P.J. Brown, James Posey and Eddie House for nothing to play along side the Big Three?  Who knows.  Without quality back ups, this team will still be a contender in the East and under the right circumstances a contender for the title.

After hearing the decision, the real question to me is: why didn’t he go to Chicago where he could play with Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, and Derrick Rose?  While Chicago obviously wasn’t as flashy as signing with Bosh and Wade on South Beach, I believe it would have presented a better, long-term opportunity for LeBron to win.  He would have been playing along side a legitimate future all-star point guard in Rose, an all-star power forward in Boozer and the emerging Noah.  Chicago also has Luol Deng coming off the bench under this scenario. Beyond those four players, Chicago would have still had money to fill out a team that would have been better than anything Miami could put together.

After watching part of the special, I began to wonder if Cleveland was ever really an option?  They didn’t have the resources to build a good team to play around him.  Bosh was adamant that he would not play in Cleveland, despite the fact that the Cavs and Raptors had a preliminary sign-and-trade lined up that would have united Bosh and LeBron on the shores of Lake Erie.  If LeBron had stayed, could Cleveland have spun a trade to steal a player the way the Lakers stole Pau Gasol from the Grizzlies?  A more pressing question is where do the Cavs go from here?  I don’t profess to have a great deal of knowledge about the Cavs roster, but I suspect they will be hoping the ping-pong balls bounce their way come next June.