Attendance Claws

Published: January 21, 2012
Attendance Champs

A look at the how the attendance is stacking up against the benchmarks this time around, how it stacks up compared to other teams, and a brief look at the `football effect’.

Attendance Champs

Attendance Front and Center from Day One

It’s January in New Orleans, and amid the rumblings of ownership change, post-traumatic stress disorder is rearing its ugly mug. People are hearing noises . . . what is that?! When they should be watching the game on tv, why are they looking in the stands?! Something wicked this way comes . . . or does it?

Background and Ranting


(If you just what to know about the next 4 games, skip ahead to the next section. You’ll miss the rant, though. Enjoy.)

The Charlotte Hornets left the eponymous land of their birth in 2002, arriving at their new home as the New Orleans Hornets after signing a 10 year arena lease. Like many before them, they were cast out of their land and found a home in New Orleans. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, a series of decisions was made resulting in the Hornets returning to Louisiana sparingly for 2 seasons before making a return, one full season after the return of the Saints.

Shortly after this return, the original lease was amended in some important ways. One alteration was the addition of two years to the lease, moving the expiration from following the 2012 season (this one) to following the 2014 season. The Hornets also relived Louisiana of its obligation to furnish them with a new practice faciltiy, agreeing to continue using Jefferson Parish’s Alario Center for this purpose.

Sounds good for the Hornets fans so far, eh?

There was a price.

A number of clauses were inserted that are tied to financial numbers. For example, if certain revenue falls below some other certain level, Louisiana gives the Hornets some money according to some method of determination.

Of all these “benchmarks,” the attendance benchmarks have caused the most trouble for the fans’ psyches.

We should note here what attendance is in this context, as it’s an unfortunate term. Attendance is the sum of

1) Number of tickets sold, whether used or not
2) Number of complimentary tickets that were actually used

The number does not, therefore, definitively connect with the number of humans in the Arena. It should also be noted that different numbers appear in different places. This often has to do with time of reporting, as a number is given at halftime and a number is given at the end of the game. The number in the box score is often the former, while a number in an article the next day could be either. A few people end up arriving after half time with tickets given away or purchase them before the window closes. This is a very minor effect.

This is a standard definition around the NBA and is not particular to this franchise or this lease.

Before proceeding, let’s examine the attendance history of the team in New Orleans: average attendance per home game by year. Of course, the current season is incomplete and will change as the season progresses. The number presented is the average attendance to date.

[table id=14 /]


Prior to Katrina, New Orleans was a small and shrinking city with a growing suburban populace, who, on average, were wealthier than their city-dwelling brethren. Following Katrina, this process not only sped up, but a temporary shift in population had the city’s population at around 2/3 of pre-Katrina levels.

By the time the Hornets returned in 2007, it was clear that worst would not come to pass in New Orleans and that New Orleans would survive as a smaller city, but it wasn’t clear how the population and money would be distributed, how long the work would take, and if the city could or would support the Hornets after the Saints were being supported at literally unprecedented levels. Specifically, the Saints were sold out on a season ticket basis for the first time in the organization’s history, all with the smaller population. While this sounds good from a civic pride perspective, it wasn’t clear how much money and support would be left for the Hornets.

Thus, the Hornets asked for and received the option to pay a small fee to be able to terminate the lease if attendance numbers fell below a certain number. This clause had a special form at its inception, but the part that matters is as follows:

A two-year average, from February 1, to January 31, falling below 14,735 allows the franchise to terminate the lease for the small fee if notice is given by March 1 of that year.

Let’s study this for a bit. 14,735 is a funny number. Why that number of all the available ones? You gotta figure there’s a least 100 numbers, right? And they picked that one?!?!

During the Hornets time in New Orleans, they had average attendances of 15,650, 14,332, and 14,221 in the seasons ending in 2003, 2004, and 2005 respectively. This leads to an average attendance of 14,735, a mark exceeded only once in their time here. The season they exceed this followed the drive to get the team here, something else that was dependent on . . . anyone got a guess . . . anyone . . . attendance. And not just attendance, no; they were saying that too many cheap seats were being sold and began pushing lower bowl seats. This benchmark, however, was just on attendance.

The above may seem reasonable, but it is not. It is not `fair’ in the slightest. To start with, this would require an increase in attendance after Katrina compared to that before, since the pre-Katrina attendance failed to meet the criteria of the new lease, all with a smaller city committing money to rebuilding and to their neighbors in the big house on the block: The Saints.

Also, two-year averages are more volatile than the three-year average the benchmark is based on. This is a technical point, to be sure, but it’s evident in the numbers: A three year average of the pre-Katrina attendance by definition meets the benchmark, but the two year average (the last two years) does not.

So, to have this clause not be activated, the remaining residents would have to exceed their output from before the storm and compete with their very own push to get the team here to begin with. Their good behavior was then used as a tool to punish. Had the good behavior been better, then pain of punishment would have increased accordingly.

One can say that there are minimum standards needed to operate a team and not every market is suitable for an NBA team and an NFL team. That’s true. This particular form of measuring that . . . putting the onus on the fans themselves . . . that is unconscionable.

Ultimately, every cent a sports franchise gets is from the people, and that is true of any enterprise, so no harm there. It’s the pointing, it’s the calling out, it’s condemnation of all that has been given, it’s the “How DARE you!?!?!” implication with the puffed-up-upper-class-twittery and let-them-eat-cakery that makes one ponder jumping out of a window high enough to blow your brains out before you hit the concrete below just to escape ever-so-slightly more quickly a world that could produce such anti-moral, predatory, dismissive entitlement combined with buffoonery, myopia and distorted perspective with regard to finances and your own figurative and literal balls to make people come to you and bow because your revenue benchmark . . . the people’s money, mind you . . . just isn’t enough to satisfy a poor and insecure businessman.

Being great, offering something great, and trusting people to love that greatness just wasn’t in the cards. It had to be dictated. There had to be a very well-defined ball that could be take to some ill-defined home in case things didn’t go juuuust so.

Nah. It wasn’t about the money. It was about the foreheads to the ground . . . bend over and don’t look at what I’m doing . . .

Yeah, that’s right. Remember the revenue benchmark? They could get the money if they wanted it. This franchise was obsessed with attendance from jump street, beating the attendance drum inside their disproportionately large arena that the fine people of the Queen City filled for years as loyally as they fill their speedway’s grandstands, then left in a steady flow after the attitude mentioned above displayed itself there.

Nevertheless, we did it. Yeah, we. It was we agreeing because it was a deal with the state, and it was we complying . . . bowing . . . about 1.75 million man*hours of it that first season back.

People needed to be sanding and painting, but instead they were watching basketball . . . admittedly great and special basketball as it turns out . . . but that wasn’t good enough. The `magnanimous’ return needed to be shown the proper respect, even if by force, though many would have chosen to be there of their own accord, and maybe more would have been if the offer to return was genuine along with faith in New Orleans . . . the New New Orleans and the Old New Orleans, side-by-side in the temporal play is our fair second line of a city. The city that celebrates potato sandwiches given to the poor boys who were on strike from the streetcar company, the city that just keeps bringing back Morgus the Magnificent, the city that’s a little prettier because of her scars will embrace anyone that embraces her with more than equal fervor.

Just let her.

But, no.

It had to be this way, right? It had to be forced, right?. It just had to, right? Well, look at how that worked out.

Wrong. Bad call.

We’ve been here for just about 300 years. 3 of them had the Hornets. 1%. And, yeah, we. Not me. We. Anyone who hugged a stranger at a gas station somewhere in America, laughing and crying, in September 2005 just because you saw their license plates know what I’m talking about.

The above should highlight, however, just how well the fans have performed. It should also explain why fans are so angry about them and why it is such a touchy subject.

Hornets fans have performed admirably and should be very proud of themselves.

The good news is that the upcoming lease, likely a 10 year extension running through the season ending in 2024, will be free of such monstrosities.

Before moving on to the analysis of the current period, it should be pointed out that the benchmarks, for all the taint on them, may have actually saved this team, or at least it’s residence in New Orleans. If this team were ownerless going in to this season, can you imagine how sickening the rhetoric would be at this very moment? What if the CBA was not signed, and we wouldn’t have a season to even prove ourselves while the lease expired leaving with less than zero leverage? Also, while the net effect of the benchmarks on the attendance will never be known, we surpassed them when we needed to and have succeeded in attracting more than one potential owner. Who knows if they helped or hurt, but we have proven ourselves when the lights were bright, which is more than any other fan base has done.

Current Period


The current period runs from February 1, 2010 to January 1, 2012. Here is the relevant attendance data. These calculations and those below are all subject to rounding, and this error may propagate. Best to take these numbers as pretty good, but not laser accurate.

[table id=15 /]

This means we have to average 14,029 per game over our next 4 games. If you prefer to think of it in terms of total attendance, we need to achieve an attendance 56,114 through the next 4 games.

Here is how we’ve performed this season:

[table id=17 /]

And here are the 4 home games we have left to play in the period:

[table id=16 /]

Our target attendance is less than our season average to this point, which is a good sign.

Let’s look at threats to this performance level. One is that our Boston attendance level was the highest of the season and is inimitable due to Boston `being Boston’. Another will be that the Phoenix attendance level may have been inflated due to the holiday season and the back-to-back wins to start the season. Lastly, the Hornets’ overall and recent record isn’t exactly going to attract people in on their own merits. Case in point: our lowest attendance of the season thus far was our most recent game, drawing 12,045 against Memphis Wednesday.

We do have several things in our favor, however. Jumping right out is the mix of teams: Dallas, Spurs, Magic, Hawks. Three of them are in the upper end of the `recognition factor’ of the NBA. Secondly, and perhaps just as important as who the opponents are, is the mix of days for these games. We have three weekend games, counting Friday night as the start of the weekend. Ignoring the Boston and Phoenix games, Friday games have drawn 1,000 more in average attendance than the Wednesday games. Reinforcing this, the Monday Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday game against Portland drew as much as the Friday game against Minnesota.

The biggest draw of the games of interest is the Friday Orlando game, so let’s key off of it. Here’s how the target is affected by attendance at that game:

[table id=18 /]

So, if this game approaches a sellout, which it can, the other games need don’t even need to reach our January average to this point, 13,347, and with a pretty strong showing, we only need to beat that performance level by 25 tickets per game.

Sadly, we won’t know how this game will affect attendance until after 3 of the games are played (that one, too). This analysis nevertheless gives us some indication of what should and should not worry us for the rest of the month.

Personally, I’ve not been worried, but I committed this analysis to text so others could share.

What do you see? Am I missing something?

This is far from a done deal, but I think it’s very likely that the franchise will not have a decision to make about opting out of the lease by March 1, 2012. Even if they did have the option, they’d have to want to, and all indications are they are trying to stay, not leave. Anything can happen until the ink is dry on the new, benchmark-free lease, the lease we earned by beating expectations and the odds, nut then we can enjoy ourselves and the game we’ve been giving ourselves to for years.

Let’s start getting used to that enjoying stuff.



The Football Effect Theory

While performing this analysis, I could not help but notice something. I wanted good fidelity here, so I grabbed the attendance for the 20 games starting February 1, 2010 and averaged them myself rather than just using the season-long average which is easier to get.

The season-long average was 15,130 while the last 20 games averaged 15,140. This means that the first 21 games averaged about 15,120 (easy to eyeball since the game total is about equal).

Big whoop, right? It’s an average, dude. Aren’t you like, good a math? Don’t you know what average means?


There is this theory out there that interest in football affects Hornets attendance early on, leading to increasing attendance as the season progresses.

In this particular year where I had to dig into the data, it turns out the Saints won the Super Bowl. I know this because I was in section 417 watching (yeah, had to peacock). Anyway, I content that interest in football was at an all time high in the great city of New Orleans during the early part of this particular season. So where is the football effect? Maybe the city was sooo interested that they just never increased the attendance?

As the only piece of analysis out there on the ‘football effect’, I call this theory unsupported at this point. I’ll be happy to do an analysis on other seasons if someone will help me gather the data. The ball is in your court, `football effect’ adherents.

Attendance Strata

Based on the analysis of the 2009-2010 season attendance mentioned in the `football effect’ section, I see another thing I’d like to challenge.

Attendance to NBA games is grouped into some natural groups: Season tickets, season ticket equivalents, group tickets, walk-ups, and complimentary tickets.

The season ticket category needs no explanation. The Hornets have sold about 10,500 of these for the current season.

Season ticket equivalents consist of the partial plans available, such as half-season plans, weekend plans, etc. These do not count as season tickets, but several of them together do. They are counted as such since those customers behave more like season ticket holders than other attendees.

Group tickets are not for regular attendees, but rather are for groups, as the name implies, that are having an outing. An example would be Tulane night or other them nights. Small groups count in this, such as a church group.

Walk-up tickets are just folks who decide to go to a game for whatever reason. These don’t have to be purchased at the window to fit into this category.

Complimentary tickets are tickets given to charity, distributed for business purposes, given to season ticket holders as treats (Ask your rep! Really . . . “My girlfriend’s parents are coming to town, Gena, can you hook me up?” She just may say “yes.” I’d say it’s likely if you don’t go to the well that often.) These are also for media, etc.

Last season, the Hornets season ticket base was about 6,300. It’s now 4,000 larger, near 10,500 . . .

round of applause for the reps and the fans . . .

but our average attendance this season is down by about 500 attendees, or about 3.5%. The NBA overall is seeing a drop of about 2.5%, so we are outpacing this average. The numbers to this point can be misleading since the number of `superstar’ and `classic’ team visits is skewed and not yet as evenly distributed as it will be, as well. Using what is available regardless, several teams are seeing big increases in attendance, lead by, in order, the Timberwolves, Clippers, Kings, and Pacers. The biggest drops are being seen by, in order, the Pistons, Cavaliers, Rockets Suns, and Bucks. These are the teams seeing at least a 10% drop, over 20% for the Cavaliers, and almost 30% for the Pistons.

A common factor here is the net flux of talent, if you account for the lag in not-renewing your season tickets.

So what can we glean from this?

At least some of our attendance drop is due to the 2.5% drop in attendance overall. Let’s call this the lockout effect, since by all accounts the high ratings last year should lead to higher, not lower ticket sales this year.

On top of that, we are likely seeing part of the drop due to expect departure of Chris Paul and David West, but that other shoe will be dropping on that front, and it may be of a larger size.

Lastly, the season ticket drive seems to have mitigated the combination of the effects above to some extent, but it also wouldn’t adding 4,000 to the average attendance number. Some season tickets were either increases in purchases by existing season ticket holders or brand new customers, but it seems that a fair chunk of the increase came from the season ticket equivalent pool and a likely `frequent subset’ of the walk-ups.

This isn’t bad. It just means that interest in the team didn’t spread out so much as a combination of spread and deepen.

While some NBA teams sell every ticket for every game (the Celtics and Lakers have no change, literally 0, in attendance from last year), most NBA teams target a mix that likely `feels’ like: 10,000 STH, 2,500 STE, 1,000 comps, and the balance in groups and walk-ups, with the mix dependent on the game . . . more walk-ups for the Lakers, more groups for the Bobcats.

This kind of breakdown can explain both the 10,000 `goal’ and the lack of a large surge in attendance. In this, the big variable may be the group tickets. Groups need time to plan outings, which they have in a normal season. We may see an uptick in attendance as group sales begin to take off, just like many other teams in the rest of the NBA. We may not, of course. It’s just a theory, if a reasonable one.

I may follow-up on this, but hopefully no one will care about attendance in just a few more weeks.


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