Counterpoint on 2012-2013 Attendance Projections

Published: September 29, 2012

We recently saw five reasons to think attendance at New Orleans Hornets attendance will compete with the 695,727 total from the 2008-2009 season, but there are clear and present obstacles to re-accomplishing the feat.

Before diving in, it is not clear what it means for one attendance level to “compete” with another. The following is based on looking for attendance this season to meet or exceed the 2008-2009 level. Someone else can determine if 650,000 competes with 695,727 while 600,000 does not, or whatever.

Attendance is the sum of tickets sold plus the subset of tickets that are given away that are actually used. Thus, it is not a direct measurement of people that walk through the door.

Attendance is comprised largely of four segments of game-attending public: Season tickets and equivalents, individual game tickets, group tickets, and complementary tickets. Within these there are price and premium considerations to remember, and a sellout requires all the expensive seats and cheapest, least-desirable seats to be accounted for.

For starters 12.3% increase from last season to this one is needed. No team with the top pick in the last decade with an attendance over 12,000 has had an increase of over 7.1%. Also, one of those large increases (and the decrease) was directly due to the travels of LeBron James. Yao was much more heralded in American pop culture than anyone else on the list, possibly including James, at the time of his draft, and he was associated with the other large increase in the past decade. We do not have that kind of star power being added to the team. We have some star power, but that not that kind at this moment.

With full season ticket sales hovering around 9k, some of the 3k bump to the reported 12k average was due to single game sales. In fact, that news came out the day the first pre-sale of single game tickets came out. So, in addition to having to climb up from a lower season ticket total in the 2008-2009 season (around 10,500), some of the interest in single game tickets has already been accounted for. Moreover, these sales are likely preferentially distributed among the more popular games, as this is nearly the definition of populat. Thus, the `easy’ part of raising the average is going to be hard, as more tickets of the middle and low tier games will have to be sold . . . or given away and used.

Also, the idea that a large number of season ticket equivalents being sold indicates a large interest in attending games among the general public is a little blurred for this season. An effect of the lockout was that season ticket holders who missed games due to the lockout may have had credit on their accounts. These credits are strong factors in renewing that is largely disconnected from interest. Thus, while the 9k full season ticket holders do help the attendance figures, this level may not couple to a heightened interest in casual fans attending games.

Turning the problem on its head, the Arena was at nearly 99% capacity, on average, for the entire 2008-2009 season. While some games can garner over 18,000 in attendance, a sellout is just north of 17,200, and this is how the capacity is defined (and why some teams average over 100% attendance). Using 17,500 as an estimate for an average sellout, then 5 games with attendance below 13,000 will cause the franchise to fall short. Other critical numbers of games are 7 for 14,000, 9 for 15,000, and 15 for 16,000. To be clear, 15 games with attendance at 16,000 or below will cause the total attendance to fall short. The critical numbers get lower as that 17,500 decreases as well.

Some games early on with potential to shed light on the outlook on this front are Philadelphia on Wednesday, November 11; Charlotte on Friday, November 9; Utah, Wednesday, November 28; Milwaukee, Monday, December 3; Washington, Tuesday, December 11; and Minnesota, Friday, December 14. These 6 games in approximately 6 weeks will be very informative for those watching attendance.

Day of the week, star power, and prior season’s performance all affect attendance, and the above games are among the weaker in those categories during that timeframe.

Looking at the 2008-2009 season’s attendance in light of these items, we note more obstacles in the form of lack of benefit. Chris Paul was in his third year in 2007-2008, was voted an All-Star, and signed an extension before the 2008-2009 season without much fanfare. The team was at the top of Western Conference at points in the 2007-2008 season, and was one quarter or one back away from making it to Western Conference Finals. Season tickets and other packages were being sold while the team was making this run.

This season, our biggest star played in about 15% of available games and declared his heart to be in Phoenix. The team was within striking distance of having the second worst record in the NBA in the closing days of the season. Gordon, Anderson, and Davis are known to basketball fans, but is that enough to fill the Arena? Chris Paul and All-Star companion David West were not enough to repeat this attendance figure after a first round bounce. Do our current three outweigh the prior two in minds of the casual fan?

It’s possible for the franchise to break into new territory, but the above present strong barriers stacked against the team driving up attendance to that level this season.

The Friday night plan and Champions Square programming may be the biggest boost left off the list, and in fact it may be a bigger boost than some stuff on the list.

After all, the team had record season ticket holders without new ownership, and that total has since dropped. The season ticket record was largely fueled by efforts to attract ownership. Without that, support has waned among the most financially dedicated fans, even with credits in accounts due to the lockout.

The football effect on lowering attendance early on has been effectively debunked as myth. I surmise that the effect remains a myth when the football team is not performing well. After all, the Saints are sold out on a season ticket basis. People are still financially committed to those games. It’s a question merely of who is committed and how deeply in the pocketbook.

Davis’ effect is already partially baked into the 12k, but it’s possible he’ll attract people if the team plays well, which is will be an uphill batter. He’s just not terribly flashy, especially at this time.

The team has been pretty consistently ranked as having exactly three good players, none of which are top tier players this season. They make get on some winning streaks and show flashes of what is almost certain to come, but they will need help to make the playoffs this season. Thus, performance this season may not be enough to maintain interest like it was in 2008-2009.

In the end, the important thing is: Attendance does not matter like it used to. Attendance was a big deal to George Shinn, but look at where his ideas of what was important got him. Attendance was important in the lease before it was amended July 1.

Attendance is important to ownership, as it represents cash.

That’s about it.

Unless you’re following the business side of things, one of the benefits of new ownership is not having to sweat attendance.

I hope those fives reasons are right, I think they are wrong, but I know it does not matter this season.

Pass the nachos.


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