Doug Collins had a good quote after game three of their playoff loss to the Heat. He basically said when the Sixers opened the season against Miami, the fans packed the house to see Miami play. In the playoffs, they packed the house to see the Sixers play. Let's take a look at the Sixers attendance to see if "relevancy" is translating into ticket sales.
As a fan who watches every game and gets to as many as I possibly can, it can be easy to lose touch with how the city feels about the Sixers. Unless there's something notable about a crowd at the WFC, it doesn't even register. When the idea for this post first came to me, I tried to think about and the only thing that really came to mind is that early in the season, the place seemed half empty most nights. As the season wore on, that wasn't the case. It's tough to remember what the crowds looked like in 2009-2010, let alone seasons prior, so let's start with a simple year-by-year comparison:
- 2010-2011: 604,823 (25th in the league)
- 2009-2010: 583,219 (26th)
- 2008-2009: 647,898 (23rd)
- 2007-2008: 609,675 (23rd)
- 2006-2007: 615,480 (29th)
- 2005-2006: 677,248 (21st)
- 2004-2005: 732,686 (10th)
- 2003-2004: 788,128 (4th)
- 2002-2003: 807,097 (4th)
- 2001-2002: 842,976 (2nd)
- 2000-2001: 805,692 (2nd)
The first notable thing here is that the Sixers attendance did climb this past season from the season prior (by 21,604, or 527 fans per game). Plus, you can also add in the two playoff games (20,404 for game three and 19,048 for game four). All told, the Sixers had reported attendance of 61,056 more in 2010-2011 than they did in 2009-2010. I also found it pretty interesting to see that a decade ago the Sixers were drawing nearly a quarter million more fans and ranked second in the league in attendance, which I suppose backs up the whole winning equals fans in the seats theory. They also had a superstar back then, but Iverson was still here, at or near his prime, when attendance dropped off over 160,000 from it's high point in 2005-06. The Sixers even made the playoffs that season and only finished 21st in attendance.
Now that we've taken a quick look at the historical attendance numbers, let's just focus on this past season. Here's a graph showing the attendance by game for the 41 regular season home games:
(Check out the actual game-by-game numbers in a table at the end of the post)
When you look at the chart, you can see the progression throughout the season. They were definitely drawing much better when the season ended than they did early on. I don't think it's a great stretch to say the fans responded to their improved play. Here's a look at the average attendance in ten game chunks:
- Games 1-10: 13,391.5
- Games 11-20: 14,281
- Games 21-30: 14,452.3
- Games 30-41: 16,690.09
The numbers for the final 11 games may have been inflated slightly due to having three "premier" games (NYK, BOS and I guess OKC), but you can see the dramatic increase in the other games as well. Game 5 vs. Toronto drew 12,164. Game 39 vs. Toronto drew 16,362. Game 7 vs. the Nets drew 14,150. Game 37 vs. the Nets drew 16,695. There's a clear increase pretty much across the board until game 41, a truly meaningless game vs. the Pistons.
The Sixers sold out game three vs. the Heat, despite being down 2-0 in the series. Then nearly sold out game four, even though it was an elimination game.
Obviously, attendance isn't the only barometer of relevance. Television ratings factor in, and when you compare the Sixers to the Eagles, Phillies and Flyers, they don't exactly do well. In terms of what these numbers mean to the team, and ownership in particular, well who knows. Let's assume each paying customer at a game is worth $50 (this number seems low to me, but let's run with it. That's including ticket, parking, concessions and merchandise). That would equal $3,052,800 more revenue from this season than last, just from extra fans coming to the arena. That doesn't factor in improved television ratings (as compared to last season), it also doesn't factor in increased overall merchandise sales (assuming the ratings and the merch sales were, in fact higher). The bad news is that the Sixers' player payroll also increased by a little over $6M, plus they're still paying Eddie Jordan on top of Doug Collins' salary. At the end of the day, I'd say there's a very, very good chance ownership's bottom line looked worse in 2010-2011 than it did in 2009-2010.
That beings said, there was definite momentum gained throughout the year. They have an opportunity that begins whenever the CBA is resolved (if it's resolved) to show their fans the team will continue to move in a positive direction. Then it's going to come down to what happens on the floor. If the team gets off to another pitifully slow start, all the good will and excitement built up over the final two thirds of last season will be lost. If they can come out of the gates quickly, though, I expect we'd see improved attendance throughout. As a first step toward relevance, this season wasn't perfect, but it was an improvement over a completely wasted season the year before. Now it's just a question of whether ownership will build on it, and whether the league/owners/players union will completely submarine the strides by taking the sport as a whole away from the fans.