Interesting but a little depressing. Although some of the basketball stuff in here I find a little inaccurate. And the TV ratings they site are only Fox Sports Midwest, I wonder if WB4 is off as much.
And it is not a fair or good comparison to compare the whole 41 games home attendence vs the first 18 games. Everyone with half a brain knows attendance really picks up in January. Pacers have had two straight sell outs. Lakers will get a decent Wednesday night crowd, and the Pistons game will sell out. So what they need to do is compare the first 18 homes games last season with this season, and if they did I'd bet the decrease is a maybe 400 per game not the 1000 they suggest. And another thing most tickets are sold before the first regular season game is played, so the year before is a better barometer of attendance than how the team is currently playing. Keep in mind they only count tickets sold not butts in the seats.
Not much to cheer about
Setbacks on and off court sink attendance, ratings
By Anthony Schoettle
Can Peja Stojakovic lift Pacers out of their funk?
Click here to join IBJ's disussion forum.
At this season's midpoint, the Indiana Pacers are losing one of their best players--Ron Artest--games in multiples, and perhaps most important, the fan support that propped the franchise up amid difficulties last year.
The Pacers' hopes to salvage this season now largely rest on a trade that finally sent Artest packing and brought two-time NBA all-star Peja Stojakovic in from Sacramento.
Heading toward the all-star break, though, there remain more questions for the Pacers than answers. Attendance has dropped to an eight-year low, TV ratings are in a double-digit-percentage decline, and season-ticket holders are cashing out.
"I gave up my season tickets, and I don't regret it for one minute," said Bob Birge, president of locally based Law Firm Marketing Network. "The games just aren't very entertaining."
Birge, who paid about $100 each for four lower-level tickets, said he began having trouble in the last three years getting clients and business associates interested in attending games.
"It was expensive, and it simply wasn't worth it anymore," Birge said. "I think the problem is bigger than the Pacers and Ron Artest; it's the whole NBA. But it sure is being reflected here."
Ernie Reno, president of Avatar Communications, a locally based marketing and public relations firm, called the Pacers' lackluster on-court effort "insulting to fans."
"It's not just the money," Reno said. "People's time is very valuable."
Average attendance has dropped from 16,995 last year to 16,052 this year through 18 home games. Attendance was below 16,000 per game--lower than any season ending average since 1998--until a Jan. 21 home sellout against Chicago boosted the total. Still, the Pacers have only three sellouts this year, and little chance of matching last year's 15 sellouts without a dramatic on-court turnaround, sports marketers said.
An attendance drop of 1,000 per game, sports business experts said, can equate to a loss of more than $1.5 million in ticket revenue alone. With the NBA's third-highest player payroll at $79.3 million this year, the loss could push the Pacers' basketball operations into the red, said University of Notre Dame sports economist Richard Sheehan.
Ticket sales and television revenue are the biggest sources of income for NBA teams, but they're also key indicators of just about every other revenue stream.
"When attendance and TV ratings drop, a lot of ancillary dollars also drop off," said David Carter, principal of Sports Business Group, a Los Angeles-based sports business consultancy. "Revenue from concessions, parking and merchandise sales will see a more immediate drop-off. If the team's decline is prolonged, demand for corporate suites, club seats and sponsorships drops off, and that can be very financially painful for a team."
The 1999-2000 season, the first in Conseco Fieldhouse, when the Pacers sold out every home game and averaged 18,345 in attendance on the way to the NBA Finals, seems like a lifetime ago.
The recent downturn came just as the Pacers were turning the tide on a gradual three-year attendance slide.
"This seems to be hitting the Pacers at exactly the wrong time," Carter said. "A year ago, the team was a rallying point for the community, and this year, well ... it's all gone wrong."
Last season, attendance climbed about 4 percent despite a team that was wracked with injuries and suspension in the wake of the brawl in Detroit. Despite a season-long suspension for Artest, who started the brawl with Detroit fans, and multigame suspensions to other key players, Pacers fans continued to support the team on a number of levels.
The night after the fight in Detroit, a near-sellout crowd at Conseco Fieldhouse vocally supported the Pacers, which dressed only six players and narrowly lost to the Orlando Magic.
"Last year, [the Pacers] had record TV ratings," said Geoff Goldman, spokesman for Fox Sports Midwest. This year, the network has seen a 17-percent decline in the team's ratings as tracked by New York-based Nielsen Media Research.
Sponsors voiced concerns to Pacers brass following the Detroit fight, but all stayed with the team.
Pacers officials were unavailable for comment, but sports marketers said the team is at a critical crossroads.
"If the Pacers were a hospital patient, I would put them in fair condition," Reno said. "But they could take a turn for the worse or a turn for the better any day."
Some sports marketers said the Pacers need a marketing overhaul. Artest was one of four players used in a campaign taglined "Unite" at the beginning of this season. Artest has since been erased from the ad campaign and his bigger-than-life banner at Conseco Fieldhouse has been removed. But a marketing overhaul could cost well into six figures, marketers said.
"Whatever they do has to be done in concert with what they do on the court," Reno said. "It's a time I think they need to be more aggressive in reaching out to the community on and off the court. Those 30-point losses don't help, and there's no amount of marketing that's going to fix that."
With the retirement of 18-year veteran Reggie Miller, the Pacers are missing a big chunk of the personality this community embraced, said Milton Thompson, president of Grand Slam Cos., a locally based sports marketing consultancy. Others noted that this team doesn't have marketable personas like Miller, Rik Smits or Mark Jackson to rely on.
"Most core fans are hanging in for now, but [the Pacers are] losing a lot of their casual fans, and that's hurting," Thompson said.
Stojakovic has been criticized for his defensive skills and occasional disappearing act during big games, but he has been a solid NBA citizen, heavily embraced by Sacramento fans during his seven-plus-year stay there.
"This community wants a team comprised of good players and good people," said Andrew "Buddy" Baker, president of IM Sports Services LLC, a locally based firm representing professional athletes. "I think there's a lot to be excited about with Peja Stojakovic."
Even when things went wrong in the past, the community still rallied around team owners Herb and Mel Simon and highly respected President Donnie Walsh.
"He's still one of the most highly respected executives in the NBA, but Donnie Walsh's margin for error, I think with sponsors and especially fans, is probably shrinking," said Andrew Zimbalist, a professor at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., and a noted sports economist. "When Jonathan Bender and Austin Croshere are two of your three highest-paid players, you have problems."
While the decision to acquire Artest in the first place and not trade him this past off-season are Walsh's latest missteps, they're certainly not his only mistakes. Fat contracts for oft-injured, unproven Bender and for Croshere, an NBA role player, meant the Pacers couldn't retain other key players, including native Hoosier Brad Miller and recent crowd favorite Dale Davis. Some of Walsh's recent acquisitions are showing spotty results, including Sarunas Jasikevicius, who was touted as Reggie Miller's replacement.
Then there's Larry Bird, Pacers president of basketball operations, who has been criticized for his unwavering support of Artest. The problem was compounded in October when Bird posed with Artest for a Sports Illustrated cover story titled "Stand by Your Man."
"The only problem the Pacers front office thought they had coming into the season was they had too many quality players and not enough playing time," said a source close to the team. "The front office never saw this train wreck coming."
Local residents long known for making this a Pacers town are more uncertain about the team's future than they have been in a decade, sports marketers said, despite the addition of Stojakovic, who becomes a free agent at season's end. The uncertainty will likely make it more difficult for the Pacers to win fans back.
Baker expects cautious optimism from Hoosiers.
"They've been through a lot, so they'll want to see how this whole thing works out," he said.
Thompson said there's good reason for caution.
"It's going to be a short honeymoon for Stojakovic and the Pacers," he said. "If this doesn't work out, I'll think you'll see the Pacers front office blow this whole team up."
In addition to their own problems, Pacers officials have had to play this season largely in the shadow of the Indianapolis Colts, who spent the first 13 weeks of the NFL season chasing history.
"In Los Angeles, the Angels and Dodgers have difficulty gaining traction with fans until the Lakers playoff run is over," Carter said. "The potential for conflict among major-league teams will be even more acute in a market the size of Indianapolis.
"The two teams fight not only for ticket sales and sponsorships, but column inches in the newspaper and local TV and radio time. There's only so many resources on a number of levels."
Though the Colts' new stadium doesn't open until 2008, it could affect decisions of corporations considering multiyear deals this coming off-season for suites or pricey club seats at Conseco Fieldhouse.
It's difficult to say where the Pacers should go from here, but Reno has an idea for a start.
"The Pacers need a coherent plan going forward," he said. "That will be a big step in winning over this community."