Indiana is known for basketball and basketball is still very alive in Indiana. This past weekend that was evident as 19,192 people packed Bankers Life Fieldhouse to watch the Butler Bulldogs take down the number 1 team in the country, Indiana Hoosiers. Bankers Life Fieldhouse has enough seating for 18,165 but this game drew in an additional 1,000 ticket sales from people willing to stand and watch. The game didn’t disappoint as Butler won in dramatic fashion on a shot with 2 seconds left in overtime – giving IU its first loss of the season 88 to 86. The game was well coached on both sides of the floor, although many would argue and I have trouble disputing Brad out coached Tom, and it made for an event.
The game was followed up by a less anticipated but just as well attended Notre Dame – Purdue game where the #22 ranked Irish beat the Boilermakers without an issue. These back to back games totaled around 39,000 tickets sold for a one day event. It is evident that basketball is still one of the foundations in which the state of Indiana is built upon. The masses will arrive to cheer on their favorite team and the drama of Indiana basketball is almost unparalleled. All of this begs the question – why are people still not showing up to support the professional basketball team in Indiana, the Indiana Pacers.
It is important to keep in perspective, as my co-writers Benton and Taylor do very well, that comparing this past weekend’s support for collegiate basketball compared to professional basketball is comparing apples to oranges. This past weekend was an event, a one weekend battle of four highly regarded basketball schools, three of which are all top 25 teams in the country. These teams are able to draw on the millions of alumni and thousands of current students to fill the stadium. They all, expect for Purdue, have a good reason for fans to show up as Indiana, Butler and Notre Dame have a combined 26-4 record and all four schools have a 30-10 record (not shabby)! None the less, the support for the Pacers over the past few seasons has been lackluster at best – despite proving they are back from a winning recession.
If we look back between 2001 and 2006 the Pacers averaged 16,874 fans a game over the six year time period. From 2007 to 2013 (thus far) the Pacers have averaged 13,938 fans a game, nearly 3,000 fans less each game. This year’s 13,896 fans a game is even less than that seven year average from ’07 to ’12 despite coming off of a winning season, a round two playoff appearance and an “improved” bench after the off season. Sure the Pacers have started off sluggish, have had troubles on the bench and an injured Danny Granger doesn’t help but the Pacers should have earned some respect amongst basketball fans. Despite all of those setbacks the Pacers are still two game above .500 and have beaten some respectable opponents.
In an effort to understand this variables, as Benton and Taylor would call them, I inserted stars for important outside factors. The purple star represents the Pacers championship run in the 2000 season. This season the Pacers made it to the NBA Final only to fall to the L.A. Lakers. Notice that attendance was at an all-time high (for the decade) in the 2001 season. In this case, winning = attendance. I than inserted the green star, which represents what many call the downfall of the Pacer franchise and attribute the recent and historic attendance issue, the brawl at the Palace. If you notice the following season, despite a severe drop off in record and team image, the attendance improved over the previous season. This made zero sense to me until I established the orange star. The orange star represents the iconic number 31, hall of famer, Reggie Miller’s retirement. Indiana showed up in big numbers to send Reggie Miller off into retirement.
After that season attendance went on a free fall and hit an all-time low (for the decade), in 2008, where only about 12,000 fans showed up each game. This is all time low is a direct reflection of the red star, otherwise known as the season right after the U.S. recession. In 2008 the Pacers were not only bad, but they were rebuilding band people didn’t have money to spend on games. Since 2008 the attendance has been boasted and hovering around 14,000 fans a game but that is still hardly respectable. Poor performing teams and economies like Detroit average a similar crowd as the recently winning Pacers. Even worst performing teams like Cleveland sell out almost nightly despite having the LBJ fall out. Indiana can’t use the excuse of not having a big name, not with the likes of young talent like Paul George, Roy Hibbert and veterans David West and Danny Granger. The Pacers have plenty of star power if people would show up and make the national media recognize them. If Indiana doesn’t care why should the national media?
In conclusion attendance has been fairly consistent despite the expectation for it to improve over the past three seasons. This could simply be a lag, or attendance could have improved and the economy is still making the final 2,000 to 3,000 fans hesitant to go out or it could be the media. I don’t mean the fact that the Pacers aren’t covered on national television but the fact that the Pacers are so easily viewed from home. There are two schools of thought on this topic but the game coverage by FSIN is so good and is available not only for away games but home games alike could keep people on their couches. The motivation to go to a game live could be gone because you can cook up some food, have a front row seat and flip between other forms of entrainment during commercials.
The other school of thought is that the Pacers would disappear completely from visibility if they were no longer aired on television but I beg to differ. Look at the Indianapolis Colts. The threat of televised home games going away drove 3,000 fans to Lucas Oil and those tickets are on average 5 times the price of Pacer tickets. If the Pacers set a floor on ticket sales for home games it could drive attendance. Assume the Pacers set a floor that at least 85% of tickets must be sold to televise home games. That means on average the team would have to sell an additional 1,500 tickets a game. Once those tickets are sold the game would be aired locally. 1,500 additional ticket sales could do wonders for a struggling financial basketball team. 1,500 tickets is not a tall order either and I am fairly confident from the twitter feeds that not having the Pacers so accessible would cause action amongst fans.
Sorry for the longevity but it bothers me that people can’t or won’t get into this Pacers team. They are something special and I wish it was noticed by more people. Live sports are something special and there is a large Indianapolis population missing out on the entertainment. Live, love and play like there is no tomorrow – thanks for reading!
The Marris Minute