Let's Talk About Attendance

Ok, folks, I’m not sure how much more I can take. The opening of Little Caesar’s Arena (LCA) in downtown Detroit, within the District Detroit, has been a hot topic of late. Part of the reason is that this new building is an absolute spectacle. LCA is amazing. State-of-the-art from floor to ceiling, its ridiculous. The lighting & sound systems alone make you feel as if you’ve entered into some NASA inspired thrill ride at an amusement park. The concourse is perfect; wide open spaces for traffic, a variety of different food & beverage options/locations sure to have something for everyone, & plenty of bathroom space. Seating is fair, a pretty steep incline gets as many people as close to the action as possible. Here’s the issue though, who’s in those seats?

I went to the Detroit Pistons game this past Monday for their game against the Philadelphia 76ers, their second home game of the season in this brand new arena. Tip-off time comes around & the place is pretty empty. By about the 3rd quarter, I looked over at my father & said “You think there’s 10,000 people here? I think if you moved everyone to one side, you could fill half this place…” He agreed. LCA holds 20,000 for hockey & 20,491 for basketball. Official attendance for the home opener against the Charlotte Hornets was announced at 20,491- a sellout. Game #2 vs Philly? 13,709.

Those 2 numbers are “tickets sold” not “butts in seats”. Attendance is a funny thing, organization brag about how many people “came through the turnstiles”, when in all actuality, that number is almost never accurate. How many people purchase a ticket & can’t go? How many purchase a ticket & try to re-sell, but can’t? From an organizational standpoint, if they can’t make it it’s ok, as long as they bought a ticket, that’s the status-quo.

Were there 20,000+ on opening night for the Pistons? No. Were there 13,000+ for game 2? Probably not.

“Why won’t anyone go?”

“What a shame?”

“Pistons should've stayed in Auburn Hills!”

“No one likes the NBA!”

These are all things I have heard lately. So let’s put this all to rest, in the words of the late Raiders owner Al Davis: “just win baby”.

Win. Winning directly correlates to attendance. True at every level of sports, in every city in America. The Detroit Pistons sold out from 1988-1993, then again from 2004-2009. Both of those streaks (245 games & 259 games respectively) happened in The Palace of Auburn Hills. Anther factor? The day of the game. Why do the Toledo Walleye play a majority of their games on Friday, Saturday, & Sunday nights? Weekends boost attendance numbers. Friday nights will always outdraw Wednesdays, that’s just basic logic.

I will refer you to the Detroit Tigers, who back in 2003 won just 43 games. The result? A total season attendance of 1,368,245, or 16,891/game. I will refer you to the Cleveland Indians of this past 2017 season. In the midst of historic winning streak of 22 games, drew 3 straight games under 25,000 at Progressive field, that’s less than 71% (capacity is 35,225), that was a Sunday-Monday-Tuesday stretch. Attendance will always coincide with the win column. As a team wins, more people come to watch & more people will come to a game on a Friday than they will on a Monday or a Wednesday (the days the Pistons have played at home thus far this season).

So the Pistons haven’t drawn well for their first two games at LCA, how about the Red Wings? The Wings have played 4 home games this season, a Monday, Thursday, Friday, & Sunday. How many people went? 19,515, 19,515, 19,515, & you guessed it, 19,515. If you saw those 4 games & are reading those attendance numbers, you know that’s not the reality.

The NBA & NHL play the same schedule, 82 games, 41 home & 41 away. During the 2016-17 season, the lowest drawing NBA team was the Denver Nuggets at an average of 14,770. The NHL had 5 teams whose average attendance was lower than that of the Nuggets (FLA-14,621, NJ-14,567, NYI-13,101, AZ-13,095, CAR- 11,776).

Let’s look at the Toledo Walleye for another example, where I began working there during the 2010-2011 season, as Bobb Vergiles’ sub. In each year the Walleye have improved, the organization has set new average attendance record; last year 7,074/game.

Attendance is a fickle beast. Hopefully you’ll go out to watch your favorite team as much as you can. I went with my dad on a Monday night to surprise him for his birthday & I felt like a kid again (I’ll have another piece on this soon). It’s a great way to bond with your children, a great way to spend a night out with friends, a great way to get away & enjoy whatever team/sport you like!

-Anthony Bellino hosts “The Fox Sports Morning Blitz” weekday mornings from 7am-9am on Toledo’s Fox Sports Radio 1230.

Statistical data: hockeydb.com, espn.com, mlive.com, basketball-reference.com