In January, we explored the idea that attendance is dropping at NCAA and NFL football games due to fans’ increasing comfort watching the games at home. We found that “neither the NFL nor the NCAA are in dire straits regarding attendance at games – crowds might not be growing exponentially, but the leagues are also not hemorrhaging fans.” Now that March Madness and the NBA regular season are over, let’s examine attendance in the arena of basketball.
Specifically, we analyzed home attendance numbers for the NBA and NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball from 2006-07 to 2011-12, excluding preseason, playoff, and tournament games. Here’s what we found:
|Season||NCAA / game||NBA / game||NCAA total||NBA total|
As in the NFL and NCAA football, the numbers have remained relatively similar over the last seven years. The 30 NBA teams—only 1/11th the total size of NCAA D-I men’s basketball (330 teams)—play 41 home games per season, while the NCAA teams play an average of just under 15. The math works out to 1,230 home games per NBA season, and between 4,735 and 5,069 NCAA D-I games per season. (Interestingly, the number of NCAA games has increased steadily each year over the past six seasons, an average of 1.4%, or 67 games per season.) This is why we see the discrepancy between the per-game averages and a similarity in the total attendance numbers.
If we examine just the top 30 NCAA D-I teams by average attendance each season, the numbers look a little better when compared to the pros, but the NBA is still more popular.
|Season||NCAA Top 30 / game||NBA / game||Difference||% Difference|
So the NBA on average is 11.5% more popular than the top 30 NCAA D-I teams each season, and around 277% more popular than the average NCAA D-I team. Compare this to the NFL and NCAA Football, in which the NFL is 14.3% less popular than the top 32 NCAA Football teams, but 54.6% more popular than the average NCAA Football team, and we can see that the NBA holds a distinct advantage over the NFL when it comes to drawing more fans than their collegiate counterparts.
If we break things down by individual teams, we again can see more interesting details, but with some caveats.
|NCAA D-I MBB||NBA|
|Avg. annual attendance swing||+\- 15.6%||+\- 4.6%|
|Teams that increased attendance, 2006-12||134||13|
|% of teams||41.5%||43.3%|
|Avg. % increase||42.9%||8.6%|
|Teams that lost attendance, 2006-12||188||17|
|% of teams||58.2%||56.7%|
|Avg. % decrease||-19.4%||-8.3%|
*These two percentages do not equal 100% because there was one team which has averaged the same attendance for the last six seasons: Duke, at 9,314 per game per season.
Using percentages in this case is fine for the NBA and the number of teams that saw an increase or decrease in attendance. The numbers are roughly equal, with just over 40% of both the NBA and NCAA D-I MBB teams showing an increase in average game attendance from 2006-2012. This is better than the NFL (just 34.4% increase attendance), but not as good as NCAA Football (52.1% increased attendance). And the average amount of increase or decrease, in the NBA the numbers are roughly equal at 8.6% and -8.3%, accounting for their decrease of just 238 fans per game over the last six seasons.
However, when we look at the average increase or decrease in NCAA D-I MBB, the fact that the teams that increased attendance did so by 41.5% per team, and the teams that decreased attendance did so by just -19.4% per team, doesn’t really add up to the total of 201 lost fans per game. These percentages look askew because there are some attendance figures that ended up very high for smaller teams that substantially boosted their attendance.
For instance, Arkansas-Pine Bluff has seen their attendance go up 433.9% in the past six seasons. Of course, they started the 2006-07 season drawing just 605 fans per game, while in 2011-12 drew 3,230, still over a thousand below the NCAA D-I MBB average. There were twelve teams that increased attendance over 100% in the last six seasons, and they averaged just 2,058 fans per game over that time. At the other end of the spectrum, only one team lost more than 60% of its fans since 2006: Bethune-Cookman went from averaging 2,092 in 2006-07, to just 801 in 2011-12.
The main takeaway from the NCAA D-I MBB attendance figures is that overall attendance is staying steady. Even though the per game average is dropping slightly, the overall regular season attendance figures are holding firm. In the NBA, the story is much the same.
|Attendance between 2006-12||NCAA D-I MBB||% of teams||NBA||% of teams|
|Between 10-20% increase||159||9.6%||5||3.3%|
|Between 10-20% decrease||269||16.3%||9||6.0%|
Of the 150 team seasons in the NBA over the last six seasons, 75—or exactly 50%—saw a decrease in average attendance the following season. Additionally, there wasn’t a single team that experienced only increases or only decreases. (One, the L.A. Lakers, saw increases from 2006-2008, but has held at 0% for the last three seasons, while another, the Detroit Pistons, held at 0% from 2006-2008, but has seen decreases for the last three seasons.)
Since our focus in the football piece was the possibility of new technology and home comforts keeping fans away from stadiums, it’s worthwhile to examine how these aspects impact basketball as well.
First off, there was a substantial attendance boost to NFL teams which opened new stadiums, but that metric isn’t really available to explore within the NBA: only Orlando in 2010 opened a new arena within the years examined in this study, and while their attendance has gone up, it had been increasing for the last three years, at about the same pace as that of their old arena.
Other factors which are more difficult to quantify might come into play as well, such as the facts that:
- Basketball games are shorter than football games.
- There isn’t nearly the level of fan interest in fantasy leagues associated with basketball.
- Basketball teams charge cheaper ticket prices.
- Fans are physically closer to the action at a basketball arena than they are in a football stadium.
- The weather is never a comfort issue in a basketball area, whereas it might be at an outdoor football stadium.
W analyzed home attendance numbers for the NBA and NCAA Division I Men's Basketball from 2006-07 to 2011-12 and found that the numbers have remained relatively similar over the last seven years. Comparing just the top 30 NCAA D-I teams by average attendance each season, the numbers look a little better when compared to the pros, but the NBA is still more popular, the NBA on average is 11.5% more popular than the top 30 NCAA D-I teams each season, and around 277% more popular than the average NCAA D-I team.