Monday, December 15

Better Data

When I started talking about NBA attendance a month ago, I received some criticism for how I presented the information. Specifically, the critics pointed out that I was using partial results for 2008-09 and comparing them to complete results from last year.

You know what? The critics were right.

It was unfair to use returns from a partially completed season and expect that to be an accurate reflection of how the season would unfold. All you have to do is look at how the 76ers attendance jumped dramatically in the second half of last season to know that early results are not necessarily predictive.

What would be better, then, is to compare how teams have done on a game-by-game basis from last year to this year. That would be much more illustrative of how franchises are faring.

So, I did it.

Through nine home games (the minimum number of home games every team in the league has played), here is how the entire league is doing compared to last season:

New Orleans, 46491
Oklahoma City, 40133
Portland, 17358
Atlanta, 15720
Indiana, 14996
Philadelphia, 11725
New Jersey, 11329
Milwaukee, 1278
Denver, 1162
Boston, 0
Cleveland, 0
Detroit, 0
LA Lakers, 0
Phoenix, 0
Utah, 0
Dallas, -309
Toronto, -1698
Chicago, -2840
New York, -2972
Charlotte, -3846
San Antonio, -4209
Golden State, -4834
Houston, -5782
Orlando, -7244
Minnesota, -7814
Memphis, -9320
Sacramento, -12761
Washington, -14197
LA Clippers. -18707
Miami, -26376

To sum the whole bag of numbers into one tidy sum, it looks promising for the league, as the overall attendance numbers through nine games has improved by 22,350 over last season.

But even a first-grader can see that things aren’t as rosy as all that. Consider that two teams, New Orleans and Oklahoma City, are responsible for 54% of the league’s growth, are both coming off of seasons that would have been nearly impossible not to improve upon. A similar number of the league’s decline (i.e., 54% of the league’s negative performers), would require four teams, indicating that while the positive reports are narrowly focused, the negative ones are much more widely spread.

Consider also that there are nine teams with improved attendance figures, but 15 teams with worse attendance. Again, this points to a small, deep pool of improved teams and wide, shallow pool of negative ones.

When David Stern was interviewed by Bill Simmons last week at ESPN, the commissioner denied Simmons’ inference that the league’s numbers may be a bit off this year, contending that, to paraphrase, they were doing just as well this year as last, and that last year was their best year ever.

Well, he was either lying or being disingenuous. Half of the teams in the NBA are showing a decline in attendance from last season. The Spurs sold out on opening night, and have see a decline from the previous year in nearly every game since. The Rockets, a team many expected big things from with their off-season moves, are off more than 7,000 from last year’s attendance. The Grizzlies, a team no one could call fiscally healthy entering the season, have done worse than last season in every game but one this year, and have drawn between 50-60% capacity eight times for every one time they exceed 90%.

I’ll go into the data more as the week progresses. As always, feel free to counter the data with your interpretations. I will say, though, that there are positives to take away from the numbers. The Blazers, Hawks, Sixers, and Pacers have all posted significant improvements, which is admirable considering the economic malaise afflicting North America. More importantly, looking at the data this way will enable us to more accurately see just where the NBA ship is heading, and will eliminate some of the speculation.


Anonymous said...

Awesome information - thanks for compiling.

You can also look at it this way - combine all nine teams that improved attendance with the six teams that could not possibly improve attendance (I assume those 0's in the middle are teams that were at capacity last year, and remain at capacity this year), and you get 15, or exactly half the league.

In other words, one could argue that half of the NBA either remains at capacity or has improved their attendance, while half has seen a decline. Not a great story, but certainly not a bad one in this economy - and supports Stern's paraphrased "doing as well as last year" statement.

Much like selecting teams for the BCS title game, there are many 'correct' ways to interpret the numbers here. Also like the BCS, there is an answer that all smart people can agree on (Stern is trying to prop up his league, and USC is the best team in the land).

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, you can't really give too much credit for OKC's attendance, since it's not a sustainable one. Obviousyl, the the shine will be off that rose pretty soon. And, there's no way PHilly matches their numbers from last season, since that team's going sideways now.

I agree, Stern is trying to prop up his league. But SC? Best team int he land? With that offense? Not that I all for FLA v OK, but SC? No way!