Last week I saw something on an NBA broadcast that I knew that to be false; it said that the Miami Heat have better attendance numbers than the Toronto Raptors. I knew this had to be false because everybody has repeated ad nauseam for the past five years that Miami has the biggest bandwagon fans in the NBA. Without Lebron and a poor team to boot, the Miami Heat were supposed to become nobodies. In reality, the Miami Heat are selling out a larger percentage of their stadium than a much more successful Raptor team (with about the same number of total fans per game). This puts the Miami Heat near the top of the league in attendance, with near identical attendance numbers to previous seasons when they had Lebron James.
Intrigued by how clueless I was about Miami, I decided to investigate what the story is around the league – does attendance really change that much when a team is in decline? What about tanking? What cities have the biggest bandwagon fans? What fans are the most loyal?
I recorded home attendance numbers for all NBA teams from the 2000-2001 season to the current one. I then took note of how many wins each team got during those seasons (for lockout years and the current one, I multiplied a teams winning percentage by a full 82 game seasons to determine how many wins they would have received). I then calculated the correlation between each NBA team’s attendance numbers and how good they were that year. Correlations quantify the amount two variables are related to each other; in this case, how much an increase in wins or losses would impact attendance.
The results were surprising to say the least.
The Toronto Raptors have the biggest bandwagon fans in the NBA. Although I found this to be shocking, when I shared this tidbit with friends, they did not seem nearly as surprised as I was. This is especially interesting because everyone in Toronto claims the Leafs biggest problem is that their fans show up no matter how bad they are. Maybe their fans should learn from the Raptors and join the bandwagon.
I am surprised to see New Orleans so high on the list; not because I do not think their city could have bandwagon fans, but only because they got their NBA team so recently. It now makes sense why their fans were scared that they were going to stay in Oklahoma City permanently. Speaking of Oklahoma City, while the city had better attendance with the Thunder than they did the Hornets, the trends were similar for both teams.
I am also surprised to see not only how much variance there is in the league, but the make up of the cities with low levels of bandwagoners. It makes sense that the San Antonio Spurs have the lowest level of bandwagon fans; a small part of this might be that watching the Spurs is not a very cool thing to do, but mainly because the Spurs have been consistently amazing for every season since the year 2000. What is surprising is that following San Antonio is Philadelphia and Minnesota, two franchises that have had a poor decade. Kudos to their fans.
It should be noted that Brooklyn only has a negative correlation because of how short they have been around. As time goes on, it will normalize.
While these numbers are not definitive, I think they should provide a pretty accurate measure of what is going on. It does not take into account important factors such as if the city suffered economic turmoil, if a team reduced ticket prices or if other teams located in the city have excelled/tanked.