There’s been a lot of negative talk this year about Indiana Pacers home attendance.
Popular ESPN Radio talk show host Colin Cowherd and other national media members even scrutinized the issue. But Pacers officials told IBJ on Tuesday that all signs are pointing up, and they’re hoping to use this year’s playoffs to push next season’s numbers even higher.
Attendance for the 2012-2013 regular season rose 7.7 percent over last season, said Todd Taylor, senior vice president and chief sales and marketing officer. The boost represented the team's second consecutive attendance increase, and fourth in the last five seasons.
Ticket revenue for the season also increased about 7.7 percent, Taylor said. Team officials declined to release specific figures for total sales.
Most of the gains in attendance and ticket revenue were seen in season and mini-season package sales. The number of packages sold increased 50 percent over the previous season.
“We’re converting people," Taylor said. "Now we have to do a better job of getting people to experience our games."
The Pacers this year averaged 15,269 for 41 home games, compared to 14,168 for 33 home games during last year’s lockout-shortened season. The franchise jumped from 29th of 30 NBA teams in attendance last season, to 25th this year.
The team had six sellouts last season, and Taylor was aiming for 12 this season. The Pacers sold out 10 games at the 18,165-seat Bankers Life Fieldhouse during the 2012-2013 regular season, and hit attendance of 17,500-plus for three other games.
Sponsorship sales are also on the rise, Taylor said—up about 20 percent over last season. The massive new scoreboard the team installed during the off-season helped boost those. Taylor expects more improvement next season.
“From a fan perspective, we held focus groups, and the feedback [about the new scoreboard] was overwhelmingly positive,” Taylor said.
He doesn’t plan to sit back and relax during this year’s playoffs.
“I’m happy but not satisfied,” said Taylor, who came to the Pacers from the Texas Rangers almost two years ago. “From a business standpoint, we’d always take slow, consistent growth. But we still have plenty of work to do.”
Some of that work is taking place during this year’s playoffs. The Pacers announced a sellout crowd for the playoffs' first-round opener Sunday against the Atlanta Hawks, and while there are still about 750 tickets remaining for Wednesday’s game, Taylor is expecting another full house.
“I’d be surprised if we didn’t sell out all of our playoff games,” Taylor said.
Taylor acknowledged there were some empty seats at Sunday’s playoff opener.
“You can put tickets in people’s hands, but sometimes getting them to show up at a game is another story,” Taylor said.
The Sunday afternoon tip time might have contributed to the no-shows, team officials said. Taylor thinks there will be a lot fewer empty seats going forward.
“As you get deeper in the playoffs, the momentum builds,” Taylor said. “Especially after the way the team played on Sunday, I think you’re going to see a lot of excitement.”
Pacers officials are looking to capitalize on that excitement. They’ve increased their messaging through social media and online advertising; they’ve added new signage outside and within the Fieldhouse to promote season-ticket sales for next year; and they’ve launched an ad campaign using high-profile billboards around the city.
The Pacers have used incentives for playoff ticket buyers this month to sell 500 new season packages for next season, Taylor said. The team did not sell any season packages during last year's playoffs. Taylor thinks this year's total could rise dramatically if the team advances to the second round.
Playoff ticket demand and local fans’ excitement might be tamped down a bit by the Pacers' first-round opponent, sports marketers said. The Hawks have few marquee players that draw fans to NBA games.
The second round should pose no such problems.
“We’ll either play Boston or New York, and those teams are big draws,” Taylor said.
Boston features all-stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, while New York, the Eastern Conference No. 2 seed, features Carmello Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Jason Kidd.
“The key for us is retention,” Taylor said. “We get people here and try to work them up. We have to convert the single-game samplers into regulars. That’s what we’ve done during the regular season, and that’s what we’re trying to do during the playoffs.”
Each added home playoff game can bring a small additional profit for an NBA team, said Marc Ganis, a Chicago-based sports business consultant who counts several NBA teams as clients.
“The biggest bonus for playoff teams is the opportunity to get in front of their fans with a big game, generate momentum and convert that into ticket sales for the following year,” he said. “That’s where the serious money is.”