The Indiana Fever bandwagon is filling up after bringing Indianapolis its first professional basketball championship since 1973.
The new WNBA champs packed Bankers Life Fieldhouse to capacity (18,165) for Game 3 of the finals on Friday. A rowdy crowd of 15,213 attended Sunday’s Game 4, an 87-78 victory over the Minnesota Lynx, the defending WNBA champs.
The Fever have been in the upper half in WNBA attendance since the team’s founding in 2000. This year the team averaged 7,582 per home game, good for sixth in the 12-team league.
“We feel we have a strong niche,” said Indiana Fever spokesman Kevin Messenger.
That niche could be growing with the team’s unprecedented success on the court this year. The team is expected to launch an off-season marketing campaign to try to turn the championship into ticket and sponsorship sales.
If Minnesota's success this year is any indication, now is the time for Fever officials to capitalize financially. Minnesota saw its 2012 home attendance increase 14.6 percent in the wake of its 2011 WNBA championship.
Already the cash registers are ringing loudly for the Fever.
On Friday and Sunday, the Fever set single-day sales records for merchandise, team officials said. On Sunday, the Fever’s game on ESPN2 scored a 5.7 rating in the Indianapolis market, according to New York-based Nielsen Media Research Co. More than 61,100 central Indiana households tuned in.
During the fourth quarter, the rating spiked to 8.7, meaning almost 94,000 households were watching the Fever dismantle the Lynx. Fourteen percent of central Indiana households watching TV were watching the Fever game during the fourth quarter.
Fever Chief Operating Officer Kelly Krauskopf called a multi-year agreement between the team and sporting goods retailer Finish Line “one of the landmark moments in our franchise history.”
Financial terms of the deal, which was announced Friday, were not disclosed, but sports marketers estimated the deal—which includes the Finish Line logo being placed prominently on the front of the Fever players’ jerseys starting next year—in the low to mid six-figure range annually.
Indiana’s jersey sponsorship is the sixth of its kind in the 16-year-old league, joining similar deals by the Phoenix Mercury, Los Angeles Sparks, Seattle Storm, New York Liberty and Washington Mystics.
The Finish Line partnership will be a key part of the team’s effort to raise its profile and attendance, Fever officials said. Finish Line, which has dozens of stores across the state, is expected to heavily promote the team next year.
“This is a sign that what we’re doing is working,” Messenger said.
The Fever are surging, but the WNBA as a whole still has its challenges.
WNBA teams averaged 7,457 fans per game this season, marking the league’s lowest average since it began play in 1997. The previous low was 7,479 per game set in 2006. This year’s league-wide attendance is down 6 percent from last season. The Fever’s attendance for 17 home games was down 5.9 percent from 2011.
The Fever have been at or slightly below break even most years since the team's launch. But team owner Herb Simon, who also owns the Indiana Pacers, said he is committed to growing the franchise.
There are signs of growth for the league and the Fever.
Game 2 of the Finals on Wednesday was the most-viewed and highest-rated WNBA playoff game on ESPN since 1999. The game averaged 778,000 TV viewers nationwide with a peak of just over 1 million. Minneapolis delivered a 3.8 local rating and Indianapolis scored a 2.4 rating.