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Sports Business

Pacers attendance is up, but should it be even higher?

November 14, 2013

Eight games into the NBA season, there’s a lot for the Indiana Pacers to be happy about.

Still, in some respects it’s a glass half-empty/half-full scenario.

Let’s start with the part that’s half full. OK, maybe slightly more than half full.

Through five home games, attendance is up 13 percent over the same period a year ago. Fans are still buying 11-game ticket packages three weeks after the season has tipped off and individual ticket sales are up about 50 percent over last year, according to team officials. Tickets are selling fast for some marquee games almost a month in advance.

If the team doesn’t sell one more ticket for the next five home games, based on pre-game sales it will still have a better per-game home average this year (14,500) than last year (13,940) through 10 games. Pacers sales boss Todd Taylor predicts the average home attendance through 10 games will be at least 15,500. That’s a strong increase over last year.

Still, you have to wonder how the league’s hottest and only undefeated team is 24th out of the league’s 30 teams in home attendance. You have to wonder why Bankers Life Fieldhouse has been only 87-percent full and why last Friday’s game against Toronto only drew 13,350 to the 18,165-seat Fieldhouse.

Granted, Toronto isn’t exactly a marquee match-up, but for a weekend game, that’s a bit weak for such a high-flying team.

On Monday, the team drew 13,150 for its home game against Memphis.

This Friday’s home game against Milwaukee will be a good litmus test to see how fired up the community is about this Pacers team. The Pacers have never been off to a hotter start as they go for 9-0.

Of course, you can’t forget that every game these days is airing on TV. So the local fans might be plenty excited about the season, but simply choosing to stay home and watch on the big screen instead of trekking downtown. The numbers seem to show that is at least partially the case.

Through eight games, Pacers telecasts on Fox Sports Indiana are averaging a 3.9 household rating in the Indianapolis market, according to New York-based Nielsen Media Research. That’s up 75 percent vs. the same number of games last season (2.2).

Monday’s game vs. Memphis scored a 5.0 rating—making it the highest-rated telecast of the season and the highest-rated regular season game on Fox Sports Indiana since Dec. 10, 2005.

Either way, Taylor is all smiles.

He rightly pointed out that the Pacers had three home games in six days, which is bound to have at least a little impact on attendance.

And remember, Taylor said, “November and December are always the most challenging months” for NBA tickets sales departments. Last year, the second and third home games had attendance less than 12,000. The Pacers have been well above that mark this year.

“We feel pretty good about where we are, and we think it’s only going to get better,” Taylor said. “We expect to see [ticket] sales pick up at Thanksgiving and again right around Jan. 1.

In the long term, Taylor is confident the Pacers will have higher attendance this year than last and more sellouts. Last year, the Pacers had 10 sellouts and three games where attendance was over 17,500. Taylor thinks at least 15 sellouts (out of 41 home games) is possible this year. The team already has scored two.

Taylor said it’s important to emphasize that ticket revenue per game is also up considerably this year compared to last year due to fewer discounted tickets and giveaways.

“What I especially find as a cause for optimism is that people are buying tickets further in advance in anticipation of those games being sold out,” Taylor said. “We’re selling more and we’re selling more in advance.”

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