Pacers' attendance declines paint puzzling picture

April 27, 2011
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The Indiana Pacers have a troubling challenge to deal with this off-season.

Actually, the team has a few of them. Of course, there’s the looming possibility of an NBA lockout as owners and players battle over the league’s future revenue and player payroll structure. There’s also the need for some key off-season acquisitions, and the added challenge of attracting upcoming NBA stars to the Circle City.

But there’s something else: Attendance at games.

Yes, the Pacers were last in the 30-team NBA in attendance. That really isn’t news. They’ve been hovering at or near the cellar since the 2007-2008 season. But I’m less concerned about the Pacers’ attendance in relationship with the league’s other teams and more concerned about the trend within this market.

And that trend shows that attendance isn’t climbing when, theoretically, it should be.

After averaging 12,221 fans per game during the ’07-’08 season, the Pacers grew their attendance to 14,182 in 2008-2009 with a flurry of promotions. Last year, it ticked up slightly to 14,202, what most in the business world would call flat.

OK, the economy is still tough, and Indianapolis is forever a conservative—some say frugal—town. But with the Pacers showing promise, I would have expected attendance to tick up even more this year. And it didn’t.

In fact, when the Pacers were making their playoff push under new coach Frank Vogel, the crowd sizes inside Conseco Fieldhouse were going the wrong way.

The Pacers came out of the gate and averaged 13,712 for the first 11 home games. Through 27 home games, the Blue and Gold averaged 13,599 per home contest. Attendance slid to 13,538 through 41 home games. That slide occurred as the Pacers were fighting for—and achieving—a playoff spot, and playing re-energized, winning basketball under Vogel.

Without the numerous Bulls fans who filled the Fieldhouse for the Pacers’ two home playoff games, it’s difficult to imagine either of those games would have sold out the 18,165-seat venue.

What will it take to fill the Fieldhouse next year with Pacers fans? Winning, of course. But they were winning late this year, and playing with some heart. So there must be something else.

Figuring out what that something else is, will certainly be a top priority for the team’s marketing brass this off-season.

  • Fans In Seats
    I had no interest in going to a Pacer game until I saw them play against the Bulls. It seemed like they were so hot and cold throughout the year, and the team really never had any cohesion. Jim O'Brien annoyed me. Danny Granger seemed like he was satisfied with being the best player on a bad team. Getting me to spend any amount of money on a game (tickets, parking, food, beer) was something this team had to do on the court. They did that in the first round. Now, I will happily buy a ten game ticket package for next year.
    • Visibility
      There's still a lot of hurt feelings left over from the Brawl and the subsequent freefall, but I think one of the best things that the Blue & Gold can do this offseason is make themselves seen around Indiana. Roy Hibbert is leading the way in this; his efforts in community activism and involvement (with his teammates,too,) show that these guys want to be here, want to win, and want to help. If people in Indiana can see that, they'll be a lot more inclined to fork over the money for season tickets.
    • need fan favorite
      Simple issue You need a fan favorite that people want to see play. They need a superstar or local favorite. There's a guy in LA that fits the bill. They should have gone after him 3 years ago. He's a free agent end of next year. Try making a deal with the Clippers now.
    • Local Talent
      Get some of the Indiana High School stars that are coming up on free agency. We have a good base of young talent now, but we still need a "go to guy" when we need points.
    • Next year should improve
      I saw 3 games this year, and one playoff game. Indiana fans are cheap in the sense that they don't support bad basketball, and they don't support bad guys, and the Pacers had both for a while...time will heal that, assuming they can continue the upward momentum. I disagree with the suggestion that Eric Gordon should be acquired for fans to identify with...but since they were actively trying to get OJ Mayo, if they can get Eric Gordon instead, without destroying the nucleus, I would a lot rather have him, so I am good with them getting him here...but he is not a guy I would pay to see in the same sense that you would Derrick Rose, Kobe, Lebron, etc...I don't see him as a guy that can lead the Pacers to the promised land (and I saw him in high school, where he was so dominant that then you thought he would be the next Jordan, and college where he was great...just makes you realize how good the NBA players really are that he is just a good player at that level)....he isn't the best player on the Clippers (and the guy we really need from the Clippers is Blake, and even they won't be dumb enough to let him get away). The Pacers need for Hibbert to add bulk, and they need a couple of guys like we had with Antonio and Dale Davis...enforcers. Physical guys who won't let you in the middle.
      The product is better, but the taste of the brawl was bitter and long takes people a while to forget, but they are starting to. I look for attendance to climb next year. By the way, did everyone see that Ron Artest won the Kennnedy Citizenship award? How nice...he leaves the Pacers in ruins, and now has a ring and he is a good sport too. A true feel good story...
    • Market to the Mass!
      I know the Pacers are doing better and I too watch the play-offs but the Pacers seem to think that they don't need to advertise. Well there are many entertainment opportunities out there and if the Pacers don't believe there is reason to keep their name and image out in the market, why would the public? Message to the Pacers, do what the Colts do, advertise! You spend million of dollars on players contracts for guys that the public hardly knows, only because you don't market these individuals.
      I love the team and would love to see their images visible.
      This team has huge potential to get the Pacers back to great team they have been. Spend some money and market these guys.
      • Advertise!??
        I think the Pacers advertise a lot more than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and probably close to as much as the Colts. Though I think the Star sells the Pacers a lot of their ads to the team at a cut-rate price. I do think they have achieved some visibility, they just need to do more grass roots stuff and upgrade the team on the court. Easier said than done.
      • RE: Advertising
        Marcy, the Colts advertise? They rarely buy ads.. Look around town. The Pacers are plastered throughout Indy metro (driving from northeast side to downtown I see 5 billboards). They are in every Star edition. I even heard an ad on WIBC this morning. I get a phone call from a sales guy there almost every 30 days like clock work. I get an email every game. If anything, they advertise too much.
      • Not surprised
        It comes as no surprise to me that fans have not yet returned even though there is a very committed loyal fan base. I have been a season ticketholder since 1983 and have the seen the ups and downs. Tha fans will return once the Pacers demonstrate they are a formidable squad (which they finally began to show against the Bulls)Now they need to show this over a much longer period of time. Remember this team was still a sub .500 team and only 20-18 with Frank at the helm. Any chance the team had at truly building a fan base this year was wiped out by the dismal performance under O'Brien. Then just as they seemed to be getting some traction under Voegel they lost--I believe 6 in a row. If the team gets out of the gate relatively strong next year and shows they are for real the fans will start coming back. I know this may seem hard to believe but mark my words (I am a Colts season ticketholder also) there will be a day in the next several years where you can't give a Colts ticket away and the Pacer ticket will be the hot ticket again. Wouldn't it be nice if both could be a red hot ticket
      • The League
        While the Pacers certainly have their issues, the bigger problem is the league and its structure. With 82 regular season games, how can one get excited about any particular game? Or ten game package? And the league rewards mediocrity. A team with 37 wins and 45 losses is in the playoffs. That's failure in most situations.
      • Old days
        In the past I attended many games, but at some point, it just got too expensive. When you have kids in college, those are the dollars that could have been used for more fun things like games, so you have to make a choice and the Pacers were the one out. I still try to see a game now and then, but after going to game after game and seeing them lose in the end knowing we don't have Reggie to rescue us. It really hurts seeing them lose, but it really hurts knowing it cost 80-120 hard earned dollars to see it happen. When we had Reggie, you always had that feeling and confidence he'd pull out the game - now, we don't have that guy and we have a bunch who really don't ever make you feel that way

        How many times this and the past couple years can you remember seeing us having a chance to win, and we lose - After so many times, it just numbs you to them and it's difficult to watch.

        Also, as another poster mentioned, this city is inherently cheap, people here don't have the disposable dollars many others have. It's been like this for years and will never change.

        All we can do keep hoping that they come alive consistently before Mr. Simon gives up and they become the KC Pacers, or Louisville Pacers, or St Louis Pacers etc
      • Thank you Mr. Simon
        Thank you Mr. Simon for not moving this team to Seattle. Or to Kansas City or Anaheim. Or St. Louis or Louisville. You kept your word. If the city helped, you would stay. Thank you. But most importantly thank you for stepping in at the most needed momenet and telling Larry Bird to fire JOB. If Larry go his way JOB would still be the coach and this team would not have flourished and would not have made the playoffs. Thank you. Now, get rid of Larry and hire Kevin Pritchard.
      • Agree
        Indiana is full of bandwagon fans. The people who wear Peyton Manning jerseys every Sunday are the same people who just tossed away their Pacer jerseys within the last few years.

        I've always been a Pacer fan and always hated the Colts. It's sickening to see people around here not care if the Pacers move. Look at Cleveland Browns fans, their team hasn't had a good team in decades and they still flock to games to support them. Look at the Cavs, they were dismal this season and they were ranked like two or third in attendance this season.
        • Not a sports town
          I am looking forward to the day the Colts go 7-9 and have empty seats in the stadium. Indianapolis isn't a sports town like other Midwest cities.

          The attendance goes up and down with the teams records unlike other teams. Bengals have sold out for years even though they have been less than average. Same for the Browns, Chiefs, etc.

          Any team can can sell tickets to a fan base when things are great and the team is a contender. A real fan base will attend in the rough times too. Indy just doesn't do this.
        • Why would you "hate" any sports team, especially the home team!
          The above comments about "hating" the Colts sickens me as to what types of fans we do have here. I have bled Colts blue since they got here, suffered through 1-15 and numerous 3-13 seasons, so I will not apologize for being a fan of them now that they are a winning organization. As for the Pacers, I like them too, and have many fond Market Square/Fieldhouse memories, HOWEVER, its not that they have been losing that has turned me off. Its the NBA and its big market only/superstar only mentality. Lets be honest, that league isn't exactly eager to see a good Pacers team on the court... and when the Pacers were good, you would get constant negative comments from the Commissioner about TV ratings because of the small market. So really, put the Lakers team in Conseco, I wouldn't care because the NBA model is a broken one. The NFL has shared revenue, and small markets like Indy and New Orleans can be in the title game and break TV ratings records (which it did have for most watched TV program in history until this past season's Superbowl topped it slightly). The NFL is just a better product as the competition is on a level playing field.
        • Pacers Attendance
          Scot, the Cleveland Browns, really? As for the Pacers, the economy is still awful. People don't know whether their job will still be there tomorrow, and they don't feel like paying to see a bunch of millionaires play basketball.
        • Thugball
          The NBA is thugball. who wants to take their kids to see a bunch of grown men tattooed from head to toe.

          Im sure this will be comment will be censored because the IBJ does not want to hear the truth.
          • Thugball is right
            I would say that 90% of the NBA players have tatoos plastered from head to toe. Nothing but ghetto thugs on the court. I would not want my kids to see that.
          • TV
            it is hard to follow them when they are rarely (actually never) on TV in other parts of Ind besides Indy. I refuse to pay for NBA League Pass $$$$. They should get local stations interested in simulcasting through out the state so that fans can become familiar with the team and rase more interest.

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