The Indiana Pacers saw an on-court improvement this year over last—but not at the turnstile.
Despite a slight home attendance decline for the Pacers this year, Todd Taylor, the team’s sales chief, is bullish on the Pacers' outlook and is planning several big promotions for the team’s playoff push he thinks will boost attendance next year.
On Tuesday, the Pacers finished this season 44-37, good for seventh place—and a spot in the playoffs—in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. That’s a solid improvement over last season when the Pacers finished 38-44, ninth in the Eastern Conference.
But the team saw its attendance dip slightly from 16,864 people for 41 regular-season home games last year to 16,847 this year. Tuesday’s game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse—a 102-90 win over the New York Knicks—was the team’s final home game.
Despite that slight dip, Taylor said the team’s overall home ticket revenue is up this year, thanks to dynamic pricing and ticket demand for marquee matchups against the likes of the Golden State Warriors and the Kobe Bryant-led L.A. Lakers. Bryant is retiring after this year. But Taylor said the ticket revenue increase also shows the market is solid and that there’s room for growth.
This is the second year the Pacers’ home attendance has seen a small decrease. Attendance for the 2013-14 season was 17,501. Despite the small dips of the last two years, the Pacers are far ahead of where they were when the team averaged an NBA-worst 13,538 during the 2010-11 season.
The Pacers hired Taylor away from Major League Baseball’s Texas Rangers in 2011 to head up sales, and the team went on a three-year attendance growth spurt.
With the return of Pacers star Paul George from injury this year and the addition of promising rookie Myles Turner and high-scoring free agent Monta Ellis, Taylor had hoped to push attendance back to the 17,500 range as this season began.
But he told IBJ on Wednesday that there’s no comparing the last two seasons from a ticket sales standpoint. First, he pointed out, the Pacers were coming off its second straight trip to the Eastern Conference finals heading into the 2014-15 season. The playoffs are critical periods for NBA sales teams to sell season tickets for the following year.
The Pacers had high expectations coming off that playoff run until George broke his leg in the summer of 2014. Last year, the Pacers’ failure to make the playoffs cost the team that important postseason sales opportunity. And off-season roster changes also made early marketing efforts a challenge.
Taylor promises the team’s postseason marketing push will be back in high gear starting this week. Not only are the Pacers planning several playoff promotions—including a gold out (where all ticket buyers to a playoff game are given gold shirts to wear during the game), window placard give-aways for area businesses and pep rallies—but Pacers sales officials also plan to use playoff ticket sales to leverage season ticket sales for next year.
There was a lot of “curiosity and uncertainty” on the part of Pacers fans entering this season, Taylor said, but he’s seen that build into excitement as the season progressed. He said he sees this season as a momentary plateau and expects attendance—and ticket revenue—gains to be realized next season.
The Pacers will have at least two home playoff games against the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs. The NBA playoff schedule will be announced after the season concludes late Wednesday or early Thursday.
It’s likely the Pacers and Raptors will play here in the middle to later part of next week with one weekend playoff game. Taylor is confident that all Pacers home playoff games will sellout the 18,165-seat fieldhouse.
Taylor is hoping for a first-round upset.
“I think the Pacers are a dangerous match-up for any team,” he said. “A deep playoff run for us will generate a lot of sales for us next year. When fans have faith and optimism about the team, that really helps with renewal, retention and generating new sales.”