Pacers’ attendance declines paint puzzling picture

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.

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