By all accounts, the Indiana Pacers exceeded expectations this season, compiling a 48-34 record and locking down the fifth seed in the NBA playoffs, despite the trade of All-Star Paul George in June.
As The Score reported on April 4, Pacers telecasts on Fox Sports Indiana are averaging a 3.4 household rating in the Indianapolis market, up from a 2.9 rating last season.
So, why is attendance at Bankers Life Fieldhouse flagging, down 3.9 percent from last season?
The Pacers ended the regular season averaging 16,051 per game (88.4 percent of capacity), below last season’s average of 16,697 (91.9 percent of capacity), according to NBA statistics.
That ranks the Pacers 27th out of 30 teams in average home attendance, ahead of only the lowly Memphis Grizzlies, Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks.
Todd Taylor, Pacers chief sales and marketing officer, attributes the decline to fan skepticism heading into the regular season.
“When we made the [George] trade, I think the assumption by the so-called experts was that we weren’t going to be widely competitive,” he said. “There wasn’t a lot of positive projection about where we were going to end up.”
Low expectations tempered fan interest—the team drew just 15,000 through the first 10 games, compared with 16,600 last season, Taylor said.
Led by Victor Oladipo, obtained from the Oklahoma City Thunder in the George trade, the team got off to a surprisingly fast start and never looked back.
Bankers Life has sold out 13 times this season compared with 10 last year. Attendance averaged 17,400 for the 10 games before Tuesday’s finale, which attracted 17,331, Taylor said.
“Once we got to the middle of December, people were like, ‘this team seems legit,’” he said. “If everybody knew then what we know now, I think our attendance would have been closer to 17,000 than 16,000.”
The Pacers will be matched in the playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers or the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by superstar Lebron James.
“I would anticipate those tickets being in very, very high demand,” Taylor said.