Last February, ESPN personality Colin Cowherd nearly caused a riot in the state of Indiana with his claims that Hoosiers were racists because the Pacers’ attendance numbers were down.
People all over jumped to the state’s defense, led by Bob Kravitz who penned this sterling response to Cowherd’s hyperbolic and idiotic claim. He was quick to point out three pretty compelling arguments:
- During the 1999-2000 NBA season, the Indiana Pacers sold out every single game. (Interestingly enough, only four rotation players on Indiana’s roster that season were white.)
- In 2004-05, the season of The Brawl, the Pacers averaged nearly 17,000 fans a game and had 13,000 season ticket holders.
- In 2008, Indiana voted for Barack Obama – the first time the state had gone blue in decades.
As a life-long Indiana fan, I will admit that the attendance numbers did disappoint me a little bit. Even with a contending team, the Pacers finished 25th out of 30 in overall attendance last season, only filling 84% of Bankers Life Fieldhouse on average. However, there were and still are important, compelling reasons for the poor figures.
First of all, the Pacers play in the 7th smallest market of any NBA team. In theory, finishing near the bottom in attendance is completely justifiable. Add in the fact that Bankers Life Fieldhouse is one of the smallest NBA Stadiums, and low attendance numbers should actually be EXPECTED.
This year, however, the numbers have turned around. NBA TV announced that this week’s Indiana/Miami clash on Tuesday night earned the highest regular season ratings in the network’s history, according to Fox Sports Indiana.
Fox Sports Indiana also announced that the game was the highest-rated regular season Pacers telecast ever, earning a 9.33 household rating, beating out a February 4, 2003 game against the Shaq/Kobe Lakers. Incredibly, the Pacers Live post-game show registered a 6.0 rating, a record rating for that program and one that would smash most regular season GAMES in the past.
Pacers telecasts on FOX Sports Indiana are averaging a 4.4 household rating in 2013-14, up 133 percent over last season – the biggest percentage increase in the NBA this season.
For a network that has existed for 18 seasons, this information should not be taken lightly.
The good news is that with the increase in attendance, apparently Hoosiers (people from Indiana, not just the candy-striped lunatics to the south of the city) have quelled their battle with their deep-seated civil rights issues.
On the other hand, shouts of “fair-weather” and “bandwagon” are beginning to sound all over. But is it fair to call Pacers fans fair-weather fans? In a way, yes … but not really.
You see, in 49 states, it’s basketball. But this is Indiana.
While basketball fans from other states may scoff at the common motto, we that grew up in Indiana understand it to be truth.
When John Wooden graduated from Martinsville High School in the middle of the roaring 20s, the high school decided to build a new gymnasium. They were left with a beautiful mini-arena that held 4,400 fans. The entire town of Martinsville, at the time, had a population of 4,000.
Of the ten largest high school gyms in the entire country, nine are in the state of Indiana.
Hoosiers are basketball connoisseurs. We appreciate good basketball, and unlike folks that live in Sacramento, Dallas, or San Antonio, we are always within a stone’s throw of good basketball – the only thing is, it may not be NBA basketball.
In 2012, Indianapolis had a population of just over 800,000. Of that number, only 38.1% fell in the 18-44 year old demographic, the largest demographic that attends basketball games, leaving the city with about 304,000 “basketball attending” citizens.
Take the thirty largest high schools in the Indianapolis area. If each of them had a home game on a Friday night that filled its gym to capacity (which is completely likely on most nights), 123,277 fans would have attended high school basketball games alone. Just in Indianapolis. This excludes anyone that may have visited Bloomington to cheer on the Hoosiers, Lafayette to cheer on the Boilermakers, gone to Hinkle to watch the Bulldogs, or stayed home to watch their teams on television. It also excludes anyone that may travel 45 minutes away to schools like New Castle High School, which holds almost 10,000 seats.
The list goes on and on. LaPorte High School’s gym holds more than 3,900 fans. This nearly doubles the size of the largest high school gymnasium in South Carolina. In Indiana? It comes in ranked 70th.
It’s simple economics: when you have a dearth of any product, demand shoots up. However, when there is a surplus, demand isn’t as high.
Pacers fans know what constitutes good basketball. Unfortunately, the Pacers didn’t offer much good basketball since The Brawl. Further, Pacers fans were legitimately hurt and scarred by that season. We saw a team that could win the title, and we fully invested ourselves into its players – especially our hero for who this website is named after. Having that yanked away was one of the most traumatic and damaging incidents that sports can offer.
Did Indiana fans become “racist” overnight? Of course not. Instead, they chose to take their dollars elsewhere, giving Butler their highest attendance total in 40 years.
In 2012, the Pacers finished second to last in the league in attendance (again, this should be somewhat expected considering the size of the stadium and market). But from March 15 on, the Pacers attendance “magically” jumped from 13,364 to 15,133.
What could possibly cause an increase of almost 1,800 fans overnight? The end of high school basketball, and no more home games for Purdue, Butler, and IU. As soon as the basketball options disappeared, Indiana fans turned back to the Pacers.
Last year, before I started writing for 8p9s, I predicted that as the Pacers continued to improve, the city and state would once again accept them with open arms.
Indiana’s basketball minds have proven me right. Indiana’s basketball connoisseurs know what they have again – they have a winning team, a contender, a legitimate championship threat behind whom they can throw their loyalty, time, and dollars.
As a proud Hoosier, I also recognize good basketball when I see it. It’s great to be a fan of the Pacers this season.
* This article has been edited since first publication to correct the ratings figure for the Heat/Pacers game. It originally stated that the game earned a 13.7 rating, which was the peak rating for the game not the overall total.
Topics: Attendance Woes