Including the capacity crowd that watched Indiana’s Sunday afternoon win over Oklahoma City, the Pacers sold out 28 of 41 home games, a number good for the highest total since the The Fieldhouse opened for the 1999-2000, according to Pacers.com’s Scott Agness. For the year, per ESPN, the team’s average attendance per game was 17,501 (good for 15th in the NBA) fans filled up 96.3% of the possible seats throughout the entire season (12th).
While 15th remains lower than you would expect in a state known for basketball love, this is a big step forward.
Last season, despite fielding a team that went as far as an Eastern Conference team possibly can without making the NBA Finals, the Pacers ranked 25th in attendance with just 15,269 people per game. And even that was an upswing for a team that hadn’t welcomed an average of 15,000 since 2006-07, dropping to an embarrassing 12,221 per night in 2007-08.
It’s long been said that: In 49 states, it’s basketball — but this is Indiana. Some would simply claim that these numbers prove that fans of the Pacers are made up of the bandwagon and fair-weather variety.
Earlier this year, I penned a response to that claim theorizing that basketball fans in Indiana aren’t fair weather, nor are they racist (as a popular radio pundit once argued). I argued they are actually basketball connoisseurs.
Simply put, basketball fans in Indiana can distinguish a pretender from a team that can actually win it all — and in a state where there is an overabundance of good basketball within a stone’s throw of any neighborhood, basketball fans typically choose to go watch it played at its highest level. As evidence, I cited that, as Pacers’ attendance had decreased, attendance at Butler and numerous Indianapolis high schools had increased.
Moreover, it was immediately clear that the brawl in November 2004, and the years of arrests and player misdeeds that followed, irrevocably changed the community’s relationship to the team. It created a deep rift, and many simply threw up their hands at a team that they could no longer support.
Regardless of all the underlying reasons, it’s clear that fans have come back to the fold this year. In Once again, the Pacers are worthy of their time and attention — which is nice, considering the team just signed an deal to remain in the city through at least 2024. It has taken a long time, but the franchise has managed to earn back more than 5,000 fans per night since the lowest days in 2007-08.
Though the team’s recent skid is troubling, hopefully these numbers are the first to prove that the bad days are gone for good. Hopefully, Hoosiers are ready to start loving their hometown NBA team again.