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An NBA Blogger Whistles Past the Graveyard

Nov 24, 2008 – 3:45 PM
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Eric McErlain

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I was glad to see my FanHouse colleague Brett Edwards pick up the discussion string concerning the disturbing attendance data uncovered by Peter Nussbaum last week at Supersonics Soul. What was disappointing, however, was his failure to grapple with the data presented and how he instead pointed the finger back at hockey fans like me and our "hilarious" insecurities.

Let me make one thing clear: I take no joy in the attendance woes of the NBA, or any other league for that matter. And if hockey fans like me are "insecure," it's for a very simple reason: the relentless drumbeat in the mainstream media and on sports blogs that the NHL is irrelevant.

What am I talking about? Well, our friend Enrico Campetelli gave us a nice reminder last week over at The 700 Level, where he posted an interview he did with long-time Flyers beat writer Tim Pannacio. It was Pannacio who left the Philadelphia Inquirer after last season when he demurred after his editor attempted to re-assign him to cover the Eagles. The reason: the editor, an ex-ESPN hand who was responsible for PTI and Around the Horn had declared hockey "an irrelevant sport," this in a town where the Flyers are outdrawing the 76ers despite the fact that the Flyers lost six straight games to start the season.

Well, now thanks to Supersonics Soul, the shoe is on the other foot, and it's time to start answering questions. As to why NBA numbers are down at the gate, Edwards came up with an answer that's sure to warm the heart of late Chicago Blackhawks owner, Bill Wirtz:
There's a very simple reason that attendance has declined in the NBA, and it has nothing to do with the sport's fans losing interest. It's because the NBA is available on a wide variety of television networks that people have actually heard of and have access to. The NBA is on ESPN Wednesdays and Fridays, TNT on Thursdays, and on ABC every Sunday beginning in January. Oh, and the late stages of the playoffs and Finals are also nationally televised on ABC.
It was the aforementioned Wirtz who agreed with this line of thinking till the day that he died -- namely, that televised sports would kill attendance at the gate. But if that was the case, shouldn't the NFL be suffering at the gate too? After all, you can get NFL football on Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays on a variety of cable and broadcast outlets. Yet I don't seem to detect any drop in average attendance -- or at least any reporting of it.

I only mention this because Edwards doesn't offer any evidence to back up the claim. He may very well be right, but I'm at a loss to prove it -- and the last time I checked, coincidence is not causality. Following along in that vein, we still need to ask the question: average NBA attendance is down, and down to the point where it's fallen below average attendance in the NHL, a sport that many media mavens have declared "irrelevant," thanks to television ratings that don't include numbers from Canada, the home of the sport.

So tell me, the numbers are down. Why are they down? And show me some evidence, because after all, I could just easily claim that attendance is down thanks to years of rumors that important games were fixed, rumors that seemed to be confirmed when an NBA referee was forced to plead guilty in a gambling investigation.

I await the response.
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