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The Theory of Losing Games = Losing Fans -- a look at the Utah Jazz

You may have missed the spirited discussion (in 140 character salvos at a time) that some of us had on twitter today regarding this topic. I know that the NBA Owners wouldn't even open their books to the NBA Players Association -- so I'm not going to talk about money in specifics. I don't know how teams make money, but I do know that a lot of the operating capital is a product of fans buying tickets, jerseys, parking, food, and watching games on TV (where the league or teams have made TV deals for). In a way it's ironic that we're the reason why the system works (our money), but we have the smallest voice. But that's a topic for another day.

Since the 2000-2001 NBA season the Jazz have kinda been on the downswing in terms of success. The Western Conference finals (let alone the NBA Finals) were in the rear view mirror and our team was making our graceful transition from contender to 'team on the way out'. The star power of John Stockton and Karl Malone made us a team that could win on any given night -- but much like what Steve Nash is experiencing now -- our team didn't have the horses to win the games when they counted. Since that season, the last season of Stockton and Malone (2002-2003), the Jazz have gone through distinct periods.

  • 2003-2006: Andrei Kirilenko playing like an All-Star, Jazz front office put their money where their mouth is and made a lot of moves, but Andrei and Boozer both injured a lot; one season we win only 26 games -- but that gets us Deron Williams
  • 2006-2010: D-Will Ascension, making the playoffs again and winning all our home games
  • 2010-2012: Back to the drawing board.

Let's take a look at how our attendance went up or down in those periods.

If losing meant that the fans wouldn't show up then we should see evidence of that; unless of course, the conventional wisdom is wrong. Naturalizing for the fluctuations of the economy we'll look more at NBA Rank than actual seat numbers because if the market is down it will be down all over the 30 teams somewhat equally.

For the time period (12 years) the Jazz have an average winning percentage of 54.5%. The Jazz win on average 44.7 games a year for this period (going, essentially, 45-37). As a 45 win team the Jazz have an average home game attendance of 19,254 people, which is good enough for 6.9th best (7th best) in the NBA on average. The Jazz, through thick and thin are a Top 10 draw, despite being a very up and down team in terms of both roster quality, and on court success.

Here are the numbers:

Seasons Win % Home Avg. NBA Rank
2000 2001 64.6% 19,321 7
2001 2002 53.7% 18,685 10
2002 2003 57.3% 19,171 7
2003 2004 51.2% 19,154 6
2004 2005 31.7% 18,756 8
2005 2006 50.0% 18,332 9
2006 2007 62.2% 19,566 6
2007 2008 65.9% 19,907 5
2008 2009 58.5% 19,903 6
2009 2010 64.6% 19,378 6
2010 2011 47.6% 19,511 7
2011 2012 46.9% 19,368 6

And here's what it looks like in graph form:

Yes, by the raw seat numbers the Jazz were less filled to capacity (the size of the arena at 19,911 seats is the only real constant here) during the lottery days -- but their NBA rank actually improved after John and Karl stopped playing. Maybe the point is that over-all the whole NBA had less attendance back then, but the Jazz fans remained true to their team and kept showing up. Clearly they did despite seasons of winning 51% of the games, 32% of the games, and 50% of the games.

And the Jazz fans are clearly doing this again -- our winning percentage is again below 50%, but we're even MORE filled to capacity right now than we were at the tail end of Stockton-to-Malone. This is, you know, contingent upon the data I'm using (which comes from the NBA) is accurate. If the data is accurate we can clearly see that a) less fans showed up to games between 2003 and 2006 and b) Jazz fans are hardcore fans who go to games in good times and bad times.

If the team is losing money maybe it's not good to threaten the FANS that it's our fault (thanks NBA owners); maybe it's the fault of your GMs that you hire giving guys a lot of money. Remember the lockout was an act of war, and the ones who were the main casualties were the fans. Here we have threats that it's the FANS not coming to see a bad team that's hurting the bottom line. (And that, if the Jazz don't MAKE the playoffs they'll be in financial ruin)

Perhaps the ruin comes from going out there and paying Al Jefferson and Devin Harris a combined $23.3 million dollars this season?

And let's not forget, that in the case of the Utah Jazz (a bad team right now), and the Utah Jazz fans (the best fans in the league), we're the ones still showing up every home game.

We showed up post Stockton and Malone. We showed up the season the Jazz won only 26 total games. And we're showing up this season.

If being, on average, 97% full capacity every home game so far in this season isn't good enough than give a reason for the fans to go to games -- high energy play from our tantalizingly young group of future core players -- running, passing, dunking. That's what kept the fans into it back in 2003-2004 when it was Andrei Kirilenko and the youth running around and playing hard.

I think we've all seen enough of losing games down the stretch because we go with our vets. We can lose in a much more cost effective and exciting way with the youth -- and that wouldn't turn the fans away. After all, we're still here today.