The Which Lockout Hurts More Debate… NBA Enjoys Fans Thanks to Fair Weather

Read the opposing argument from Optimist Prime.

I am just going to come right out on the record – 2011 could be a really lousy year for sports, ESPECIALLY if we have lockouts in both the NBA and the NFL.

There is little doubt that fans would miss the NFL more than they would the NBA. That is not intended as a slight against the NBA, but when you consider the relative popularity of each sport, the NFL is far and away the king. The loss of the NFL, a league where popularity supersedes the NBA, would correspondingly supersede the loss of the NBA.

But we are not arguing about the sport that would be MISSED the most if they both close up shop for part or all of the next season. We are arguing about which sport itself which has more to lose. In answer to that, there is also little doubt – this time it’s the NBA.

Think about it. The NFL is the undisputed champion when it comes to fan support. While the loss of the NFL will greatly impact fans, the clamor for its return will be equally as great. The moment a deal gets signed, and REAL NFL players once again take to the gridiron, fans will flood back in droves. The NFL would not skip a beat in fan support.

The NBA will not be so lucky.

The NBA’s popularity right now is not sustainable. The league has prospered thanks to media obsession and the celebrity of LeBron James. The circus of “The Decision,” as well as the media frenzy in trying to predict where LeBron will sign, has single-handedly fueled the NBA’s national relevance for the past three seasons.

I am not exaggerating. Since 2008, the biggest stories out of the NBA were all about whether LeBron’s latest comments or actions could be an indication of his intentions for the summer of 2010.

Then, once “The Decision” was announced, fans have continued to follow the NBA, because they wanted to A) see how LeBron and company performed in Miami, and B) boo him whenever he comes to town.

Whether good guy or villain, the NBA owes its relevance to LeBron James.

As soon as LeBron goes away, the media will stop caring, the fans will forget, and the league loses all relevance.

Why the difference? Because unlike the NFL, where parity guarantees that every team can contend for the post-season every year, the NBA is completely dominated by a very small handful of franchises, a reality that is demonstrated in several different ways.

Fan Attendance
Even “bad” teams in the NFL repeatedly sell out each of game. In fact, during the 2010 season, nine different franchises AVERAGED sellouts for the entire season, and 30 out of 32 teams averaged to sell AT LEAST 80 percent of their total tickets. Compare that with the NBA, where only seven teams are averaging sellouts for each home game, with nine of the teams in the league failing to even reach that 80 percent total.

Value
When Forbes published their list of the 50 most valuable sports franchises in the world last year, all 32 NFL franchises were on the list BEFORE a single NBA franchise was named, including the Buffalo Bills (33rd), Jacksonville Jaguars (37th), and Detroit Lions (38th). In fact, even the Formula One’s Ferrari Team (16th) is valued greater than any franchise the NBA has to offer. (In case you are wondering, the NBA barely even cracked the top 50, as its two most valuable franchises – the Los Angeles Lakers and the New York Knicks – checked in at 49 and 50, respectively).

What do these numbers mean? They mean that fans love the NFL more than the NBA. Even the perennial “losers” like Detroit, Cleveland, and Buffalo continue to generate greater revenue, and sell more tickets, than the very best of the NBA.

If NBA fans can’t even support their winners in the same manner as the NFL, what on earth is there to entice fans in Minneapolis or in Memphis to come back to the league once they’ve had a few months to forget that their teams stink?

Yes, the NFL would lose a TON of money while the players sit out, but the recovery would be exponentially faster than that of the NBA. It is not the immediacy of the lockout that these leagues need to fear, it is the long term ramifications. Between the NFL and the NBA, the road to recovery will be MUCH rockier for the hoopsters.

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