The current lockout in the NBA is adding to the disappointment and anger of sports fans, who are already dreading the continuation of the NFL lockout. Everyone involved in the lockout loses, whether it is the owners, players or the fans. It is the degree of the loss that makes the difference.
However, there is one group that has the most power: the fans. Yes, the owners, league executives and players will potentially lose millions due to the lockout, but the lockout will eventually end and the NBA and its players will resume their schedules and earn their high salaries. Yet, it is the fans who will dictate how the league will truly recover, giving the fans the highest influential power.
This was realized a little too late during the last NBA lockout, which occurred in the 1998-1999 season. The NBA’s third lockout started on July 1, 1998, and ended on January 20,1999, lasting 204 days. This lockout caused the NBA to limit its regular season to only 50 games, losing 464 regular season games in total. The loss of games hurt the NBA financially, but did not hurt nearly as much as the loss of the fans’ respect.
The average attendance during the 1998-1999 lockout season was 16,738 fans per game, which was down 2.2 percent from the 1997–1998 average of 17,117 attendees per game. Ticket sales dropped around 2% in the opening months of the 1999-2000 season and stayed under the 17,000 average for the next three seasons. Television ratings also dropped during the next three consecutive seasons after the 1998-1999 lockout.
With the professional sports industry currently dealing with two lockouts from its top two leagues, fans are feeling disappointed. For the NBA, it took years for the league to recover from the last lockout. The second retirement of Michael Jordan didn’t help the league in its recovery, as many casual fans who were attracted to Jordan were looking for other forms of entertainment. It took the Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant duo in Los Angeles and the beginning stage of LeBron James’ career to convince those lost fans to return to the NBA.
Yet, the NBA finds itself in the same situation as the 1998 season, additionally dealing with the threat of players going overseas to play.
It is the fans who buy the tickets, the merchandise and the League Pass on television. It is the fans that buy the concessions at the arenas and tune into the games. Television viewership is dominated by the fans. The more fans, the more viewers, the more sponsors, the more money for the owners, networks and league.
David Stern and the NBA team owners along with the NBA Players Association should realize the impact the fans have and agree to sign a new CBA sooner rather than later. This would help lessen the anger and frustration of the fans and ensure new seasons of NBA basketball.