Thursday, October 3, 2013

Drawing the Big Bucks

April 2013 may have seemed like a depressing month to be a Bucks fan, but there was some good news.  The Bucks finally escaped the bottom 5 in local NBA television ratings.  Beginning with the great Maggette/Douglas-Roberts collapse of 2011, the Bucks saw a dramatic drop in local viewership on Fox Sports Wisconsin.  After drawing an average rating of 2.2 (which equates to about 21,000 viewers per game) in 2009-10, the Bucks fell almost 40% to a 1.4 (~13,000 viewers) in 2010-11.

The Bucks stayed at 1.4/13,000 for both 2011-12 and 2012-13 (with last year's stagnation surely contributing to the decision to blow everything except the people most responsible up for this upcoming season.  The good news is that even though the Bucks' overall viewership landed them 29th out of 30 teams (with only Charlotte, at 9,000 viewers per game, being worse), the Bucks are out of the bottom 5 in ratings!  The Rockets (featuring Internet hero James Harden) and the Magic (featuring Internet hero Tobias Harris) fell below the Bucks' 1.4 local rating.  Both of those Internet darlings lost over 50% of their local viewership to overtake our beloved Bucks in the race to the bottom.

This summer, the Bucks made changes.  They embraced "advanced" analytics and rewarded the offensively-challenged Larry Sanders with the largest contract in franchise history.  They chose to let former stars leave without getting equal talent in return so that the franchise could avoid the supposed purgatory of middle-of-the-road NBA team.  Oh, and did this ever make the bloggers happy.  Internet optimism about the direction of the franchise is as high as it's been since summer following the Fear The Dear run.

Making inroads with bloggers is fine and good, but the franchise seems to be moving in the wrong direction in the one area where things should matter most: drawing money.  For the first time since yours truly became a season ticket holder, the Bucks offered additional single-game tickets to every home game at the season ticket holder price.  That means the $31 per ticket that I pay instead of, for example, the $95 that the face value is for the Heat game on March 29.  The Bucks online store gives fans no ability to buy customized "Swingman" (that's the higher end replica) jerseys.  Fox Sports Wisconsin only televises 72 of the 82 Bucks games.  All of these things point to a lack of demand for the Bucks product.

Drawing money as a professional sports team is about more than winning.  The Tampa Bay Rays win all the time, but they have a poor relationship with the Tampa Bay region.  Their owner trashes the stadium all the time and appears to want a taxpayer handout for a new stadium.  They let their biggest stars walk and try to replace them with younger, cheaper talent.  They install a dramatic price increase for home games against popular teams like the Yankees and Red Sox, which results in embarrassing crowds that contain more fans of the visiting team than the home team.  Any of these sound like things the Bucks do?  If you're a securities trader who's trying to get laudatory books written about you by bloggers, then these tactics are smart.  If you're trying to draw money as a sports franchise, then these tactics are stupid.

We all know that the Bucks struggle to draw revenue compared to other NBA teams.  Some of that is because of the market and the arena.  But the Bucks need to also look inward and realize that most of the money they take in is going to come from people who couldn't care less about what's written on this blog and others like it.

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