Looking at the numbers can be deceiving. If one were to look at the attendance numbers as an indicator of fanbase loyalty, they would be severely misled. What the numbers do not show is the loyalty and rabidness that a select few fanbases exhibit during the regular and more prominently in the postseason.
As noted in the rankings (ESPN.com), large market, historic franchises litter the top ten in attendance. But, are their fanbases really exceptional? For instance, the Laker’s “fanbase” consists of Hollywood mucky mucks who see the event as social hour and a publicity stunt. In addition, tickets are priced so steeply that the average fan cannot typically attend. Therefore, the Lakers are exiling their own fans from attending. Other instances of the top ten are somewhat comical as well. How are the Knicks, in the most populated area in the nation, not able to sell out every game. There surely must be 19,000 fans who want to attend a game out of the 10 million people that reside in that area, yet, still can average over 100%. They’ve also had their best season in years yet attendance lacks.
So, what do you consider when analyzing a fanbase? Well, it must past the visual test first. When you watch a game on TV, do you feel like the fans actually care? If you can’t get past that, stop. Second, how knowledgeable are the fans of game happenings, as in, do they recognize who the shooters are, how many fouls the star player has, records being tied or broken, etc. Awareness is something that sets fanbases apart. Third, do the fans stay involved season after season. Commitment to excrement is probably the most important factor. If times are bad, the bandwagon usually empties, but, in the good fanbases, it never appears empty.
Granted, they have reasons to attend as they have been one of the most successful franchises over the past 15 years. But, their games are a sight to behold. Attendance since 2009 has not been below 97%, but the homecourt is amongst the toughest to overcome in the league. It will be interesting to see what happens with San Antonio once the Duncan Era concludes (if it ever does). But for now, that fanbase remains engaged with lots to cheer about.
Side note: I attended a game in San Antonio in 2009. Some of the nicest fans in the league as well. I was obviously an outsider and the playful banter was fun-loving and not personal. Highly enjoyable experience despite the fact they play music throughout the entire game.
4. Utah Jazz
This is the first year that the attendance numbers had dropped off since 2008 for the Jazz. But, Utah remains one of the toughest places to play, partly because of altitude, but also because their fans are loud and well informed. I do not think they have much else to cheer for since Utah has only one other “major” professional sports team, Real Salt Lake (people like soccer, really they do). But, memories of the Malone and Stockton days give way to Mo Williams and Al Jefferson. So, you can’t blame them for allowing attendance to dip some.
The ESPN 30 for 30 about the Knicks versus Reggie Miller really opened my eyes to this midwest fan base (watch it if you haven’t). Indiana fans are creative (ask Spike Lee), loyal and energetic with their teams. You mistake a Pacer game for a Hoosier game sometimes. But, they have a style of play now that is not really easy for some fans to stomach. Half court, slow pace, defensive struggles, sign me up for season tickets now! Ok, maybe not.
2. Portland TrailBlazers
There attendance numbers really surprised me. They have exceed three out of the last four years. Surprising considering they are a relatively small market and have not been overly successful over the same period. The Blazers, since shedding the “JailBlazers” moniker, have been one of the most supported franchises of the last decade. The Rose Garden is usually very lively and the fans are energetic. With Damian Lillard in the fold, they should have a lot more to cheer about going forward.
1. Golden State Warriors
The nation became aware of the insanity of this fanbase during the 2007 “We Beleive” playoffs. But, this fanbase has long been one of the most educated, informed, and loyal for the past 20 years. Even through 17 years of nothingness, the fans come out to support a team. This may have been due to constant inflated expectations from President Robby Rowell, but, the fans showed up nonetheless to cheer on whatever team was out, because it was their team. Now, the nation is seeing it again with playoff games reaching jet engine level decibels (100+ routinely) with spontaneous Warriors chants beginning in the parking lot and peaking during a flurry of Stephen Curry three pointers.