As one of the NBA's most consistently competitive and marquee franchises, the Los Angeles Lakers can depend on a consistently high level of fan support. Playing in a very large metropolitan area, they have a large number of fans accustomed to a certain level of success and support. As such, the Lakers are used to selling out games as a matter of course.
However, with the franchise at the beginning of what figures to be a down year and several key players, including icon Kobe Bryant, out with injury, things are a little different this season at Staples Center. In fact, after nearly seven years, they're longstanding sellout streak ended after 320 games. From Ben Bolch for the Los Angeles Times (via The Point Forward):
The Lakers' home sellout streak ended at 270 games Tuesday night when the team drew 18,426, just short of the capacity of 18,997, during a 116-95 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans at Staples Center. The Lakers had sold out 320 straight games including the playoffs.
The last non-sellout for the Lakers at Staples Center came Dec. 6, 2006, against New Orleans/Oklahoma City, when they drew 18,535. [...]
According to a Forbes.com report, the average price for the Clippers' two home games against the Lakers this season is $40 more than the price when the Lakers play host to the Clippers.
Lakers tickets on the secondary market are still going for $70 more on average than Clippers tickets, according to Forbes, though that is down significantly from three years ago, when the gap between the teams was $150 per ticket on average.
Bolch also notes that the Lakers have the third-highest secondary-market ticket price in the NBA, so it's not as if their popularity has sunk entirely. On the other hand, those figures could be dependent on prior prices after only two weeks of the 2013-14 season. Perhaps the market has not found its level just yet.
At 4-5, the Lakers have out-performed expectations without Kobe but remain on the outside of the very early playoff bubble at 10th in the West. It's possible that the Lakers will return to postseason level if Bryant returns from injury at full strength, but it appears that their fans may be adjusting to the reality of this complicated season. The team just doesn't look like a contender, and the end of the sellout streak would appear to signal a new attitude towards the product on the floor. The Los Angeles Clippers, meanwhile, have sold out Staples Center for 97 consecutive games (through Tuesday) and figure to continue that streak for some time as they attempt to get to the top of the conference.
At the time of the Lakers' last non-sellout in December 2006, the team was 12-5 and had come off a somewhat successful 2005-06 season in which they took the Phoenix Suns to seven games in the first round of the playoffs. Of course, the franchise had also seen several seasons with little chance of contending for a title, and such performances tend not to satisfy a fan base used to winning trophies. Maybe, even once Kobe returns, the Lakers should prepare for more empty seats at home games. As always, fan support is more dependent on expectations than any objective judgment of quality.
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