Say you’re done, but history shows you’ll come back to NBA

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That’s it. You’re done. You are going to walk away from the NBA. You’re sick of the pampered millionaire players. You’re sick of the hardline, greedy NBA owners. This lockout — now at day 116 with no talks scheduled and some games cancelled — has pushed you over the edge. You are walking away from the NBA.

You’ll be back.

That’s not the wishful thinking of owners and players (although they both think that, too). That’s history and the pattern of fans. They did the research over at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which led to an interesting story.

Statistical analysis compiled from the last seven major American labor disputes — ones that forced cancellation of regular-season games — shows fans eventually return to the arenas and stadiums. Although talk shows and Internet message boards roil with anger and invective as games are being lost, supporters rarely stay mad forever. They come back to their couches, their PSLs, their fantasy leagues….

“It might take a season or two, but fans usually forgive and forget,” said David Carter, executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute and author of Money Games: Profiting From the Convergence of Sports and Entertainment. “Sports still play a vital role in our society. A lot of people see them as a pleasant diversion, a respite from the grind.”

This lockout is not the same as the last one the NBA suffered, or even the devastating one that cost the NHL an entire season for one reason — the economy. In a nation where teachers are getting laid off, where people can’t figure out how to pay their health insurance bills and where unemployment is at the highest levels in generation, this lockout strikes a more raw nerve. Fans will stay away longer.

But usually, when the local team starts winning or giving reasons for hope, the fans come back. That is the pattern, according to the study of past lockouts.

The story of the ’95 Indians supports their theory. Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith (Mass.) College, considers the ’94 Major League Baseball strike as one of the most damaging in sports history. Average baseball attendance waned for three seasons following the labor discord, but not in Cleveland.

A robust local economy coupled with a contending team that played in a new downtown ballpark helped draw 455 consecutive regular-season sellouts for five-plus years.

Go ahead and be angry. It’s to be expected. But know that the players and owners believed that you will come back. It may take five years, but the game will bounce back. And they are betting big on that right now.