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24 Days Till Sixers: Where the Wild Fans Are

Continuing the count down to the season opener, we switch gears by looking at fan attendance in regards to a popular opinion that the Sixers strategy is turning fans away. Right or wrong, here is an opinion.

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

It's hard to argue against the notion that the Sixers organization have been alienating a portion of Sixers fans. If the leagues 2nd worst record wasn't enough last year, the historic losing streak was the proverbial 'straw that broke the camels back' in terms of embarrassment. Whether by pundits or just your average fan, the Sixers' strategy became synonymous with institutional "tanking".

During the Sloan Sports Analytic Conference in February, former Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy threw out an opinion that is probably shared by most critics.

"Not what Philadelphia is doing right now, which is embarrassing," said Van Gundy. "I don't care, Adam Silver can say there's no tanking or what's going on... If you're putting that roster on the floor, you're doing everything you can possibly do to try to lose"

Hard to disagree. Even with the context, and accepting that Coach Brett Brown and the team were actually trying to win, a roster filled with 10-day contracts, cast-aways, and lack of NBA experience or talent was not designed to "win". And when you're not winning, the fan experience will suffer.

Can you blame people for being angry at the poor product? No. Can you blame people for not supporting or going to games? Of course not.

However, how much of this outrage is due to public perception, as opposed to the actual product? In other words, did people care enough to come to games when they were competitive? Philadelphia has been historically apathetic to their pro-basketball team compared to it's sister sports teams and even the college basketball scene.

In 2012, Mark Perner of the Daily News described one particular low light in Sixers fandom. To summarize, on April 19, 1981, the Sixers played a Game 7 in the Eastern Semi-Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks that went down to the wire. Despite featuring a roster with the likes of Julius Erving and the potential to move on to the Conference finals against the Celtics, the draw to the game was on 6,704(!!!).

While they eventually won, coach Billy Cunningham didn't let up in his assessment. "It's a shame that people don't support us in Philadelphia. I'd just like to thank the people who did come out today."

Obviously, an event like that, 30 years ago, shouldn't generalize a whole Sixers fan base, especially the current one. However, there's been a popular refrain to recall the brighter and rich Sixers history by those who were lucky to be alive during their heyday. In that instance, what's the excuse for not supporting the team at that juncture?

In recent years, the Sixers have been through a predictable up and down in their attendance relative to their record/success. Below, I put together a simple table outlining their attendance starting from their championship-run year to now.

Year

Total Attendance

Average

NBA Rank

NBA Record

Playoff/Result

2013-2014

568,632

13,869

29th

19-63

Missed

2012-2013

685,412

16,717

17th

34-48

Missed

2011-2012*

577,597

17,502

14th

35-31

Loss in ECSF

2010-2011

604,823

14,751

25th

41-41

Loss in First Round

2009-2010

583,219

14,224

26th

27-55

Missed

2008-2009

647,898

15,802

23rd

41-41

Loss in First Round

2007-2008

609,675

14,870

23rd

40-42

Loss in First Round

2006-2007**

608,603

14,843

29th

35-47

Missed

2005-2006

677,278

16,518

21st

38-44

Missed

2004-2005

732,686

17,870

10th

43-39

Loss in First Round

2003-2004

788,128

19,222

3rd

33-49

Missed

2002-2003

807,097

19,685

4th

48-34

Loss in ECSF

2001-2002

842,976

20,560

3rd

43-39

Loss in First Round

2000-2001

805,692

19,651

5th

56-26

Loss in NBA Finals

*Lockout shortened year (33 Games)

**Allen Iverson traded on December 19, 2006

It's easy to see the trends based on that sample size. The early 2000s featured not only competitive, successful basketball but they also had a bona-fide super star in Allen Iverson. His departure predictably resulted in a lot of fans deciding to stay home. However, even before then, attendance numbers began to drop as they began missing the playoffs.

After middling in the the bottom half for years, the Doug Collins era and their modest success brought fans back in before dropping back down to the bottom once more last year. What does this all mean?

The popular notion has been that the Sixers strategy last year is what has been alienating fans. The big decrease in fan attendance has been one flawed way to quantify fan dissatisfaction. Success is a relative term that depends on the person. If competitive play and playoff appearance are a barometer of success then the Sixers shouldn't be in the bottom half of attendance during some of their playoff appearance years.

If star power is what generates the most increase in fan attendance, then the Sixers bottoming out to draft at a higher spot to find that star should generate less outrage among Sixers fans.

However, one conclusion (right or wrong) can be that many Sixers fans don't care either way. Those that enjoy basketball or the Sixers will come, regardless. If they are winning or a star appears then some more will come. But ultimately, national perception, whether it be good or bad, is what drives the vocal opinion/outrage more among Philadelphia sports fans (not the actual product). That pride is the same one that either revels in or refutes the perception of Philadelphia fans around the country.

Whether the trend continues this year in dipping attendance remains to be seen. However, if the Sixers manage to replicate last season's results, the national media and regional responses won't be pulling any punches. 24 more days to go!