The Sports Business Journal was able to get their hands on the NBA’s figures for local TV ratings this season, and did some basic analysis compared to the ratings from last season. The good news for the NBA is that local ratings are generally up, and that some of the increases are truly massive. Sadly, the Clippers are not one of the teams that has seen an improvement— they have dropped to a 0.58 (tied for 2nd lowest), which is a decline of 42% from last year (third worst).
The only team with a lower rating are the lowly Brooklyn Nets (the Clippers are tied with the equally miserable Atlanta Hawks), while the teams with a larger decline than the Clippers are the Hawks and the putrid Phoenix Suns. The Clippers are on a completely different tier from those teams in regards to on-court performance, yet are struggling to get eyeballs in the basketball-crazy Los Angeles market. That’s bad.
It was expected that the Clippers’ attendance and TV performance would decline this season due to the loss this summer of Chris Paul (as well as J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford to a lesser extent), but it was hoped that the Clippers actually being good would offset the damage a bit. The Blake Griffin trade certainly didn’t help the Clippers in retaining casual fans, and even angered some diehard supporters as well, so a steeper decline in ratings since the trade is likely.
In addition, TickPick (ticket marketplace) released data that the Clippers have had the 3rd largest decrease in ticket price since the start of the season, dropping 36.95% to an average $34.80 purchasing price. A decrease in ticket prices is an obvious ploy to increase attendance, which means the Clippers are struggling in that arena as well.
The Clippers are in a tough situation. After years in the wilderness, the Lakers are finally starting to put together a real team, and they remain the most popular team in Los Angeles by a significant amount. The gains that the Clippers made in the Lakers’ dark years might not have evaporated entirely, but the Clippers need to remain relevant as a team in order to maintain their expanded fandom. That could explain why the Clippers are hesitant to do a full rebuild, opting for a “reload” instead.
Much ado has been made recently about The Process having paid off in Philadelphia. The 76ers look like a good team, Joel Embiid started in the All Star Game, and Ben Simmons was one of the best players to not make the event. They are generating a ton of buzz, and are an up-and-coming team in the NBA. But not all teams can afford to pull what the Sixers did. Philadelphia is a great sports market, and the Sixers are the dominant force for basketball in the city. They were able to weather several years of horrible teams without losing much fan interest. The Clippers are not so fortunate, and an extended return to the lottery could be incredibly punishing for the franchise.
All this means it will be very interesting to see what direction Lawrence Frank and the Clippers new front office opts to take the Clippers in this summer. Numbers like these are a reminder that the on-court product is far from the only consideration in running an NBA team.