Update: I did some additional research to answer a fan’s question. In doing so I discovered the Clippers actually offer an additional 67 seats compared to the Lakers. This should explain why the Clippers have a bigger difference in 2013 vs. the Lakers than the Lakers had vs. the Clippers in 2012.
In the 1999-2000 season, the Lakers and Clippers became roommates. They started sharing the Staples Center and provided us with a fun natural experiment: given that they both played in the same building, how would fans in Los Angeles choose between the two teams?
The Lakers have been a dynasty — even if we restrict their accomplishments to their time in the Staples Center. They have 5 titles, 7 finals appearances, 2 most valuable players. They also have one of the most decorated active players: Kobe Bryant has been on the All-Star starting squad every year the Lakers have been at Staples. He’s also made an All-NBA team every year as well. Going into this season the Lakers had also won a ridiculous 685 games out of the 1050 games they’d played. Before the season started they also acquired Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, two additional star players with numerous awards, including MVP (Nash, two times) and Defensive Player of the Year (Howard, three times).
On the other hand, the Clippers have been a different story for fans attending games at the Staples Center. They’ve only made the playoffs twice (although in both cases they advanced to second round. Take that Tracy McGrady!). Before the addition of Chris Paul, the only star they’d had was Elton Brand. He did make the backup squad for two All-Star games and make it the All-NBA second squad once. However, during that stretch they had been almost an inverted Lakers. From 2000-2012, the Lakers won 685 games. In the same stretch, the Clippers LOST 665 games.
And what about attendance? From the 1999-2000 season until the end of the 2010-2011 season, the Lakers had the 6th best attendance among NBA teams during that stretch. The Clippers? Well, despite playing in the same city, in the same building, and with the same banners overhead, they finished 18th.
In 2012 the Clippers acquired Chris Paul. They also finished one game behind the Lakers in the standings. And what happened to attendance? The Lakers finished 5th overall, but the Clippers were close behind at 7th. And the difference was a mere 345 fans in the stands per game.
This season has been a bit different. The Lakers are 4th in overall attendance. However, the Clippers are now 2nd in the league! And the rate the Clippers are beating the Lakers by is 384 fans a game, which is a larger margin than the Lakers beat the Clippers by last season.
It’s no secret what changed. Before the start of 2012 season, the league blocked Chris Paul from going to the Lakers. Chris Paul used a loophole to get to L.A. by going to the Clippers instead. Blake Griffin emerged as a strong young player. These two players have made multiple All-Star games and Chris Paul has been an All-NBA and All-Defense player. But more importantly, the Clippers have been winning.
A story told in Wages of Wins is that the following things impact attendance:
- Records from prior seasons
- Star Power
- Market Size
- The Size and Age of the Stadium
But let’s be careful: just because all of these things explain attendance does not mean they are valued equally.
We can see in regards to the Lakers and Clippers that market size and stadium are the same, so neither team gets an edge.
This season four of the five All-Star starters in the Western conference were players from Los Angeles. Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard were from the Lakers. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin were from the Clippers. The Lakers’ stars actually got more votes than the Clippers’ though. In that regard, the Lakers still get a win on star power and get a huge win on records from prior seasons.
As we can see, the single biggest factor in attendance is winning. Despite having a terrible team for over a decade, to boost attendance all it has taken the Clippers is two winning seasons where they’ve put up a better record than the Lakers — a team a mere three seasons removed from back to back titles! This is a story that David Berri, Martin Schmidt, and Stacey Brooke told over a decade ago. It’s still every bit as true! Fans like winning teams! You can have a terribly run team with no accolades, but give them a few dominant players and a few winning seasons and the fans will flock to see them. People may claim that exciting players like Carmelo Anthony get people to come see games. The truth is that winning is the “magic potion” to run a successful franchise. The Clippers have demonstrated that a terrible team can topple a champion using this exact formula.