LOS ANGELES — It's not easy being a Los Angeles Lakers fan these days, but here’s a small measure of relief:
The Lakers are not increasing ticket prices next season.
For the 98 percent of fans who like the Lakers’ business operations better than their basketball operations these days, that’s just one more reason to favor Jeanie Buss over Jim Buss.
The reality is that the Lakers have additional business challenges to overcome as long as there is no championship-caliber team on the court (and Jim, Jerry Buss and Mitch Kupchak have made it look a lot easier than it really is to field such teams over the past 15 years).
For example, when the Lakers sent out season-ticket renewal notices and required replies more than two months earlier than last year, fans immediately wondered if something new and perhaps suspicious was going on because of how poorly the team has played—with the distinct possibility the Lakers won’t be a playoff team next season either.
Then there was the Lakers’ date of the drop-dead renewal deadline: May 19. The NBA draft lottery is May 20, meaning Lakers fans can’t wait to see how high the club’s draft pick will be before deciding to renew.
Via Twitter, I asked one fan upset about the early deadline if he would renew:
@KevinDing Not happy about it but can't walk away. Lifelong Lakers fan. Was always my dream to own season tickets. Hope things turn around.— Grapher Not Ebayer (@IEGrapher) March 31, 2014
The Lakers, for the record, are still offering the latest season-ticket renewal deadline in the NBA—even after moving up their date so dramatically.
The Lakers’ deadline is May 19. By the end of this week that began in March, the deadline will have arrived for 26 of the 29 other NBA teams, including the Lakers’ Staples Center partners, the Los Angeles Clippers.
Two elements were at work in the Lakers moving up their date this year: the league wanting the Lakers to set an earlier deadline to be more in line with the rest of the teams, and the Lakers implementing new technology for renewals that might take longer to process.
There’s nothing suspicious to see here. Whereas Lakers season-ticket holders just got their renewal letters, the Lakers were in Portland to play a month ago and the Trail Blazers Stunt Team was already wearing T-shirts reminding one of the NBA’s most devoted fan bases: “APRIL 12, FINAL RENEWAL deadline.”
Although the Lakers failed to sell out five of their eight home games in March, low-intensity nights were to be expected with injured Kobe Bryant invisible and playoff prospects even more nonexistent.
After the Boston Celtics traded Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in the offseason, they sold out their home opener but failed to sell out their second home game of this season. That ended the Celtics’ 289-game sellout streak—which had begun right after Garnett and Ray Allen were acquired in a trade before the 2007-08 season (and NBA championship).
With Bryant still recovering from his Achilles tear, the Lakers’ 320-game sellout streak ended in their fifth home game of this season. Now that the team is officially going nowhere, it’s not surprising that the A-list celebrities courtside on certain nights such as Sunday against the Phoenix Suns are the weather girl from the local news and Kupchak’s teenage kid.
Still, it’s not as if Jeanie is in dire straits.
Even if the fans who are still coming have taken to booing Mike D’Antoni’s introduction, it’s not like the Lakers have to worry much about selling the 14,500 tickets they allot for season seat holders. The Lakers have a waiting list for season tickets that is several thousand people long.
It’s a global brand that transcends Kobe—yet a global brand that transcends Kobe and could really, really use Kobe coming back strong these next two years.
However wasted this season has been for Bryant, the Lakers’ truth is becoming more and more apparent, which is the very reason why giving Bryant that massive contract extension made fundamental sense:
Bryant remains, for the time being, at the heart of both Jeanie’s business and Jim’s basketball hopes for better days.