If you had a chance to tune into the debut of the Miami threesome Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh suiting up and playing together in a non-scrimmage official preseason game for the first time, you probably noticed the lack of attendance. I’m not talking about the seats that are sold; I’m talking about the empty seats in the crowd.
Even though it’s a preseason contest, you would think people would be hyped up to see the three-man duo on the court for the first time in South Beach together. LeBron got a moderate arousal out of the crowd when he threw it down. Other than a small spirit by LeBron, it looked like a typical Miami Heat crowd—scattered empty seats everywhere and a fanbase not entirely interested in the game, but more to be seen.
If David Stern is watching and this looks like anything to come, there is going to be a big drop in attendance in the NBA this season.
Think back to the years the Heat had Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal, and they had empty seats on a Christmas day game. There were often empty seats allover the arena throughout the regular season.
Shaquille O’Neal was runner-up for the regular season MVP award to Steve Nash and Dwyane Wade was an emerging power in 2005, and they couldn’t fill the seats. In 2006, they got over the hump and won the NBA Championship, and their regular season crowds were still ratty at best.
I know the season ticket sales went up for the Heat this year, as anyone would expect if they landed the two-time regular season MVP LeBron James, along with NBA local favorite and MVP Finals winner Dwyane Wade. But how many people are actually going to go to the games?
I predict the first two months attendance will be okay. The seats will be 4/5 full and people won’t perceive the issue. But after a couple months, I expect this to be the Florida Marlins all over again.
Fans in South Florida are amazed at the trendy new acquisitions, but once that desire dries up, it will seem like a clothing trend that passed overnight. People in South Florida would rather spend their money and time hanging out in South Beach, Fort Lauderdale, boating, going shopping, and going to the beaches off I-95.
The Florida Marlins, who own the bragging rights to the lowest attendance in the MLB, had a game where it was believed less than 1,000 people were in actual attendance. The Florida Panthers give away free tickets at the gate. The Dolphins usually have empty seats unless they are playing in a playoff game.
I’m not advocating LeBron to be playing anywhere else, but from a league standpoint had Lebron stayed in Cleveland they would have had a packed house every night. Now that Lebron is in South Beach, attendance sales has improve some, but actual people who attend the game will likely not sustain throughout the entire season.
Wade playing with Lebron and Bosh is great from a fan standpoint and will provide plenty of entertaining nationally televised games. But from a league standpoint—having three stars playing in a town with tourists, transplants, retirees, and plenty of alternative entertainment—will hurt the NBA in the place it least desires: its pocket.