Hot Hot Hoops blogger Danny Martinez tweeted that the NBA lockout would cost the Miami Heat their casual fans next season after it was announced the NBA sued the National Basketball Players Association, naming James Jones and other NBPA executive members as defendants in the suit. Martinez supported this argument by tweeting that he saw the fans' interest level in the Heat drop over the course of last season.
Based on the television ratings, that may be true.
Sun Sports averaged a 5.4 TV rating for Heat games after the first two months of the season, with the ratings rising from 4.6 in November to 6.1 in December, according to this Dave Hyde column. After January, the Sun Sports TV ratings still held at 5.4, according to the Sports Business Journal. The SBJ reported the Heat ended the season with an average TV rating of 4.9.
It does seem that some of the audience tuned out the second half of the season. The 4.9 TV rating was still double for the 2009-10 season so perhaps the first half numbers were artificially inflated from all the hype surrounding the team. Or maybe fans became disenchanted with the Heat when they weren't winning 21 of 22 games.
A slight decline in TV ratings for the second half of the season does not mean that casual fans won't be interested in the Heat after the lockout.
The conventional wisdom that strikes and lockouts reduce fan interest was exposed as a myth in the Wages of Wins by sports economists David Berri, Martin Schmidt and Stacey Brooks. Their analysis showed that lockouts or strikes that result in games not being played have no statistically significant impact on attendance.
The sports economists illustrated this point in the book with a graph of NBA attendance from 1955 to 2007 that showed no decline after the 1999 lockout.
The Heat drew 615,160 fans in 1997 (15,003 per game) and 614,864 fans in 1998 (14,997 per game). The Heat drew 378,813 fans during the lockout-shortened season in 1999 (15,152 per game). In 2000, the Heat drew 707,325 fans (17,252 per game).
The Heat drew more fans per game after the 1999 lockout than they did before. Since the current Heat roster with Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh is much more interesting than those teams from the late 1990s and early 2000s led by Alonzo Mourning, don't expect the fan interest to drop off just because there's a lockout.
The ability to maintain fan interest despite a lockout is one of the reasons owners use lockouts in North American sports so often.
They know the fans aren't going anywhere.
Fans like to think their opinions should matter to owners and players in professional sports but at the end of the day, you're only a customer.