WNBA: 2009 Regular Season Attendance Analysis

13 09 2009

At long last, here is my detailed analysis of the WNBA 2009 regular season. Who drew the biggest crowds? Who might be moving to Tulsa?

Before I present the numbers, I want to run down a quick list of assumptions/expectations/hypotheses that drove my data collection efforts:

  • WNBA teams are alleged to be profitable if they can draw at least 7000 fans per game. I don’t know if this is absolute truth, as the Chicago Sky cannot draw more than 6300+ fans on any given day due to venue constraints. Excepting the Sky, any team that averaged 7000+ fans per game were deemed “profitable” for the purposes of this exercise.
  • One of the “haters” claimed (elsewhere, I refuse to go dig up the supporting citation) that no sport/team is “legit” until they draw at least 10,000 fans per game. This is an arbitrary goalpost that can shift without notice or reason, so for fun, teams are deemed “legit” if they averaged 10,000+ fans per game.
  • Another benchmark for WNBA league/team health that I use is % Capacity per Venue. If the Sky were to draw, say, 5500 fans per game, that seems paltry. But, the UIC Pavilion officially seats 6304. That would be 87.25% capacity. This is a made-up example, as the actual numbers follow shortly. I have done my best to research/extrapolate what each WNBA venue officially holds, which led to a markdown of actual seats available for Seattle home games, but if anyone has contrary information as to venue capacity please pass it along.
  • Claim: WNBA President Donna Orender has repeatedly claimed this season that attendance is up from last season. That claim will be affirmed or refuted below.

And now, the numbers:

Atlanta Dream
Venue Capacity: 18729
2009 Average Attendance: 7102
Average Capacity: 38% full
7K Profitability Average: 101.46% (cha ching!)
10K Legitimacy Average: 71.02%
2009 Total Attendance: 120737
2008 Total Attendance: 138252
Orender: WRONG (0-1)

Chicago Sky
Venue Capacity: 6304
2009 Average Attendance: 3970
Average Capacity: 63% full
7K Profitability Average: N/A
10K Legitimacy Average: N/A (Off to… Rosemont!)
2009 Total Attendance: 63521
2008 Total Attendance: 62146
Orender: CORRECT (1-2)
NOTE: Attendance figures are not available for 8/18. Missing data has been factored out of the above totals.

Connecticut Sun
Venue Capacity: 9518
2009 Average Attendance: 6794
Average Capacity: 71% full
7K Profitability Average: 97.06% (Sad trombone)
10K Legitimacy Average: N/A
2009 Total Attendance: 115496
2008 Total Attendance: 143196
Orender: WRONG (1-3)

Detroit Shock
Venue Capacity: 22076 (this is one that needs verification)
2009 Average Attendance: 8011
Average Capacity: 36% full
7K Profitability Average: 114.44% (cha ching!)
10K Legitimacy Average: 80.11%
2009 Total Attendance: 136184
2008 Total Attendance: 162669
Orender: WRONG (1-4)

Indiana Fever
Venue Capacity: 18345
2009 Average Attendance: 7939
Average Capacity: 43% full
7K Profitability Average: 113.42% (cha ching!)
10K Legitimacy Average: 79.39%
2009 Total Attendance: 134964
2008 Total Attendance: 130941
Orender: CORRECT (2-5)

Los Angeles Sparks
Venue Capacity: 18997
2009 Average Attendance: 10383
Average Capacity: 55% full
7K Profitability Average: 148.33% (cha ching!)
10K Legitimacy Average: 103.83%
2009 Total Attendance: 176507
2008 Total Attendance: 161639
Orender: CORRECT (3-6)

Minnesota Lynx
Venue Capacity: 19006 (Verification needed)
2009 Average Attendance: 7537
Average Capacity: 40% full
7K Profitability Average: 107.67% (cha ching!)
10K Legitimacy Average: 75.37%
2009 Total Attendance: 128127
2008 Total Attendance: 119972
Orender: CORRECT (4-7) – and who says “nobody” goes to Lynx games?

New York Liberty
Venue Capacity: 19763
2009 Average Attendance: 9800
Average Capacity: 50% full
7K Profitability Average: 140% (cha ching!)
10K Legitimacy Average: 98% (Sooo close!)
2009 Total Attendance: 166604
2008 Total Attendance: 134379
Orender: CORRECT (5-8)

Phoenix Mercury
Venue Capacity: 18422
2009 Average Attendance: 8523
Average Capacity: 46% full (need more X Factor)
7K Profitability Average: 121.75% (cha ching!)
10K Legitimacy Average: 83.23% (70% of that is Taurasi and Pondexter)
2009 Total Attendance: 144884
2008 Total Attendance: 144767
Orender: CORRECT (6-9)

Sacramento Monarchs
Venue Capacity: 17317
2009 Average Attendance: 7744
Average Capacity: 45% full
7K Profitability Average: 110.63% (cha ching!)
10K Legitimacy Average: 77.44%
2009 Total Attendance: 131654
2008 Total Attendance: 139066
Orender: WRONG (6-10)

San Antonio Silver Stars
Venue Capacity: 18787
2009 Average Attendance: 7527
Average Capacity: 40% full
7K Profitability Average: 107.53% (cha ching!)
10K Legitimacy Average: 75.27%
2009 Total Attendance: 127957
2008 Total Attendance: 135722
Orender: WRONG (6-11)
NOTE: I was happily a statistic, lending my sole hiney to the home opener against New York.

Seattle Storm
Venue Capacity: 10833 (for WNBA games)
2009 Average Attendance: 7874
Average Capacity: 38% full
7K Profitability Average: 112.49% (cha ching!)
10K Legitimacy Average: 78.74%
2009 Total Attendance: 133858
2008 Total Attendance: 140503
Orender: WRONG (6-12)

Washington Mystics
Venue Capacity: 20173
2009 Average Attendance: 11338
Average Capacity: 56% full
7K Profitability Average: 161.97% (cha ching!)
10K Legitimacy Average: 113.38% (2 Legit! 2 Legit 2 Quit!)
2009 Total Attendance: 192747
2008 Total Attendance: 154637
Orender: CORRECT (7-13)

Key learnings:

  • I suspect Donna Orender lumped all of the attendance numbers together, compared the wad to last year’s One Big Number, and declared victory. Some teams (WASHINGTON) lifted the tide the way Bill Gates raises “average net worth” when he walks into a train station. Impressive, but overall 7 out of 13 teams had attendance gains over last year.
  • Good grief, do Mystics fans show up, or what?
  • 2009 had one “unprofitable” team (besides the Sky): Connecticut. Last year’s team was Houston. They folded. Might the Sun shine on Tulsa? (I’m thinking “no”, as the house always wins in Uncasville.)
  • I think some teams do something of a disservice by opting to play in “barns”. Detroit is an excellent example, where artificial scarcity could do wonders for attendance stats. And with the real scarcity of money and jobs in Detroit, I understand wanting to anchor the team to the Pistons, but I gather that fans are opting to save up for the NBA tickets and forgoing the WNBA games. A 30K drop in cumulative attendance is troubling.
  • Speaking of barns, the UIC Pavilion sure isn’t, but I have expressed concern elsewhere that if the Sky can’t fill a 6304-seat venue regularly, what is going to happen at the Rosemont Horizon Allstate Arena? Think of it this way: if you can barely furnish a 2000 square foot home, what would you do if you moved in to an 8000 square foot home? Besides buddy up to a grand piano wholesaler?
  • As for the arbitrary 10K attendance goalpost, I find it heartening that in one year, the WNBA went from having ZERO “legit” teams to TWO. That means 11 teams have a lot of work to do to achieve arbitrary legitimacy, but how else will the haters get their exercise if they aren’t forced to move the goalposts?

Now: I will close by noting that this statistical exercise is something of a labor of love, but one I do not wish to continue if no benefit is derived from it. Thus: Please let me know if you find this information of value. I’m not asking for money. I just want simple feedback as to your interest in the material. Please leave a comment below or if you wish to email me privately you may go here and click the contact link. Of course, linking from your own site is another way to show me your interest.

Thanks, and now it’s time to put the spreadsheets away and enjoy the playoffs!

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