Despite the television cameras doing their best to keep the focus on the court and not the surrounding seats, the lack of fan attendance at the Palace of Auburn Hills has become one of the major story lines in the first half of the season. The Pistons are tied for second worst in the league with an average attendance of 13,531 fans per game. In the team's last seven home games while posting a successful 5-2 record, Palace attendance has jumped to a 15,313 average over the course of those seven games. A number that would only rank 23rd in the NBA were it relevant beyond the seven game sample size. Still, the Pistons have been selected to take on the New York Knicks in what truly is a world-stage showcase, playing at London's O2 Arena on Thursday in the NBA's London Live 2013.
The reason the NBA is bringing its product to an area outside of North America is no mystery. The league has been a global sensation since "His Airness" and the 1992 Dream Team took the Barcelona Olympics by storm, and this game between the Pistons and Knicks is just another example of the NBA's desire to keep their strong international foothold in place. But does this single game have the ability to help the Pistons regain a foothold in their own Metro-Detroit community?
The last time the NBA took regular season games outside the North American boundary was March 2011. Two games were played between the New Jersey Nets and the Toronto Raptors in London's O2 Arena, both games were sell-outs despite neither team being a playoff contender. If either team had hoped that their two game, world-stage showcase would energize their respective fan bases, their home games played immediately after the London showcase proved otherwise.
For Toronto, their four home games leading up to the London trip saw the average attendance settle at 17,160 fans per game. Toronto's first four home games after the trip saw the average attendance drop to 15,931 fans. Toronto ended up averaging 16,566 fans per game for the season. The first four home games after the London trip for the New Jersey Nets saw the average attendance jump to 17,321 fans before bottoming back to their 14,179 season average.
The outcome of an individual game, win or lose, is usually irrelevant to either an abundance or depletion of fan attendance. The location of that individual game is even more irrelevant. What brings fans to the arena is team success, and that's the point here.
Any season ticket holder hoping that the Pistons trip to London will stir a sleeping Metro-Detroit fan base that's been hitting the snooze button since the team traded Chauncey Billups should cross their toes along with their fingers. While this single game might do something for the NBA's global image, it likely won't do much for those dusty seats at the Palace of Auburn Hills. With an 8:00 pm tip-off time in London and 3:00 pm start time in Detroit, it's clear that the hometown fan base is taking a backseat to the Londoners. That's okay though, because this game is about promoting the NBA brand, not the individual teams playing.
There will be highlights of the game on ESPN, and NBATV will undoubtedly replay the game later in the evening, but with nearly all of Metro-Detroit sitting in their cubicles for the game's entirity the Pistons ticket window won't benefit from having their fans experience the game on live television. Many fans will unknowingly treat the game as nothing more than another box score result in the paper, completely overlooking the fact that the game was played in London.
If the Pistons win they'll have 15 wins this season, if they lose they'll have 25 losses. Either way, to the fans unable to watch the London game, the Pistons will still have the look of a team that isn't ready for the Eastern Conference Playoffs, and therefore a team not worth the box office ticket price.
The Pistons will take on the New York Knicks on Thursday, January 17th in London, England. The game can be seen on NBATV at 3:00 PM.Tags: Basketball, Detroit, Detroit Pistons, NBA
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