How Are Fans Responding to the Celtics?
With an early season attendance slump and promotional nights aplenty, the Celtics of present aren’t too unlike the Celtics of past. Really.
We’re more than one-third of the way through the NBA season, and the Celtics are both firmly below .500 and firmly in playoff contention in the Eastern Conference. Given the rare circumstances and the team’s track record of success, it’s fair to wonder how fans are responding to the C’s early season performance.
For clues, look no further than home attendance numbers—and the marketing strategies the team puts in place to get warm bodies inside TD Garden.
As compiled by ESPN.com, Boston’s attendance numbers are down from an average of 18,624 fans per game a season ago to roughly 17,800 per game—a shade below 96 percent of the TD Garden capacity—through 15 home games this season. For context, the Celtics rank 11th in the league, just ahead of the Brooklyn Nets in percent attendance, and the team hasn’t finished outside the top 10 since the 2006-2007 season.
But a number of factors have contributed to the dip in ticket sales so far, including a typical lull in attendance during the first half of the season, according to Celtics’ Team President Rich Gotham. “Early season games are historically more difficult to sell out, and our strength of schedule improves significantly beginning in January with more marquee teams visiting,” Gotham wrote via email.
Minimal expectations exacerbated by Rajon Rondo’s injury and a roster overhaul, which included the departure of coach Doc Rivers and the trades of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, left fans with a team of unfamiliar players and an unproven rookie head coach. “I think the team didn’t have much of an identity heading into the season, but now that fans are more familiar with the new players, our style of play and competitiveness attendance will increase,” Gotham wrote.
In addition to the expected surge in attendance as the fan base acclimates to the team, the Celtics are using a variety of different strategies to boost attendance. The team has attempted to draw fans by using promotional events such as girls’ and guys’ nights out, “New England” night, career fairs, networking nights, and more. According to Gotham, promotional events are most effective for attracting “folks who may not have been out to games in recent years because we were sold out and tickets were difficult to come by.”
“Much of what we’re doing is similar to past seasons, but we’ve made a concerted effort to reach out to new audiences this season,” Gotham wrote.
Entering 2014, Gotham expects attendance to rise without as much help from promotional efforts as “NBA basketball and the Celtics naturally have more organic demand and mindshare.”
Of course, as the Celtics play a tougher schedule—the C’s have faced the seventh-easiest slate of opponents to date—but they may also fall in the standings, which could decrease rather than increase attendance numbers. Furthermore, as rumors circulate about deals the Celtics might make, fans will once again have to prepare for the likelihood that the roster—which should include a healthy Rajon Rondo at some point, though not necessarily soon—could be in a constant state of flux, as the team weighs the costs of competing for a playoff spot in a weak Eastern Conference and tossing their hat into the NBA lottery.
Regardless of record, Gotham and the organization will continue to measure the tendencies of fans in order to maximize attendance.
“Our goal is to always run a strong business independent of the ups and downs of a long season and the team’s winning percentage at any particular moment in time,” he wrote. “That said, we keep our finger on the pulse of market demand and adapt our strategies accordingly.”
How those strategies change throughout the remainder of the season will be closely tied to the brand of basketball the Celtics play and their relative success this season, whether it’s highlighted by a guys’ night out or, better yet, a postseason appearance.