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Britball.com Front
NBA: Premiership eyeing NBA slump





Mark Woods

Selling tickets isn't easy to do any more. The build-it-and-they-will- come dream may have worked well for Kevin Costner, but ask any club chairman about the problematic approach to luring the public out from in front of their digital box and into a seat in the stands and the answer is sure
to be less optimistic.

It is an uncertain trend in the health of all sports and one which is as equally applicable on the other side of the Atlantic as on our own. Like the Premiership, the National Basketball Association spent most of the
past decade in a state of unparalleled prosperity, a must-see event which could do no wrong. 

Taking a seat in the palatial TD Waterhouse Centre in Orlando this spring, I watched the hometown Magic ride confidently into the play-offs thanks to the emergence of Tracy McGrady, arguably basketball's most
exciting new star. In town were the Toronto Raptors, led by the league's supreme showman Vince Carter, who happens to be McGrady's cousin and love-hate rival.

It should have been a top attraction in a city which carries no other major league franchises. But strikingly, the empty seats dotted around as the Magic head for a significant fiscal deficit this season which has
raised talk of their potential relocation to a more favourable homestead. 
 
While English football's elite are basking in the imminent riches afforded by their new television contract which comes into play next season, the NBA is currently suffering something of a depression as such
financial problems and the value of its future small screen deal screen cast a cloud over its success story of the nineties.
 
And it is not only the small-town clubs which are suffering from this malady. The once-mighty Chicago Bulls were once the hottest ticket in America, the pulling power of Michael Jordan and an unstoppable team creating a bandwagon which sold out every match for 13 years. 

Since the legend's retirement, it has been a different tale. Their streak of maximum capacity ground to an end this term, the 'MJ Factor' which has plagued the entire NBA naturally at its most evident in a
building where season tickets can cost up to £12,000.

"There's no question that our fans have been very patient and loyal as we look to re-build," states Bulls' Executive Vice-President Steve Schanwald told Britball.com. 

"But with each passing year that we don't show light at the end of the tunnel, and give optimism that we aren't heading back to the top of the mountain, it's getting tougher and tougher.

"The process of drawing new fans into your arena is ongoing. League-wide there is a drive to bring people in. It's all about knocking on as many doors as possible, telling them what you can offer and asking for the
order. 

"A few years ago we didn't have to knock on those doors. Now we do."

Premiership crowds have risen 6% this past season but not everywhere has reflected such buoyancy. The symptoms in Chicago perhaps resemble most those of Aston Villa, whose own continued stay among the middle pack has translated into below-capacity crowds in recent seasons. 

It is a problem which they will address next year with lower pricing aimed at attracting younger supporters to the club, a long-term dividend which, it is hoped, will maintain stable foundations.

"Our strategy is now aimed at widening our fan base," admits Villa spokesperson Phil Mepham. "We've done research. People want to be a part of the club rather than just turning up on a Saturday. We felt we could do more than we had done.

The development of Villa's Trinity Road stand will raise the capacity of Villa Park to 43,000 for the start of next season, a development on which the club hopes to capitalise, regardless of results.

"If the team doesn't reach its potential, then with the attendances, there is a disappointment factor," adds Mepham. "Events on the field do either make it easier or more difficult. You can't escape that."

Thus far, NBA playoff attendances have risen 13% over last season. However unless the plummet in television ratings is reversed in tandem, the NBA will be forced to further amend its ways, to compete against the ever- broadening array of alternatives. 

The Premiership should take note of such trends sailing inward on the Atlantic horizon. Popularity and
success are finite. The easy life assuredly cannot last forever.    
 


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