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In 2017-18, Nets' Brooklyn attendance ticked down slightly; Islanders' crowd dropped 8.4%, to 12,002, last in NHL; won't help bond rating

With the regular NBA and NHL seasons over, and no playoffs for either the Brooklyn Nets (28-53) or New York Islanders (35-37-10, though they had seemed playoff-bound earlier in the year), let's take a look at the announced attendance figures. (Remember, official attendance always exceeds gate count.)

The Islanders this past season experienced an 8.4% drop, to a league low of 12,002 (per ESPN), last in the 31-team league, as the team struggled and the owners announced plans to build a new arena at Belmont Park. That's a more than twice the percentage drop in the previous year. In the previous two years, the Islanders were 28th in a 30-team league.

The Nets-- though second-to-last in league attendance, dropping one notch in each of the past two years--are a different story. According to ESPN figures--which I don't find accurate, explained below--the Nets have experienced a slight but steady uptick over the last three years, reaching an average home attendance of 15,556, still 29th in the 30-team league.

By my calculation, the average "home game" attendance this past season was actually 15,610, not 15,556, but if the two well-attended "home games" at the big Mexico City arena were subtracted, the Brooklyn average would be 15,376. That would indicate a slight dip from last year's 15,429, but up from the 2015-16 figure of 15,125.

In transition--and straining the bottom line

Still, the Nets are rebuilding and the Islanders have encountered uncertainty, both with the home and their performance. No wonder the Barclays Center operators--who also operate the Nassau Coliseum, which lacks an anchor tenant--pushed for the team to return for at least 60 games over the next three seasons: 12 next year, and 24 the next two, all while the new Belmont arena is being built. (I think some pre-season games will be extra.)

We won't see how this translates into financial results for a while, but this low attendance, I suspect, further confirms the negative outlook ratings agency Moody's offered last October on arena bonds, warning the rating could fall to junk. Moody's cited payment obligations from the arena to the team, "coupled with lower revenues stemming from attendance related underperformance for the Islanders."

Beyond that, Standard & Poor's just last week offered a negative outlook on the arena bonds, suggesting that a revision to the Nets licensing agreement jeopardized arena revenues. (Here's my coverage of both ratings agencies' actions.)

So the bond rating faces multiple pressures: the poor performance of the Islanders (and the need to fill dates); less revenue from the Nets; and poor team performance, leading to no playoff games. For Madison Square Garden, Crain's New York Business suggested, each missing playoff game meant $2.3 million in lost revenue. I'm sure the sum is less in Brooklyn, but still significant.

The Nets

Though the Nets are not a very good team, and some key players have been injured, fans seem to respect the roster rebuild. Also, as former Nets coach, and former broadcaster/player Butch Beard recently told the Times, "The one thing you can't say or write any more is that the arena isn't worth a damn--I love watching games at Barclays." (Presumably, he's not in the nosebleed seats.)

Moreover, there's a general Brooklyn interest in basketball, especially when the Nets play strong teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, and Boston Celtics. That said, NBA attendance has increased all around, and the Nets' rank in the 30-team league, over the last three years, has dropped from 27th to 28th to 29th.

From 2016 report to bond buyers
Three years ago, the Nets' attendance was at a low, plummeting from three strong years out of the gate, as shown in the graphic at right, as I reported in August 2016, citing a market study associated with the refinancing of arena bonds.

Early on, the team was not only a novelty, it was strong enough to reach the playoffs--though owner Mikhail Prokhorov overplayed his hand, overpaying for aging stars while aiming for a promised championship.

Note that, according to my analysis of the market study, the announced 2015-16 attendance of 15,125 translated into a gate count of 11,622, 23.2% less than the official figure. It's not clear whether that gap between official attendance and gate count persists, but I suspect that a better team draws more people to use the tickets purchased or distributed.

Doing the Nets' math

It doesn't make sense for the Nets to average more fans this season but attract fewer total attendees, compared to last year. After all, the 622,278 reported attendees divided by 41 games comes out to 15,177.5; divide by 40 and it's 15,556.95, which is pretty much the number ESPN reported. Perhaps they left out a game?

So I tried to look at the numbers. According to Basketball Reference figures--and recognizing there may not be a definitive source of statistics yet, total attendance was not 622,278 but 640,010, as I've calculated (Mexico City games in bold):
October: 16144+13917+17732+14854+12936=75583
November: 17732+14495+17732+15246=65205
December: 13949+20562+19777+14515+17732+13934+13179+15589=129237
January: 16164+16215+17732+13681+13457+17732+15425+17732+15577=143715
February: 17732+14392+15064+16572+13735+13159+15081=105735
March: 16901+16654+13877+12856+10231+17732=88251
April: 16097+16187=32284
Totals: 75583+65205+129237+143715+105735+88251+32284=640010
Home average: 640010/41 = 15,610
Brooklyn average, subtracting Mexico City: 640010-20562-19777= 599671; 599671/39 games = 15,376

(Also, ESPN reported the 11/14/17 Celtics game as drawing 12936, which was actually the attendance of the previous Suns gameBasketball Reference had it as a 17732 sellout. So that's a 4796 difference.)

Below are the figures via ESPN.

Nets attendance, 2017-18: 15,556*

Nets attendance, 2016-17: 15,429 

Nets attendance, 2015-16: 15,125

The Islanders

The Islanders have talent but the team has performed disappointingly, and questions swirl around the future of star John Tavares, a free agent. The arena's a poor fit for hockey, given obstructed-view seats and an off-center scoreboard; also, Barclays Center operators, who have alienated some fans by messing with traditions. Even NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is now saying the arena was a bad fit, according to Newsday.

There's clearly an estrangement between Barclays, responsible for marketing the team, and the historic fan base, as well as an inability to grow the fan base in a not-so-hockey-crazy area.

Over the next three seasons, the estrangement should continue, given that the Islanders will gravitate toward the slightly upgraded Nassau Coliseum. Will that help concentrate patronage at Barclays?

Note that the announced 13,626 attendance in 2015-16 meant a gate count average of 11,200 fans per game, which is 2,700 fewer people than announced, or a 19.4% drop, as reported in that market study.

Islanders attendance, 2017-18: 12,002

Islanders attendance, 2016-17: 13,101

Islanders attendance, 2015-16, 13,626