Through the confluence of circumstance, the same week I finish reading a book about escaping – from war, poverty, societal constraints – I was also presented with data about the Bobcats’ influence on ticket prices, when arriving in cities as the visiting team.
In The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, comic books represent a literal avenue of escape from their station in life for the titular heroes, but also provides them the figurative escape of the engrossment a captivating story can provide – giving them the cathartic release of battling Nazis and saving their kindred from atrocities, allowing them to temporarily forget the impotence of their anguish before the U.S. entered the war. The story eventually comes to discuss the eventual public outcry against comics and their impact on children – the ability to escape into them is being raised by some as an immoral activity, though the narrator sees nothing greater than allowing people a temporary respite from the sometimes horribleness of life.
Following professional sports is a similar activity – an opportunity to escape from the tedium of day to day life. Investment of passion and energy in cheering, following, and reflecting on the activities of individuals who are only slightly more real to us than those presented in the pages of comics. I’ll admit that I tried to craft player – superhero pairings after finishing the book: LeBron James as Superman, Kevin Durant as Mr. Fantastic, and maybe Steve Nash or Manu Ginobili as The Escapist. We have some knowledge of backstories for these giants of the league, and their talents seem to border on the superhuman – it’s an ideal pairing of entertainment vehicles, as I remember collecting basketball cards in my younger days with Larry Bird and Michael Jordan cast as superheroes, and more recently with ESPN doing their season preview using Marvel-inspired covers just a few years ago.
However, just as there are some comic book titles with a higher circulation than others, certain teams are more engaging than others. I was provided by a report from VividSeats.com showing the impact of the road team on ticket prices around the league. Despite the Bobcats showing improvement over the last year and a half, with playoff contention a goal so soon after setting the NBA’s record for worst winning percentage in a season, interest in seeing this team remains low around the country. The Bobcats’ presence has led to the worst impact on ticket prices as the visiting team in the league, with prices dropping by 36% when they come to town.
This may be partly explained by playing style and personnel. The Bobcats continue to play at a relatively slow pace, which tends to be less exciting for fans. I’ve often wondered if a team’s drawing power would be improved if they played at a faster pace, despite a slightly worse record. Additionally, the Bobcats improvement has largely come on the strength of their defense, with the offense remaining a work in progress. Like pace, it would seem a level of excitement is instilled in fans from a high-scoring (and preferably high-efficiency) offense. Consider the Warriors with Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry – a league-pass favorite among NBA fans, seemingly above their middle of the pack record.
Most of all though, drawing power as a visitor appears to be based on history and the leading man. Miami and LeBron James. Oklahoma City and Kevin Durant. The Lakers and Kobe. Fans flock to the arena to cheer their team to victory against these giants, or just to admire and awe at the greats of the league and their incredible exploits – just consider the gasps and cheers when Blake Griffin and the Clippers come to Time Warner Cable Arena, and this man who seems nearly capable of flight launches. These players bring people to stadiums for the opportunity to be part of the tales shared with future generations. The history of some teams is enough to create drawing power – the Celtics and Bulls draw fans (for this year at least) based on the rich tradition they represent, rather than current, elite results (get healthy, Derrick Rose).
At this point in their short history, the Bobcats have no one coming out to the stadium to root for historical greatness or even relevance. A young franchise with a young roster, Charlotte may bring out some with nostalgia as they return to the Hornets name next season, but for now, the Bobcats do not draw on their name. And the Bobcats have no headlining player, deemed worthy of headlining a blockbuster – recent draft picks have been more Robins, rather than Batmans.
For people looking for an escape, all of these things combine to cast the Bobcats as less an escape from reality, but more as a reflection of everyday life: Mediocrity and banality that too many know too well.