'We're your partner': Bexar County votes on Spurs 'home' games plan

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There has been an uproar from Spurs Nation over the Silver & Black’s recent announcement of playing “home games” in other markets. Fans are worried this means the team might be considering future relocation out of San Antonio. It’s not unreasonable to think so. The San Antonio Silver Stars of the WNBA and the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League both departed for the Las Vegas area in the last five years.

One argument that’s been used to calm people down is to point out the teams with far less success that haven’t moved yet. Take the Minnesota Timberwolves and New Orleans Pelicans. Both teams made the playoffs this year but have a history of underperforming.  The thinking being that if these franchises haven’t budged, then the one of the winningest ever shouldn’t be going anywhere. 

But how much does that truly matter? Is team success the reason a team would leave or stay? The real crux of the matter is attendance. Attendance means money, and that’s why a team stays or goes from their current market. Take the Chicago Bulls for instance. The team made its first playoff appearance in five years this season, but the Bulls are always at the top of the attendance report, even in the hellish winter. 

The Spurs didn’t have the best 2021-22 season, but they’ve been one of the best teams for the last three decades, and there’s never been talk of playing elsewhere before. So, why now? That got me thinking, we need to figure out how much attendance really matters. Is team success a real indicator of butts in seats. 

I wanted to get a little more data. That way we can see the relationship between the two variables. For this (prepare to get nerdy, like really nerdy), I did a pretty simple regression model with each team in the league, comparing wins to home game attendance. The results of which can be seen below. 

Chart correlating the number of wins for an NBA team against its average attendance for the 2021-22 NBA season.

Chart correlating the number of wins for an NBA team against its average attendance for the 2021-22 NBA season.

Eric Fritts for MySA

(data from ESPN.com)

From what can be gathered by this chart, there appears to be some level of correlation between team success and team attendance. It’s not perfect though. I point out a team like the Los Angeles Lakers because, while they went 33-49 and missed the playoffs, their attendance was solid. On the other side of things, the Washington Wizards went 35-47, but had the worst attendance.  


In order to get a better understanding, it helps to look at the correlation coefficient [r]. For this model the r equals 0.522, meaning that there is a linear trend, but it isn’t all that strong. If r were to equal 1, then that would indicate a perfect relationship between team success and attendance. 

Basically this is all just a fancy way of saying that team success does affect attendance, but not very strongly. Now, this is a relatively small sample size. It’s only one season, and there is a lot of extra noise going on with this data. Some cities are more popular than others, players’ celebrity status also contributes, as does arena entertainment and location. So, how about we look at just San Antonio this year. 

Chart showing the correlation between the Spurs' number of wins between 2003-2022 and the team's average attendance.

Chart showing the correlation between the Spurs’ number of wins between 2003-2022 and the team’s average attendance.

Eric Fritts for MySA

(data from ESPN.com, excludes 2021 season)

Does anything jump out to you here? The 2019-20 and 2021-22 seasons were the only ones with losing records, obviously. The 2020-21 season did not have fans for the most part. But what happened in 2021-22? This past season’s attendance was a historically low 81.8%, the lowest the AT&T Center has ever seen. That’s not not a problem. 

So, what’s going when you run the correlation numbers? The r value on this data is 0.524, roughly the same as the league data for 2021-22, so not a good indicator. Granted this data is probably even noisier than the league data. Firstly, because ESPN’s attendance percentages only go back to 2003, and the Spurs didn’t have any losing seasons until 2020. So, you can’t really say this is a good predictor for attendance because we don’t know how the fan base reacts to losing seasons over time. It’s not a big enough data set to make a real prediction, but we can say that at the very least when the team does well, attendance is pretty good. We just don’t know how much the support will vary when the team doesn’t perform. 

Spurs forward Keldon Johnson (3) drives to the basket against Pelicans guard Trey Murphy III (25) in the first half of a play-in game in New Orleans on Wednesday, April 13, 2022.

Spurs forward Keldon Johnson (3) drives to the basket against Pelicans guard Trey Murphy III (25) in the first half of a play-in game in New Orleans on Wednesday, April 13, 2022.

Gerald Herbert, STF / Associated Press

For example in 2019-20 the team won 32 games and average attendance was 18,350. In the last championship year, 2014, the team won 62 games and average attendance was 18,415. So it’s hard to find a definitive trend. 

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