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WNBA Playoffs Attendance Numbers: Did Seattle Experience the "UConn Effect" in 2011?

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In 2010, the "Storm Crazies" came out in droves to support the Seattle Storm's run to a second WNBA title. But in 2011, the turnout wasn't quite as strong. <em>Photo by <a href="http://www.kailasimages.com" target="new">Kailas Images</a>. </em>
In 2010, the "Storm Crazies" came out in droves to support the Seattle Storm's run to a second WNBA title. But in 2011, the turnout wasn't quite as strong. Photo by Kailas Images.

Last night's crowd of 15,258 in Minnesota got me thinking about WNBA attendance figures and how they stack up within their peers, not just compared to their NBA counterparts.

I always think of the Storm Crazies as well - crazy. Crazy for their team and eager to show support, coming out to KeyArena in droves and droves. During the WNBA regular season the Storm posted 5th best numbers in the league, averaging 8,322 fans. And during their 2010 title run games held in Seattle, the Storm filled the stands with an average of 12,314 fans, including 14,491 per game in the two finals games hosted at Key. The first game of the finals saw an impressive 15,084 pack the place.

In the 2011 postseason, the Storm didn't fare as well either on the court or in the stands. Seattle lost out in the Western Conference Semifinals to nemesis Phoenix, but not before hosting two games. In those two games, attendance was a total of 7,934, including a dismal first Game 1 figure of 7,279. Seattle went from the biggest gainer from regular season to postseason in 2010. After a minor 4% regular season attendance bump for 2011, the Storm Crazies underperformed, at least according to the numbers.

Last year, University of Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma criticized the Husky faithful for not attending "home games" in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, even calling them "a real spoiled group of fans". I didn't hear from Storm coach Brian Agler about the attendance, but I wonder if there's any comparison to be made. Did the "UConn effect" happen in Seattle this season? Were fans expecting too much?

Not to go so far as Geno to use the word spoiled, but perhaps having exceedingly high expectations left people either 1) apathetic to the team when they 'underperformed' in their eyes, actually losing a couple of games throughout the 2011 season or 2) prepared to go to the playoffs in the conference or league Finals rather than the first round. Perhaps it's neither of these two choices and something entirely different. But either way, I do think it deserves a look and some thought.

Here are the numbers comparing the last two seasons for every WNBA playoff team:

WNBA Team

2010 Reg. Season

2010 Playoffs

% Change

2011 Reg. Season

2011 Playoffs

% Change

Minnesota Lynx

7622

-

-

8447

11198.72
(through 4 games)

32.50%

Atlanta Dream

6923

9152.3
(3 games)

32.2

6487

7469.5
(through 3 games)

15.1

New York Liberty

11069

15184.6 (3 games)

37.2

7702

8508 (1 game)

10.5

Indiana Fever

8265

7535
(1 game)

-8.8

8054

8066.25 (4 games)

0.15

Phoenix Mercury

8982

8968.5
(2 games)

-0.15

9167

8986.5 (2 games)

-2

Seattle Storm

8322

12314.25 (4 games)

47.9

8659

7934 (2 games)

-8.4

San Antonio Silver Stars

8041

6763
(1 game)

-15.9

8751

7023 (1 game)

-19.7

Washington Mystics

9357

10322
(1 game)

10.3

10449

-

-

LA Sparks

9468

8326
(1 game)

-12.1

10316

-

-

 

As is very clear to see, Seattle isn't the only one that should be considering their numbers. There are a few other organizations that might benefit from taking a deeper look.

The San Antonio Silver Stars have shockingly dismal comparisons between their regular season and postseason numbers. In speaking with a friend about the drastic decline, the only argument that I could throw even a little support towards is the football factor.

Texas is crazy for every level of the sport, a fact that is undisputed. In 2011, the Silver Stars played on a Sunday at 4 p.m. Local time. Houston played in Miami, with the game kicking off at 3:15 p.m.. Dallas was also out of town at San Francisco in a 3:05 p.m. contest. So as for actually attending a football game instead of a basketball game, there wasn't a draw. And as for competition level, with all apologies to Nate, these aren't traditionally banner matchups. But perhaps some folks stayed home tv of the gridiron trumped live action on the hardwood.

In 2010, San Antonio and Phoenix played on Saturday, Aug. 28 at 1 p.m. While my friend suggested college football was the 2010 trump, the season didn't start until September 2nd. So then what? How can the numbers be so very far apart? I don't have an answer, and maybe football does play some role. But just how much? The sample size in both instances is very small, so perhaps that is a contributing factor as well, but the San Antonio playoff downturn is head scratching, nonetheless.

The Los Angeles Sparks saw a decent-sized drop in 2010 of 12.1%. My first thought was perhaps it was due to the competition. Since Seattle was nearly unbeatable, maybe the Sparks crowd didn't feel the need to go to the Staples Center to see a loss? That's the only thing I could come up with.

The Phoenix Mercury puzzles me. Why would a team that was defending their title show no growth at all in 2010? The same thought pattern that was used for LA might work here. The Merc played the world beaters. However, I still think this is an interesting anomaly, particularly due to the fact that the playoff attendance in 2011 was also a slight loss. There are other competing sports in play in Arizona, with the Cardinals and Diamondbacks, so perhaps like San Antonio the focus of the usual fan base has shifted sports by the time the WNBA playoffs have arrived. Either way, no growth was not what I expected from the Phoenix fan base.

The Indiana Fever experienced a numbers recess in 2010 but a negligible bump in 2011. Perhaps the Catchings factor is to credit for the rise, as everyone loves to root for an MVP, right?

There are certainly positive numbers to be seen as well, however. The New York Liberty had a great playoff bump in 2010 before moving to New Jersey. Everyone and their puppy dog has been vocal about the problems with the move and the logistics of traveling to The Rock, and the overall attendance decline show that. However, the playoff bump, while smaller, was still very present even from Jersey. And let's not forget that New York is also playing football and baseball right now, similar to Phoenix, with no ill effects shown in these figures.

And now back to the sentiment that everyone likes an MVP, everyone really likes a winner, as can be evidenced from the Atlanta Dream and Minnesota Lynx. In both 2010 and 2011, the eventual participants in the Finals have experienced great numbers bumps. This year's teams still have the potential to boost their numbers even more as the series progresses. And with the Lynx starting out the series with their second-highest attendance in franchise history, I'm expecting Minnesota to rival Seattle not only in the numbers game, but also potentially in the trophy taking.