Orlando Magic fans among NBA’s most loyal, statistically

Oct 26, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic mascot, Stuff, before the game at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 26, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic mascot, Stuff, before the game at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

A recent study rated NBA fan bases loyalty based on how attendance correlates with winning. Despite an up and down 26 years, Orlando Magic fans have remained among the NBA’s “most loyal.”

The NBA fan experience is a strange one. There are plenty who wish NBA fans shared the same passion you see at the college level. Very few basketball arenas have the atmosphere before the Playoffs of an engaged fan base.

The NBA is a business first and foremost. And there would seemingly be a smart correlation between attendance and winning. Teams that struggle to win are going to have a tough time selling their product.

That might ultimately suggest who has good fans. The fans who show up when the team is bad. And that is a difficult thing to measure.

On Tuesday, Nicholas Heath of Harvard Sports Analysis published a study of fan loyalty in the NBA.

For his study, Heath calculated the correlation between winning percentage and attendance percentages of NBA teams since the 1992 season. The fan bases that showed up regardless of winning percentage, the franchises with the lowest correlation coefficients, rated as the “most loyal.”

"To assess fanbase loyalty, I examine how stadium attendance responds to a team’s performance. In theory, a perfectly loyal fanbase’s attendance remains relatively constant from year to year regardless of the team’s performance. More colloquially, fans will stick with their team “through thick and thin.” Conversely, disloyal, “fair-weather” fans will show up to games only when their team is doing well and disappear when their team is underperforming. To quantify this relationship, for each NBA team I calculate the correlation between win percentage and attendance for as far back as the team has remained in its current stadium for every season dating back to the 1991-1992 season."

His article displayed a series of graphs showing the correlation between win percentage and stadium attendance. His numbers suggest the Dallas Mavericks have the most loyal fans, sticking with the team through their solid run of the last decade, including a title in 2012, and some of the team’s struggles recently. Surprisingly, the New Orleans Pelicans finished second.

Because the Orlando Magic (also the Brooklyn Nets and Oklahoma City Thunder, among others) recently relocated to a new arena, Heath omitted them from the study. The Magic’s sample size at the Amway Center was too small.

Still there is something to learn. So we decided to run the numbers ourselves.

Orlando Magic Attendance Chart
Orlando Magic Attendance Chart /

The Magic’s coefficient since the 1992 season, notably the year the team drafted Shaquille O’Neal, turned out to be .4354, good for ninth place among the numbers Heath compiled.

But since moving to the Amway Center in 2010 (Year 18 in the chart above), the correlation is .8543, significantly worse albeit over a small sample. If that correlation was for the full 26-year sample, it would have ranked worst in the NBA by a considerable margin.

It is important to note that attendance figures in the NBA are not an exact science. They are often miscalculated or embellished. Announced attendance is often inflated. The Magic set an Amway Center record for attendance during the final game this year. It was hard to believe that game was the record setter.

But they are accurate enough to use as general indicators.

The Magic’s attendance was lowest in the early and mid-2000’s, right before the team drafted Dwight Howard was drafted, and best during the deep playoff runs in the mid-1990’s, late 2000’s and . . . right now.

Attendance dipped after Howard’s departure but has been steadily climbing ever since.

Last year’s total attendance of 727,875, according to Basketball-Reference, was the franchise’s highest since 2011 and its third-highest all time despite the team’s futile 29-win campaign. The Magic drew more fans only in the 1996 and 2011 seasons, the first in the Amway Center.

The Magic this year boasted its highest average attendance (17,753) of the past five seasons and reported 14 sellouts, including four of the six largest crowds at the Amway Center.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Although this is only one way to measure loyalty, it indicates Magic fans might be less “fair-weather” than even those of the San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors and plenty of other historically elite teams.

Heath’s article also notes attendance can be biased by “city size, mean city income, stadium location, the presence of a superstar” among other factors. For Magic fans, even a lack of superstars, multiple stadium locations and being a relatively small market have apparently not dissuaded support.

That said, this data does not tell the full story. TV viewership for the Magic was down almost 50 percent midway through the season even with strong attendance figures after spiking last year.

In 2016, TV ratings improved with FOX Sports Florida by 63 percent. In 2015, they also improved substantially, as did attendance. Prior to that, they had dropped in 2013 and 2014.

At first glance, that major downturn might indicate fans find the Amway Center itself more exciting than the actual team. But since the Magic started playing in Amway Center, attendance of Magic games has largely corresponded with winning percentage (besides last season, which appears to be an outlier).

Then again, before the Amway Center opened, attendance of Magic games did not correspond with winning percentage at all. That drop also bucks the trend over the past several years in which TV ratings largely improved in tandem with attendance.

Clearly, there is a lot of noise that comes with this data.

Fan loyalty is hard to define and there are many ways in which it can be measured: jersey sales, season ticket sales, attendance, TV ratings, loudness of an arena, etc. This number is just one way to look at it,. But it appears Magic fans in the past 26 years have wanted to come support their team.

Overall, this indicates a fan base that is hungry for winning. As we saw last season, Magic diehards are desperate for something to cheer for.

Next: LeBron James' dominance magnifies Orlando Magic's inconsistency

Hopefully Orlando will get that sooner than later.