Despite losses, Orlando Magic seeing attendance rise

The Orlando Magic have not had the season they expected. Despite the losses, Magic attendance has held steady this year even among concerns of fan apathy.

There is a common thread of complaints among Orlando Magic fans. And it is a more-than-deserved complaint and reality.

The Magic are in the worst five-year run in franchise history. There are no all stars drawing fans in. And the future is murky rather than hopeful.

Yet, the calls have inevitably gone out. The advertisements will be up in the Amway Center soon too. It will be time to renew season tickets. And longtime fans will have to make a decision on how to spend their entertainment dollar.

It is easy to forget this part — especially when fandom focuses so much on the big picture and one day becoming a champion. Sometimes a short-term goal — like making the Playoffs — is an end in itself to placate those who spend their money on the game experience each night.

The Magic’s franchise-long four-year playoff drought certainly played a role in the Magic’s decision to push in for free agents last year at the trade deadline and do a roster turnover that brought in veterans, traded out fan-favorite Victor Oladipo for Serge Ibaka and made the Playoffs-as-goal a public decree.

There was real hope for this season. The Magic reached 35 wins last year. An injection of veterans and the possibilities of having players supposedly elite defensively brought with it optimism. It would be a long and tough road, but the Magic could make the Playoffs.

That has not happened. Instead, this is one of the most disappointing and frustrating seasons in the Magic’s entire history.

And the last four years have come at the worst time for the Magic. Orlando City has come onto the scene at this moment and captured the city’s imagination and enthusiasm. The Magic are at their lowest when another team has taken the narrative in the city.

There is a sense of apathy about the Magic undoubtedly.

It probably is not felt among the readers of sites like these. To read a Web site like Orlando Magic Daily means you are seeking out Orlando Magic information. More than likely, you are following the team win or lose (which we really do appreciate).

Outside of our bubble, we are the minority of fans. The majority of fans are spending their entertainment budget to go to Amway Center for a game. And much of the frustration I hear about the team’s lack of significant, tangible progress comes down to an economic argument.

And it is a fair one that no one can argue — even if they are in it for the long haul and still see the big picture.

So it seems every year, as the Magic fade out of the Playoffs, Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel comes out with his “observation” that no one is watching Magic games at local sports bars. It is hard to find the Magic game on TV (never mind the Magic have held more regular “watch parties” this year including one at Gator’s Dockside in Dr. Phillips during Saturday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks).

Bianchi asked last week: “Does Orlando care about the Magic?” And his unscientific poll of 584 total votes found a nearly even one-third split between “Very interested,” “Some interest” and “no interest.”

I will agree with Bianchi on one observational point, I have interacted with more fans who are giving up their season tickets than ever before. There are a lot of fans who are tired of seeing a losing team and do not see much hope for the future. Going to games is no longer worht the investment.

The Magic are not seeing this at the gate, though. At least by the attendance (often inflated) figure they release publicly.

Through 25 home games, the Magic are averaging 17,908 fans per game, according to Basketball-Reference. That is roughly 95 percent capacity per game. Their total attendance to this point in the season is 16th in the NBA.

In the previous four years of the rebuild, the Magic and Amway Center ranked 15th, 23rd, 23rd and 17th in total attendance. Some of the new arena smell and general support for the team remained in that first year. But the Magic have generally struggled to fill the Amway Center throughout the five years compared to the rest of the league. That is expected when a team is struggling to compete.

Last year, Orlando averaged 17,543 fans per game (roughly 93.1 percent capacity per game).

Obviously, the paid attendance numbers are a bit fudged. Teams tend to inflate the numbers listed on the box scores as the attendance. The gate attendance numbers usually come in lower thanks to no-shows.

This year, there is an element that is slightly different. The Magic have sold out 11 games (assuming capacity is 18,846 as listed on Wikipedia) already this season. That includes three games where attendance went over capacity and beyond 19,000 fans.

The Magic had three of the largest crowds they have ever had in Amway Center history. Opening night against the Miami Heat certainly brought with it excitement and optimism for the rest of the season. But large crowds for the Houston Rockets and Milwaukee Bucks suggest something more than curiosity.

Of course, the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers still draw. And the Magic have yet to play the Cleveland Cavaliers at home and still have home games against the New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat. Not to mention Joel Embiid has yet to step foot in Amway Center in a Philadelphia 76ers uniform (he still may not Thursday considering the Sixers are on a back to back that game).

At least by the imperfect measure of listed attendance, the Magic are seeing attendance go up from last year.

Perhaps that is still remnants of offseason optimism. The real test will be whether the team sees fans renew season tickets at the same rate as years past and whether attendance keeps up next year with such an uncertain future.

Magic CEO Alex Martins is likely to tell the press at some point the Magic are still selling season tickets and retaining corporate sponsorships at record rates. Any drop in attendance or television ratings are expected considering the team’s record and struggles.

Ultimately performance on the court drives these metrics of attendance and interest. And that will be how the team is ultimately judged.

Magic fans have never had to go through a losing streak this long. This is the lowest point and worst stretch in Magic history. And so there is expectedly plenty of frustration.

The Magic do seem to know this and seem to have tried to speed things up to placate impatient fans (as much as their own impatience). And that attempt has fallen flat. Now the question becomes how do the Magic get fans to care more on a personal level.

That answer to that is simple: Win.

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