Of all the second fiddles in entertainment, none are as secondary to the main attraction as the Los Angeles Clippers, who share Staples Center with the Los Angeles Lakers. Perhaps with that lower status in mind, the Clippers announced recently they won’t raise ticket prices for the 2011-12 season — presuming one happens, of course — despite a rare buzz surrounding the team.
The Clippers missed the playoffs for the fifth straight season last year, when their 32-50 record left them 14 games out of the final postseason spot in the Western Conference. But there’s excitement about the future of the Clippers thanks to power forward Blake Griffin, who was a — pardon the pun — slam dunk choice as the Rookie of the Year after averaging 22.5 points and 12.1 rebounds per game and earning a spot on the All-Star team. Griffin also won the slam dunk contest at the All-Star Game by hurtling a car on his decisive dunk and has become a popular pitchman for companies such as Subway, EA Sports and AT&T.
Griffin’s presence helped the Clippers average almost 1,400 fans more per game last season (17,742) than in 2009-10 (16,343) at the 19,060-seat Staples Center. The Clippers ranked 13th overall in the NBA in attendance, and the only team in the top 12 with a worse record was the Cleveland Cavaliers, who sold season tickets long before LeBron James took his talents to South Beach. Both the average attendance and overall ranking were the Clippers’ best since the 2006-07 season, the year after they won 47 games (their most since moving to Los Angeles) and reached the seventh game of the Western Conference semifinals.
Those who want to buy season tickets to see Griffin in action should the NBA exist in 2011-12 will pay between $396 and $48,400 per seat, the same figures as each of the previous three seasons. The average ticket price will remain $51.47, which, as of 2009-10, was almost half the average price of a Lakers’ ticket ($95.25) according to the Team Marketing Research fan cost index report.
In a 2011-12 season ticket brochure obtained by ESPNLosAngeles.com, the Clippers indicated they held the line on tickets in order to reward the longest-suffering fans in basketball, if not all of professional sports. “The Clippers have been discovered. The buzz about this young, talented team has spread like wildfire. Like all true Clippers fans, you just smile. As a season ticket holder you’ve experienced it all first hand.”
Most of what Clippers fans have experienced is misery. While the Lakers have won 16 National Basketball Association championships — including five since the turn of the century — and reached the playoffs an almost incomprehensible 58 times in 63 seasons, the Clippers have never gotten beyond the conference semifinals in their seven visits to the playoffs in 41 seasons spread out over three different cities.
The Clippers’ greatest burst of success occurred a country away in the mid-1970s, when, as the Buffalo Braves, they set franchise records by recording three straight winning seasons and reaching the Eastern Conference semifinals three consecutive times. Since then, the Clippers have bounced from Buffalo to San Diego to Los Angeles and finished better than .500 a grand total of three times. They’ve recorded fewer than 20 wins in a season seven times in that span.