When the playoffs series between the Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks starts this weekend, the Mecca (Madison Square Garden) will have 15,000 fans (for what is the New York Knicks’ first playoff series in eight years). New York sports fans have been waiting for a contender in basketball – and even though they have one in the Brooklyn Nets – it is the New York Knicks that have the town abuzz.
What makes the series so special is the return of fans to games. While 15,000 is not quite full capacity – it is enough for the players on both sides to take notice. It is not just happening in New York – but in many cities in the United States – including the biggest state California. With California having three teams in the NBA playoffs (play-in games), online sports betting in California is at a fever pitch.
Why Fans Returning Matters
Not all sports and fans are created equal. We recently lost out on one of the best fanbases in sports when the Raiders relocated from Oakland to Las Vegas. But even the more reserved fanbases help create an advantage – especially during the biggest games and playoffs. The energy they bring makes the games more exciting – even if you are only watching at home.
It also matters for the fans as they have gone over a year without a chance to watch their favourite teams in person. It has been a long year for just about everyone, and getting a chance to go to a game is something thousands, if not millions of people have been looking forward to for a while now.
For other sports, the fans returning is necessary to continue operations. A few months – a year tops – some teams and leagues can survive, but excluding the biggest leagues and competition (such as the UFC), profitability is only possible through having fans in the stands.
Return of Fans Stalled in Canada
Fans are not back everywhere yet – with no fans in the building in Canada for the first round of the NHL playoffs. While Toronto Maple Leaf fans do get some flack these days for being largely a corporate affair, the fact they are playing the Montreal Canadiens in the playoffs for the first time in over 40 years would undoubtedly bring the energy level to Scotiabank Arena.
It is unlikely the Canadian teams have any fans during the postseason – as restrictions are still in place and arguably the place most likely to allow fans (British Columbia) does not have any teams playing in the province right now. It will be interesting to see in Canada if restrictions are lifted in time for the 2021 CFL season – as that league needs the fans to have a chance at operating.
Fans Returning a Sign of Things to Come
While sports have gone on the last year, the return of fans to arenas and stadiums suggests the return of other things to them, such as concerts.
So many concerts have been delayed over the last year, we expect many acts are very much looking forward to returning to venues. Obviously, the money in concert tours comes almost all from people buying tickets (compared to sports which split its revenue from ticket sales and television packages). But, until capacity increased, it was unreasonable for many bands to commit to touring. Now, seeing the Knicks opening the doors to so many fans, we expect the arena will open the doors to concerts by the summer.
Interesting to See How the Players React
It will be interesting to see how the players react to packed arenas and playoff-level intensity. For a year, players have been simply dealing with pumped-in noise and limited to no fans in attendance. Now, with energy to feed off of, player intensity could increase. In a year in the NBA that saw record scoring, we wonder if it will drop off a bit in the playoffs, as players have that extra motivation to hustle on defense
(who wants to get booed in their first NBA playoff game in New York, those fans are unforgiving).