Thunder fans received kudos nationwide for supporting their new NBA team. Rightfully so. Oklahoma City finished third in full season tickets sold, was ninth in percentage of seats sold (97.7), ranked 10th in ticket revenue generated ($46.0 million) and was 11th in overall attendance (18,704).
But "packing the Ford Center” is misleading. According to NBA turnstile counts published recently on CBSSports.com, Oklahoma City finished 16th in "actual attendance” out of 30 teams. According to NBA turnstile counts, the Thunder averaged 14,415 fans a game. That’s one area the Thunder should improve. One reason why — when the league released the 2009-10 schedule, the Thunder has 22 weekend home games compared to 16 last season. Last season, there were zero Saturday home games. This season, there will be three. The Ford Center will host nine Friday games and 10 Sunday games. "We feel the combination of more weekend games, and a second season of experience with the frequency of games, should mean better use of tickets by season ticket members,” said the Thunder’s Brian Byrnes, senior vice president of sales and services. Many fans don’t realize that box score attendance figures aren’t actual fans at the game but are based on tickets sold and complimentary tickets supplied to the NBA, players, coaches and community groups. Before anyone overreacts, all teams have thousands of no-shows. The Los Angeles Lakers led the league with 92.2 percent of seats filled. Only three other teams (Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics) averaged 90 percent or better. Oklahoma City was 77.4 percent. Also noteworthy: Less than 5,000 fans attended the Jan. 26 game with the New Jersey Nets due to an ice storm, or the Thunder would have finished two spots higher in actual attendance, closer to 15,000. Three NBA teams didn’t average 10,000 in actual attendance. Five playoff teams — the New Orleans Hornets, Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers and the Atlanta Hawks — averaged less than 14,000 in actual attendance. Atlanta handed out a league-high 5,616 complimentary tickets, a strategy most teams use, hoping fans will spend money on food, souvenirs and parking. The Thunder actually was on the low end in comp tickets (less than 2,000). The bottom line: Oklahoma City team chairman Clay Bennett and his ownership group flourished where it counted most — money generated. The Sonics produced only $18.8 million in ticket revenue their final season in Seattle.