Do fans matter?

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Should owners and GMs take fans into consideration, when making decisions?

The then-Florida Marlins won the World Series in 1997 and 2003. If you look at their home attendance figures, it's not surprising that there are four peaks: In 1993, when they appeared, 1997 through 1998 and 2003 through 2004. Then, 2012, when they debuted a new stadium. Besides that, craters.

Of course, the Marlins have, and have basically always had, an attendance problem. 1993, 1994, and 1997 were the only years that they had better than the average for NL attendance and 1993 and 1994 were the only years they had 30k + fans per game---only 1997 and 2012 had more than 24 k, besides that.

But still, the numbers make an impression. Interest in baseball fluctuates, but average attendance tends to be around 30k a game. The Marlins had 21, 565 per game in 1996, 29,190 in 1997, back down to 21,363 in 1998. Numbers in the teens for five straight years, then 22k in 2004, 22,792 in 2005, 14,384 in 2006.

Didn't climb over 19 again till 2012, when they opened a new ballpark and made it nearly up to the middle of the pack, 27k, 18th in the league. Then they dismantled what was promising about that core. The Marlins have the second worst attendance in the league, this season.

The reason this is remotely interesting is that the problem with the Marlins is a greatly exaggerated version of what happened to the Mavericks. The Marlins have this habit of dismantling completely after championship runs, which has made them into a truly bizarre baseball statistic: They're the only team that I can think of to have won the championship every time they made the playoffs. Which is twice. Last year, they went ahead and dumped most of a promising core without ever winning anything. Ahead of the curve.

The problem with the Marlins, of course, is a greatly exaggerated version of the problem with the Mavericks: They dismantled completely after their championship runs. The Mavericks absolutely did NOT do this. They didn't have a firesale. And especially, and this is important, they didn't do it because the owner didn't want to pay. It was a strategic move in the hopes of winning more games, and we don't need to talk about that.

What we need to talk about are decisions to come. On that note, it's not the first set of numbers that should concern the Mavericks. It's the second. That fan interest peaks in championship years is not surprising, that it craters when you get rid of the guys people were coming to root for isn't either.

But 22k per game, the average when the Marlins won their second World Series, is not 29k, the average when they won the first one. It's a lot less. Over the course of a full season, it turns out to be the difference between having nearly 100k more fans than the NL average, and having almost a million below average. In fact, it was the 5th worst attendance in MLB that year.

And that's surprising and, if you're a Mavericks fan, disconcerting.

A couple days ago, someone on twitter reposted an old Mark Cuban post, one of his always fascinating ruminations on what he calls "the sport of business". http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/222501 . The point in this post is right on: customers are not really capable of imagining what innovations to a product could be so if you ask them what they want, they're not going to be able to come up with something that's as good as what you can give them.

This is right. If Apple called me in the 90s to ask what they should do to get their business back on track, there's no way I say the iPod. And I've always felt Cubes has a more than usual synergy between his business thinking and his basketball thinking. There are other businessmen in the league who must be as cutthroat as Cuban at the bargaining table, but they don't put their soul into their team the way Cuban does his.

But Dallas has always been a football town. To the extent that it's not, there's another team that's a perennial championship threat (though it doesn't have one), and it's not the Mavericks. Part of the tragedy of the Mavericks is that they tend to miss their opportunities to burst onto the national scene, to the extent that that matters.  You don't have to go far for examples, but for me the most crushing one was Dirk playing like a demon, winning a million games and the MVP, then losing in the first round to the Warriors.

The question is how much fans matter. As the Mavericks continue to tinker, some people are going to keep calling for them to trade Dirk. There's a certain kind of fan who's into it. But it's also the kind of move, like blowing up a championship team, like letting fan favorites like Steve Nash, Tyson Chandler and Jason Terry go that can permanently wound a fanbase.

The Mavericks do NOT have an attendance problem. They've been in the top 6 of average home attendance since they crawled from 14th to 6 in 2002. Even last year, they were second in the league, and they have a sellout streak dating back to Dec 2001. They're not the loudest and most passionate fans, and part of it is chicanery. But there are lots and lots of butts in the seats. So maybe all this is pointless.

But I still think it's an interesting question, and the offseason is a time for interesting questions. Should owners and GMs ever consider what fans want, when making transactions? On the one hand, we fans aren't as smart as the experts about what's possible and how to bring it about. But on the other hand, something we often forget is that sports literally exist to please us, that they have no real importance of any kind.

It feels like it could happen that some of the smart things for the Mavericks to do going forward are also going to be things that are deeply unpopular, and keep the team bad for a while when it could be, at least, watchable. Many people think the Mavs should already have done that. But what if the fans leave, and what if they don't come back?  Does it matter? Or is it full steam ahead, whatever's best for the Mavericks, regardless of who's watching at the end?

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