U.S. fandom's love of basketball was borne out in a memorable 2015-16 season that saw a National Basketball Association star retire on a high note—even as his team finished with the worst record in the league.
This past week, as Kobe Bryant exited the game in record-breaking fashion and the Golden State Warriors set a record for the most regular season wins, the NBA shattered attendance records for the second consecutive season. The league said that nearly 22 million fans filled arenas across the country, while setting new records for viewership, social media engagement and team gear purchases.
It's often assumed that the principle behind selling game tickets is relatively simple: A successful team generates more fans, and ticket revenue increases. Yet for the NBA, that formula doesn't always hold up, according to some experts.
Winning by itself is not enough to bring fans to the arena. NBA ticket sales and attendance for some franchises are heavily influenced by the market and marquee players, according to ticket sales site StubHub.
As a result, even some of the worst teams can draw big ticket sales. This means that the Chicago Bulls, a team that just missed the playoffs but features star point guard Derrick Rose, was the top-selling team of the 2016 season. In fact, the Bulls — who have made the playoffs for seven consecutive seasons — have been number one in season attendance for the past decade.
"The NBA has a lot to do with star power; they call it 'the LeBron James effect,' StubHub communication manager Cameron Papp told CNBC recently. Because of that dynamic, winning is not always the most effective way to bring in revenue.
"Anytime he comes to an opposing team's area, sales boost by usually 15 percent," Papp said. "The same thing is starting to happen for the Warriors, whenever they are in town."