Competitive balance in sport is generally considered an important determinant of an individual’s interest in sporting activities. In this month’s edition of the Journal of Sports Economics, Nalbantis et al examine the impact of fans’ perceptions of suspensefulness on their willingness-to-pay for a single-game ticket for German Bundesliga club, Stuttgart F.C. Furthermore, the authors explore whether competitive balance influences monetary decisions of supporters. The findings suggest that fans’ perception of competitiveness influence their spending behaviour, at least up to some ‘saturation’ point above which variations in competitive balance are less relevant for fans.
The issue of competitive balance has been increasingly identified as a potential issue in the National Basketball Association. Currently, four teams are competing in the NBA conference finals – the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs in the West and the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers in the East. The last number of years has seen the league dominated by two teams – the Cavs and Golden State. This year, these two teams boast a perfect 10-0 record in the playoffs sweeping past their opponents in the first two rounds (4-0) and both currently leading their respective conference finals (2-0). In game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Cavs set a new NBA record for lead in the playoffs (41 points) and eventually beat the Celtics 130-86. Similarly, Golden State brushed past the SA Spurs 136-100 in the West.
The two powerhouses of the NBA have contested the previous two NBA finals and look set for the trilogy this June. The series are tied at 1-1 which Golden State winning the title in 2015 and the Cavs claiming the title in 2016. As such, the matchup between these two franchises may be the only game involving these teams with any significant degree of uncertainty. However, these two teams boasted the highest average attendances when the played away from home during the 2016-17 regular season. This suggests that fans still attended games even though the uncertainty surrounding the outcome of those games was significantly low. To put into perspective, last year the Golden State Warriors set a new NBA record of 73-9, including 54 wins in a row from January 31, 2015, to March 29, 2016. These results suggest very little uncertainty in outcomes yet attendances increased when the Warriors came to town.
However, many analysts have pointed out that one defining series at the end of the season may be enough to keep fans interested in the NBA. Last week NBA Commissioner Adam Silver insisted that the dominance of the two teams was “not a concern” and “we should celebrating excellence” while colour commentator Tony Fiorentino insists “parity doesn’t work as well as dominance”. While dominance by two teams in the NBA does not seem to significantly impact fans’ willingness to attend matches, it most certainly reduces incentives to stay awake until 1.30am to watch the playoffs as this writer can attest.