Tracy McGrady played the last home game of the season for the Qingdao Eagles on Wednesday. As has been par for the course, they lost, this time to Zhejiang. Whether it was the last home game of McGrady’s career is still up in the air.
Obviously, from a record standpoint, nobody in Qingdao thought it was going to go down like this at the beginning of the season.
But besides the wins (way too few) and the losses (way too many), there’s something else in Qingdao that hasn’t gone as well as initially anticipated: Ticket sales.
Expecting a huge swell in local demand from fans eager to see their longtime hero, the club acted quickly to move their home stadium, which was originally located on the campus of Qingdao University, to the much larger 12,000 seat capacity GuoXin Stadium. The logic isn’t difficult to follow — T-Mac is a walking god in China and conventional wisdom would suggest that many people would be willing to pay to see him in person.
Like we said, it’s not advanced trigonometry. But for those who either went to the stadium or watched on television this season, you probably noticed something kind of… empty. As in all of the empty seats. The many, many empty seats…
Just how many exactly? According to an article that came out yesterday in Qingdao local media, Qingdao averaged 41% capacity throughout the season. And although total attendance figures were the highest in club history, they did not come close to leveling out with pre-season expectations, according to GuoXin Party committee deputy secretary, Guo Min.
“This season’s attendance did not add up to what we originally thought,” said Guo. “We’ve already added it all up. For the two games against Guangdong and Beijing, attendance was over 8,000 people. Against Shandong, Bayi, Xinjiang and our season opener against Foshan, it was over 5,000 people.”
On average this season, attendance was at 5,000 people per game.
“To be honest, although this season’s ticket profits increased by a good amount, it was still very far from what we forecasted at the beginning of the season. Taking away various stadium costs, security and other costs, we can only say there was a slight profit.”
Profits were further limited because GuoXin was also responsible for paying other team costs such as player living costs, food, practice and other expenses.
The numbers are more disappointing when compared to other teams. According to an anyonymous insider quoted in the article, Guangdong and Beijing both accumulated more than CNY 2 million off ticket sales last year. This season in Qingdao with McGrady in tow, the team was unable to even approach those type of figures.
“Right now we’re really far away from getting to that goal. We’re not even at half of that.”
For us, 5,000 people per game seems awfully low. At first glance, you could say the Eagles’ light-speed quick spiral to the bottom of the standings contributed to the lack of demand. But then you read that even their home opener against Foshan was only slightly above average. The article moves to dismiss other potential reasons like fake tickets (“eradicated,” as written by the author) and free tickets given out to government/companies/other big wigs (which were apparently kept to a minimum).
Like at every arena this season, the cost of tickets increased. In Qingdao, there were seven pricing options. The cheapest ticket cost CNY 30 while average lower level seats cost CNY 500 — a 150% increase over last year. Courtside seats cost more than 10,000 a pop and special T-Mac signed VIP tickets, which were only limited to 10 per game, cost an even 10,000.
Still, with all of that being said, why did so many people stay home? Do they not like basketball that much in Qingdao? Was everyone bummed out about losing Li Gen? Is everybody too busy drinking beer? Please, if you have any ideas, leave some in the comments.