Are The Los Angeles Clippers Boring?

Aug 18, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer at fan fest at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 18, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer at fan fest at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

How are the Los Angeles Clippers boring?

The Sports Business Journal ran their midseason TV ratings story recently, and most of it was unsurprising.

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The San Antonio Spurs (8.08), Cleveland Cavaliers (7.29), and Oklahoma City Thunder (6.38) were at the top of the list, while the Brooklyn Nets (0.55), Philadelphia 76ers (0.74), and Orlando Magic (0.75) comprised the bottom.

However, standing there in the bottom five in local TV ratings in the entire association was a large market team with two huge stars and plenty of recent success.

That team is the Los Angeles Clippers. They are the fifth-lowest rated team in the NBA, at 1.13, and that is down from last year by 0.10.

Why is this team so boring to watch, allegedly? It cannot be solely the existence of the Los Angeles Lakers, whose own TV ratings hit an all-time franchise low of 2.01 this year. Both the Clippers and Lakers ratings together are still less than that of the Chicago Bulls, a roughly equally sized market with a team with roughly the same playoff chances as the Clippers.

The Los Angeles Clippers have exciting players like Blake Griffin, one of the most ferocious dunkers in the league and guy that just seems to ruffle the feathers of the opposing team. Guys like that usually draw huge ratings.

They also have Chris Paul, one of the best point guards of his generation, and an All-Star again this year. Sure, the rest of the team is filled out with older veterans with little upside, but it is still a quality team that will finish with one of the best 10 records in the NBA.

The Clippers were in the playoffs last year, and they will be in the playoffs again this year. Most people gave the team and outside chance at winning the Western Conference, even if they were not the favorite.

This is the third year in a row where the local ratings are down in Los Angeles. This is not attendance at games, it is just TV viewership so economic problems, traffic, etc… cannot be blamed.

No, clearly people in Los Angeles just do not want to watch the Clippers, and it is hard to understand why. This is bad news for the team, as this is the last year of their current TV contract with Prime Ticket, according to the LA Times.

"This represents the next-to-last season of the team’s contract with Prime Ticket, which pays the Clippers $25 million to $30 million a year."

This is yet another sign that the Clippers are not the glamour franchise that everyone thought they would become after the departure of Donald Sterling.

People are not watching this team on TV, and veteran players are not coming here. Doc Rivers and the Clippers had hoped to lure Amar’e Stoudemire to Los Angeles after his buyout with the Knicks, but the big man went to Dallas instead.

Some people, like Steve Simpson, of Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket, can try to explain away the poor ratings:

“The schedule has presented several challenges thus far, including fewer prime-time games and multiple matchups versus marquee events such as Monday Night Football,” said Steve Simpson, senior vice president and general manager of Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket. “That said, with the exciting brand of basketball the Clippers play, we are optimistic as we head into the second half of the season.”

But, that does not ring true to me. Sterling is gone, and this is a good team. The Western Conference is playing tough, but beautiful basketball. There is no reason why NBA fans should not be turning on their televisions.

I wonder if the lack of a rise in ratings has anything to do with cord cutting, and the younger generation’s general disgust with cable television.

People are dropping the cable company faster than ever today, and I wonder if the Clippers lack of viewership is the first sign of changes in the industry. Because the Clippers are not a storied franchise with a rich history, they most likely rely on younger viewers.

However, that demographic is also the same one that is most likely to not have cable. Over the last three years, cable companies have lost almost four million subscribers:

"However, factoring in new household formation in the period — the fastest growth in 10 years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau — roughly 1.4 million American households either canceled pay-TV over the trailing 12 months or never subscribed, Moffett said in a research note. Since 2010, the industry has cumulatively lost (or failed to sign up) 3.8 million households, he estimated."

This could mean trouble for the Clippers unless they find a new business model. When the Atlanta Hawks could not get the suburban white demographic to drive downtown to watch the Hawks in person, they devised an entirely different strategy to attract a younger crowd. And it has worked.

So maybe that is what the Clippers need to do. They need a new strategy to get the younger generation to watch their games. With their television deal ending this year, this is the perfect time to strike.

If they can incorporate more ways of watching the Clippers, ways that the younger generation is more likely to use, they maybe they can increase their overall brand and get more people to call the Clippers “their team”.

Exactly what that strategy is, I do not know. However, it is clear that trying the same old thing is not working in Los Angeles. If a record setting team, exciting all-star players, and a disintegration of their cross-town rivals is not enough to get people to watch, then nothing is.

Steve Ballmer made his fortune being an innovator, surely he can come up with something that works for both the Clippers, Fox Sports, and the cable-hating millennial generation. If not, then it is only a matter of time before the Lakers retake Los Angeles, and the Clippers slip back into irrelevance.

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