Home Court Advantage

Throughout the league’s history, teams have typically found a home and stuck there. Though preseason and playoff games are sometimes played at nearby sites due to prior commitments or promotional opportunities, most teams have had no more than a couple of homes for their regular season games.

However, the 2018 season is the center of a number of notable movements:

  • The biggest move is due to the relocation of the San Antonio Stars to Las Vegas to become the Aces. The franchise previously played its regular season home games in the AT&T Center in San Antonio but will begin playing in the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas starting with the 2018 season.
  • The Atlanta Dream began playing in McCamish Pavilion on the campus of Georgia Tech in the 2017 season due to renovations to their regular home, Philips Arena, which will be completed prior to the 2018 – 2019 NBA season, so the Dream will presumably return for the 2019 WNBA season.
  • The Chicago Sky started out their first several seasons at UIC Pavilion on the campus of University of Illinois at Chicago before moving to Allstate Arena, where they played starting in 2010 through the end of the 2017 season. Starting in 2018, they will play at Wintrust Arena (home of the DePaul Blue Demons) in Chicago.
  • The Minnesota Lynx return to the Target Center in Minneapolis this season after a one-year hiatus for renovations. They played their 2017 regular season home games in the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
  • The New York Liberty have played the majority of their home games at Madison Square Garden, save for a few summers of play (2011 – 2013) at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, while the Garden went through renovations. However, starting in 2018 the Liberty will play at the Westchester County Center. The White Plains, New York, arena is also the home of the NBA G League’s Westchester Knicks.
  • Though they will not be affected this season, after the 2018 season Key Arena will undergo renovations, likely resulting in a temporary relocation for the Seattle Storm.

With that in mind, I want to explore some interesting data surrounding WNBA game attendance. I set out to pull attendance data from WNBA game box scores. The first version of this collected data is now available here.

As with the WNBA Draft Database, I began exploring the data noting a few things about the available data:

  • This data is based on what the WNBA website has listed for each game on its historical schedules.
  • Box scores for games from 1997 through 2003 do not list attendance numbers. I hope to be able to find this data elsewhere.
  • Many preseason games and a few other regular season or playoff games do not list attendance numbers. I also hope to fill in this data at a later date, if that data is available from another source.
  • There are some inaccuracies in the WNBA’s data. For example, as of the publishing of this post, the May 3, 2005, preseason game between the Indiana Fever and Detroit Shock is listed as being played at the Joyce Center in South Bend, Nevada, though clearly that should be listed as “South Bend, Indiana”. I have not rigorously verified all of the data.

That said, let’s start with some basic interesting notes:

  • Of the current active franchises, only the Indiana Fever, Phoenix Mercury, and Washington Mystics have played all of their regular season home games at the same arena. Though the now Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis did undergo a name change in December 2011 (from Conseco Fieldhouse), the location itself has never changed. Similarly, the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. was renamed Capital One Arena in 2017. The Phoenix Mercury have played all of their regular season home games at the Talking Stick Resort Arena, which has undergone a couple name changes (America West Arena until 2006, U.S. Airways Center from 2006 to 2015).
  • The Seattle Storm have played all but one of their regular season games in KeyArena. On June 26, 2004, the Storm played the New York Liberty at Spokane Arena.
  • The Connecticut Sun have played all but one game at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville; the other game was played at the Hartford Civic Center (now the XL Center).
  • Based mostly on the longevity of their host teams, the following arenas have hosted the most regular season games (though sometimes under different names): Talking Stick Resort Arena (348), Capital One Arena (334), Bankers Life Fieldhouse (303), KeyArena (302), Target Center (302), Madison Square Garden (290), Staples Center (286), and Mohegan Sun Arena (254).
  • The regular season game with the highest attendance (of the data available) was the 2008 Liberty Outdoor Classic between the Liberty and the Fever, the only WNBA game to be played in an outdoor arena. The Los Angeles Sparks have hosted the next three highest, going over 19,000 once in each of the last three seasons (8/27/17 vs. Minnesota: 19,282; 7/10/16 vs. Washington: 19,076; and 8/30/2015 vs. San Antonio: 19,076).

I plan to continue filling in and exploring this data in the future, but I want to close out this post with some interesting views of regular season attendance over time. Keep in mind that these charts are based on games where the attendance number was available.

First we can see the average attendance for the league as a whole throughout the regular season plotted against the maximum game and minimum game attendance for each year, starting in 2004. The average has held pretty steady over the years, though the maximum attendance has steadily gone up over the last seven years.

This final chart shows average attendance since 2004 for each team in the league. Note that this is by franchise. Though the data is interleaved quite a bit, some general trends can be made out here:

  • The Sparks and the Liberty have ebbed and flowed considerably at points through the years, but they have maintained their spots toward the top of the league consistently.
  • The Mercury and Lynx have seen a general upward trend since 2004, with an overall increase in average attendance of about 3,000 from 2004 to 2017.
  • The Dream, Mystics, and Wings have generally decreased in attendance over the years.
  • Overall, the Fever, Storm, and Sun have stayed pretty constant in the middle of the pack.
  • The Sky have slowly trended upward into the middle over their decade in the league.
  • The Aces have generally stayed in the middle of the league but dropped sharply in 2015, though they are trending back up over the past two years.

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