(Photo: Jae C. Hong/Associated Press)
The Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers play in the same city, share the same home arena and play in the same division of the same National Basketball Association; that is where the similarities end.
The Clipper have been, and continued to be, dwarfed in popularity and interest in the city of Los Angeles by that of their hometown counterparts.
This past season was one of the best opportunities for the Clippers to make some headway in taking some of the Lakers massive market share of fans with them being a championship contending team and having a few of the most marketable stars in the NBA with high fly act Blake Griffin and future hall-of-famer Chris Paul. The Lakers on the other hand were downright abysmal and uninteresting, registering their worst record in franchise history and being without their star Kobe Bryant who was hobbled for all but 35 games.
In the almost perfect situation for the Clippers to pounce and take over the city, with them way up and the Lakers way down in the dumps, they failed to do so.
Last season the Lakers local TV ratings dipped to an all-time low, dropping below 2.0 with their horrendous season, yet, that was still almost double the viewership of the red-hot Clippers who were registering a 1.10 rating at the same time, based on a report from the Los Angeles Times in February.
In another sign that the Clippers mission of becoming L.A.’s team and overtaking the Lakers is futile with news of Fox Sports’ offer of $60 million per year for the rights to broadcast Clippers’ games was rejected by owner Steve Ballmer.
The Lakers signed a record 4 billion dollar TV rights deal with Time Warner in 2011 which is more than 3 times that of the proposed offer of the Clippers on a per year basis (200 million per year). It should also be noted the dynamics of the offer from Fox who are desperate for content after having lost the Lakers, Sparks, Dodgers and Galaxy over recent years, so their offer to air Clippers’ games is very well over valued but still pales in comparison to that of the Lakers deal.
In almost every measure of interest the Lakers lap the Clippers, from TV ratings, official team website hits, merchandise sales and following on social media accounts.
While the Clippers did average slightly more in attendance much of that has to do with the cost of attending a game with their average ticket price being 25 percent less than that of the Lakers and their least expensive ticket coming in at half ($18) than their cross town rivals ($36).
Ballmer turned down the TV rights deal and looks to use his leverage to get more money from the content starved Fox, but even if he can get more on this TV rights deal, he’ll have to wonder if the L.A. market will ever be lucrative enough and worthwhile long term considering its apparent his Clippers will always be a distant 2nd to the Lakers.
Ballmer stated publicly when he acquired the Clippers that he would not look to move the franchise to his beloved city of Seattle, where he earned his wealth moving up the ranks of Microsoft and eventually becoming CEO, but you have to wonder if he continues to the see the Clippers fail to close the gap in Los Angeles in terms of interest and following, continues to see his players get booed at L.A. events as if they were a team from an opposing city and continues to see a fraction of the money coming his way to that of the Lakers, will he have a change of heart. The city of Seattle is there for the taking; a large fan base clamoring for a team and no other franchise there to take their shine.
It might not be in the cards for the Clippers to move out of the market at this moment but you have to think that a smart business person like Ballmer has to see the writing on the wall, that if even in the best possible set of circumstances, with the Clippers being an elite team with an exciting on the court product and the Lakers at bottom of the standings and lacking star power, and still not being able to capture a smidgen of the L.A. market away from the Lakers that moving is the best option for the future prosperity of the Clippers franchise. This is a thought that will continue to weigh heavily on the mind of Ballmer over the next few years and hover over the franchise of the Clippers, as they sit in massive shadow cast by the storied and heavily decorated franchise of the Lakers.