As he walks out onto the court with his team before each home game, of course Tyrone Corbin sees them.
“You notice,” the Utah Jazz coach says. “You notice the green seats.”
And for Corbin, who spent three seasons in Utah as a player and a decade as a coach, he’s seen more of them this season than ever before. With the Jazz, owners of a 23-42 record, firmly in rebuilding mode, attendance — an average of 17,947 announced fans per game, though there are often far fewer than that actually in the building — has dropped to the lowest the franchise has seen since moving out of the Salt Palace and into the Delta Center in 1991.
It’s a four-percent decline from a season ago, and a nine-percent decline from a peak of 19,908 six seasons ago when the Jazz won the Northwest Division and made it to the Western Conference semifinals.
The drop, however, was not unexpected for a franchise that let four of its five top scorers from last year leave for free agency to make playing time for a younger, developing base.
“We anticipated that we would have a slight decline,” Jazz president Randy Rigby said.
It would be a hit to the bottom line, Rigby added, especially in one of the league’s smallest markets, where ticket sales are a “critical component” of financial viability. Helping ease concerns, Jazz officials believed the team had a fan base that was “supportive of the plan and strategy.”
“But you’re still stepping out to the edge of a cliff and you’re not sure if there are going to be angels to help lift you up,” Rigby said. “And they’ve been there.”
With just nine home games remaining in the season, franchise leaders have been happy with the numbers they’ve drawn. After drawing the ninth-most fans in the NBA on average last season, the Jazz have dropped to 14th-most and are still above the league average of 17,297. Among teams with losing records this season, only the New York Knicks, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics are drawing more fans.
Commitment to the rebuild took faith and market research. Rigby said Jazz officials also heard the message from fans last season that they would endure rebuilding, taking “short-term pain for a long-term reward.”
“They’ve been very supportive of the plan and the strategy,” he said.
And as the season draws to a close, Rigby is still preaching “patience in a very impatient business.”
“We all want to have a winner sooner than later,” he said. “But we’re not going to skip steps. We’re going to do it right, so we can have something that will be sustainable for a long period of time.”
In the meantime, the Jazz have tried provide reminders of better times. A ceremony to honor Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan earlier this year and the planned reunion of Adrian Dantley, Mark Eaton, Darrell Griffith, Rickey Green and the rest of the 1983-84 Utah Jazz — the first playoff team in franchise history — later this month have not purely been the products of coincidence.
“We’ve wanted to remind our fans and reiterate to some of our younger fans or those who have moved in and become fans that, hey, this organization knows how to compete, knows how to build championship-caliber teams,” Rigby said. “We’ve done it and we’re going to do it again.”
But the franchise knows patience and memories will only fill seats for so long.
“We understand this team is growing. We want to give them something to be happy and proud of,” Corbin said. “We look forward to the folk coming back and the stands being filled.”
Clippers at Jazz
O At EnergySolutions Arena
Tipoff • Friday, 7 p.m.
TV • ROOT Sports. Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 22-43; Clippers 46-20
About the Jazz • Have lost seven of their last eight games. … Rookie point guard Trey Burke scored 20 points Wednesday, marking the first time he’s scored at least 20 in back-to-back games since early December. … Forward Marvin Williams missed practice Thursday with a back strain. His status for Friday’s game is unknown.
About the Clippers • Led by the one-two punch of all-stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. … Winners of nine straight games. … Could be without sharpshooter J.J. Redick for the rest of the season.
Jazz attendance figures
Season GP Attendance Avg Sellouts
2003-04 41 785,330 19,154 19
2004-05 41 769,014 18,756 7
2005-06 41 751,621 18,332 5
2006-07 41 802,214 19,566 30
2007-08 41 816,211 19,908 40
2008-09 41 816,042 19,903 40
2009-10 41 794,512 19,378 21
2010-11 41 799,982 19,512 18
2011-12 33 637,124 19,307 10
2012-13 41 765,915 18,681 6
2013-14 32 574,323 17,947 4
NBA announced attendance is all tickets paid for and comped, not necessarily how many fans walk through the door.