With a new team, as with any budding relationship, the early days are new and exciting. But during the dog days of an 82-game season, even ardent fans can tire of the day-in, day-out grind.
Except when it comes to this season’s Miami Heat. Even as the schedule has stretched on into March, the Heat business has boomed.
Particularly at their official team store.
"It was night and day," said Andy Montero, the Heat’s senior director of retail operations. "Like nothing we’ve ever seen before."
Sales on the Web site are up 450 percent from last season. At the Heat’s retail store at a local mall, sales have increased by 160 percent. And in the arena on game days, there has been a 150 percent increase.
"The economy is getting better as a whole, so you’re seeing the dollars go back into retail again," Montero said. "You can see the improvement, and if you mix in the brand new players we have, it’s been through the roof.
"The fans, they’re happy. They’re buying players’ jerseys left and right."
But jerseys aren’t the only way the Heat have cashed in this season. Miami ranks No. 1 in the NBA in 2010-11 in "upper cap," which measures the dollars spent per person in attendance, and it is the only NBA team that on average draws more than 19,000 fans to its games -- both at home and on the road.
According to TiqIQ, which measures the secondary ticket market, Heat games before the All-Star break were the third-most expensive draw at home, at $159, and the most expensive on the road, averaging $168.50 per game -- both well ahead of the league-average price of $91.
And the fans that have not been in the arena have been watching at home. According to Nielsen Media Research, Miami is the highest-rated NBA team on ESPN this season, with a 2.19 HH (rating for total households) -- 19 percent higher than the second-place Knicks.
On national networks (ABC, ESPN and TNT), 11 of the top 20-rated games before the All-Star break featured the Heat. Local viewership has spiked, too: Sun Sports, the Fox-owned regional sports network, has doubled its Heat ratings from last season.
The Heat have also had an effect on online media, where fans have followed live and commented often.
On ESPN.com, nine of the 10 most-viewed NBA box scores this season have been from Heat games. Miami has accounted for six of the top 10 NBA recaps, five of the top 10 GameCasts and eight of the top 10 conversation pages.
Fans have also followed socially.
According to a study by Adam Sherk of Define Media Group, the official Miami Heat Twitter profile (@MiamiHEAT) has increased from about 14,000 followers in January 2010 to more than 115,000 today. The official Heat Facebook page, meanwhile, has tallied just 599 “likes” in January 2010, but has since skyrocketed to more than 1.6 million.
And that’s not even counting the nearly three million people who follow individual members of the Big Three.
All of this interest, attention and spending has real implications. An annual study by Forbes stated that the value of the Heat franchise increased an NBA-best 17 percent to $425 million since last season, which ranks seventh in the league.
The intrigue has survived the early-season struggles. It has endured through the All-Star break, and it’s showing no signs of slowing. So no matter which member of the Heat takes the last shot, we’ll be watching from our seat, or our couch, our laptop, smartphone or Twitter feed.
And whether the trio of superstars amounts to a first-round exit or a South Beach parade, there is always next year, too -- when ticket prices will be even higher.
Mike Ehrlich is a Digital Media Associate at ESPN