July 28, 2021

Lakers – Clippers rivalry takes on a new dimension

In recent days, we have been talking a lot about the Lakers and the Clippers, who have made some big hits at the start of the offseason, which promises us (finally) a great rivalry between the two Los Angeles franchises. Sporting rivalry but also NBA cultural battle in Los Angeles. This is the subject from Antoine’s long thread on Twitter, which we give you here for those who do not have Twitter or have not seen it pass.

You can directly find this thread on Twitter if you prefer, or below:

The sporting rivalry between the 2 LA franchises is likely to reach an all-time high next year. And if we follow information disseminated by the local press, it would be the same outside the prosecution. Thread on the NBA cultural battle in Los Angeles:

First of all, it must be said: the Lakers are doing very well, thank you for them. 2nd in terms of value ($ 3.7 billion), 2nd in terms of profits ($ 147M), 3rd in terms of turnover ($ 395M), figures which precede the arrival of LeBron James moreover.

We have to go back to 2013 for their last playoff appearance, but since then the price of a ticket has risen from an average of $ 102 to $ 140. On the subscription side, more than 90% renewal rate and a waiting list in the thousands depending on the franchise itself. The Lakers even brag about not needing to promote to sell their ticket to the game. No leak at the sponsor level either. In short, we can not say that the lack of sports results is particularly felt in the wallet of the Buss family.

Still, if some polls are to be believed, the franchise’s popularity is on the decline.

  • In 2014, 43% of those polled had the Lakers as their favorite home team in any sport.
  • In 2019, we are at 30%, a drop mainly due to the success of the Dodgers.

A simple game of mud communicating between historic franchises? Yes and no. If we follow the same poll, but on new residents of LA, the Lakers have gone from 60% to 24%. And less historic franchises are starting to take a piece of the pie. Including the Clippers. The phenomenon remains minor (slightly above 10% for the survey) for the moment. But the Clippers are aggressive to say the least when it comes to buying the support of the local younger generation. Examples:

  • Renovate 350 courts in the Clippers’ colors for $ 10M.
  • Equip 120,000 young people in the colors of the Clippers
  • Fund 25,000 schoolchildren with optical equipment (figures given by the franchise so be wary anyway)

This is all well and good, but basically the Clippers are still a long way from the franchise to 16 NBA titles. Already, financially: 9th in terms of values ​​($ 2.2 billion), 23rd in profits ($ 40M), 15th in turnover ($ 258M). But also on “popular” data: the Lakers had a fill rate of 99.7% against 90.9% for the Clippers while for the latter, the average ticket costs almost $ 50 less. In terms of TV audience, the gap was also considerable last season. Admittedly, there is a cyclical aspect in these figures (return of LeBron, end of cycle for the Clippers), but we can see that even in an environment favorable to the Clippers on the passage 2014-2019, the Lakers remained in front.

We summarize:
Finances : Lakers win
Audiences : Lakers win
Popularity: Lakers win
A priori, really no cause for concern for the golds & purples. Except that…

Except that the potential move of the Clippers to a brand new room funded by Steve Ballmer goes badly on the side of the Lakers. We arrive here both in the most interesting part, but also the more complicated. Today there are 2 large venues in Los Angeles:

  • The Staples Center, arena for the Lakers, Clippers, Sparks and Kings (NHL).
  • The Forum, the former legendary hall of the Lakers.

Staples Center is owned by AEG, a group owned by Philip Anschutz, also a minority owner of the Lakers at 27%. Since 2012, the Forum has belonged to MSG, the company of the inescapable James Dolan, also holder of Madison Square Garden and the Knicks. While the Staples Center manages all arena sporting events in Los Angeles, the Forum has recently become more specialized in musical events and other non-sporting shows. Despite the competition, a certain balance has been established.

Steve Ballmer and his hall project completely shatter this balance. Not only by the simple fact of adding a player in an apparently tight market, but above all, because the room would be located less than 2km from the Forum as can be seen in the map below:

We can understand that MSG is not really happy with this geographical choice. A pleonasm all the more important as the Clippers have acquired the ground with the nose and the beard of MSG. Indeed, the site was previously rented by the town hall to MSG, enough to serve as a parking lot until the future arena of the Rams and Chargers ends. (yes, that’s a lot of stadium-arenas in the same place).

Except that the mayor of Inglewood, with the ambition of making his city a sporting epicenter, convinced MSG to end his lease earlier than planned by promising to make it a technopole while in secret, he negotiated with the Clippers as revealed by an email leak. Today, a legal battle is underway between MSG on one side and Inglewood Town Hall and the Clippers on the other. But what does this have to do with the Lakers? Well, just read Jeannie Buss’s reaction in a private email after the Clippers’ project was announced:

We can still note in passing the request for inclusion of Adam Silver to prevent the process (???) or the umpteenth stab in the back of his brother, but yes, we say a lot of nonsense under the anger. The shock seems real anyway and if we are to believe the following emails, Buss & Co would even think about overtaking the Lakers by returning to the Forum.

Contacts were admitted with MSG and James Dolan (that the world is small) even if it means abandoning AEG, the minority owner of the Lakers and the Staples Center.

Speaking of Anschutz and AEG, one of Buss’s associates even reportedly contemplates a move to the Forum could leave Ballmer and AEG on the sidelines at the same time, forcing the two to team up with each other:

It’s a bit difficult (for me anyway) to understand this game of musical chairs and to know how serious the project is on the Lakers side. What is certain, however, is that the Lakers do not feel serene vis-à-vis the Clippers and their projects. When we put in context this kind of information far from the field with the recent movements of the Free Agency, we can say that the two franchises today take their competition very seriously, and this on all levels.

In this battle of financial titans, we will not forget the inhabitants of Inglewood who bear the brunt of the recent policy of the mayor and his ambitions of “Mecca of Sport” via the rise in rents or the lack of housing policy. (read here).