December 15, 2007
Comets to move to Reliant Arena

I don't quite understand this.

The Comets will leave Toyota Center and play their 2008 home games at the smaller but cozy Reliant Arena.

Comets owner Hilton Koch signed a contract with Reliant earlier this week.

"We are very excited that Reliant Arena will be the new home for the (Comets)," Koch said. "As an organization, our goal is to provide Comets fans with a phenomenal in-arena experience while at the same time maximizing the team's long-term growth potential.

"Reliant Arena's smaller venue (capacity 5,800) will be a great setting for our boisterous fans and will help create a powerful home-court advantage."

I should first note that the Toyota Center is more convenient for me. Not that big a deal, but still. If they'd asked me, I'd have told them to stay put.

What puzzles me about this is the rather small capacity of Reliant Arena. Googling around a bit, I found these average attendance figures (PDF) for WNBA teams. It listed the Comets as drawing 8166 per game in 2007, and 7682 per game in 2006. It's a bit hard for me to imagine why they'd want to move to a 5800-seat venue given those figures.

On the other hand, as the Houston Roundball Review wrote back in 2006, when it pegged the Comets' attendance at 6,743 per game midway through that season, those numbers probably aren't that accurate:

It's widely believed a WNBA team needs to average at least 7,500 fans in order to "break even". If that belief is correct, nine (not counting the 7495 of the LA Sparks) WNBA teams will lose money this season. That means more than half the league's teams could be in financial trouble. If more than half the teams are having financial difficulties, then the WNBA may be experiencing similar money troubles...

I'm not going to discuss the actual "butts in the seats numbers" because I believe those attendance numbers would make the situation more dire. However, I will state this:

I don't believe nearly 7,000 people per home game have seen the Comets play this season.

I have a hard time believing any of these cited numbers, too. There were oceans of empty seats at Toyota in the past few years, for nearly every game. So if this is true, then I can understand the move, in that it's got to be cheaper to play in the smaller site. But it feels like a retreat, and doesn't look like an especially positive thing for the franchise to do, since they won't even be able to pretend they drew the kind of crowds they had done before. If I were Hilton Koch, I'd be a little worried about my investment.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 15, 2007 to Other sports

Sounds like a big cost cutting move. While it will almost certainly cut into their revenues, I'm betting this will go a long way toward making the team profitable.

Plus, I really wonder if the smaller arena will make for a better experience. It makes sense in principle, but what are the facilities like at Reliant Arena?

It sounds like a risky move, but maybe the WNBA (and the Comets) are in even worse financial shape than we know.

Posted by: Bobby L. Warren on December 15, 2007 10:48 AM

I agree - Toyota Center is more convenient. Could it be pressure from Toyota Center in part that caused the move? Doesn't that free them up to bring in larger events that have more attendance and bring in more money? Concerts, etc.?

Posted by: Christine on December 15, 2007 1:50 PM