Jean Martin loves the Orlando Magic. She has purchased a season ticket every year since the mid-1990s. Fans call her "The Hat Lady" because she wears a blue-and-white Dr. Seuss hat that players have autographed over the years.
Yet even she almost stopped buying a season ticket.
She paid $3,000 for her lower-bowl seat this season in Section 111, but with the team in the middle of a rebuilding process, she hesitated to renew for next season when the price for the same seat increased to $3,200.
"I didn't think I got enough bang for my buck," she said.
Martin ultimately decided to move next season to Section 110A, which is between the lower and upper decks. The new seat will cost $875.
Her decision is one snapshot in a broader picture as the Magic are about to complete Year 2 A.D. — or "After Dwight" — the second season since the team traded superstar Dwight Howard.
In many respects, the franchise's business operations are flourishing. The franchise matched an all-time high in sponsorship revenue this season, team officials say, and in October the Magic also reached a lucrative 10-year contract extension with Fox Sports Florida, making the network the team's regional television rights holder through the 2025-26 season.
At the same time, however, the team's on-court struggles have eroded attendance at home games.
Through Friday, the Magic have averaged an announced crowd — a figure calculated by adding the number of tickets sold to the number of complimentary tickets distributed — of 16,180 fans per game at Amway Center. That's a decrease of 8.0 percent from last season and a decrease of 14.4 percent from the 2011-12 season, which was Howard's final year with the Magic.
This season, the Magic ranked 23rd out of 30 NBA teams in average home attendance through Friday.
To be sure, several other teams are encountering far more difficulties than the Magic. That group includes the Charlotte Bobcats, Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers; it's common to see vast expanses of empty seats in each of those teams' arenas.
Take a glance inside Amway Center these days, and you'll find more pockets — not vast expanses — of empty seats than at any time since the state-of-the-art facility opened for the 2010-11 season.
There is a difference between the announced crowd and the number of ticket-holders who step foot inside the arena on a game night.
City of Orlando records, which list the number of tickets scanned at arena entrances at each game, show that an average of 12,681 people attended the Magic's first 38 home games this season. That's a decrease of 7.1 percent from last season's scan count and a decrease of 20.3 percent compared to the scan counts for the 2011-12 season.
But Magic CEO Alex Martins said team officials are pleased with the crowds at their games.
"We have reached all of our goals that we had set out for the year in terms of our ticket sales for this season," Martins said. "So in that respect, we're very pleased with where we've been this year in terms of our attendance. I think it's an indication that our core fan base is incredibly dedicated. As I've said in the past, I think they're one of the most dedicated fan bases in the league."
Martins said the team sold just under 11,000 season tickets for this season, and he added that so far the season-ticket renewal rate for the upcoming 2014-15 season is on track to be anywhere from 85 percent to 90 percent. Martins said that percentage would be the highest season-ticket renewal rate in five years.
"We recognize that we're going through this period of transition," Martins said.
"The base is as enthusiastic as they have ever been. They are encouraging us to continue on our path that we're on of building the team in the manner that we're building it, and they state that they continue to be committed to that long-term plan. So the base is very energized and very dedicated and continues to be supportive of the direction of the team."
The Magic posted a 20-62 record last season, the worst in the NBA.