Heat Fans Have Officially Shut Up the Haters This Season

It's official: Miami Heat Nation has put its money where the haters' mouth is. Heat playoff tickets went on sale last Thursday, and if the regular season was any indication, they are sure to sell out fast. Forbes recently released its 2015-16 NBA team evaluations equations, valuing the Heat at $1.3 billion, good for tenth-best in the NBA. 

A deeper dive into how Forbes came to its valuations shows exactly what Heat fans have known all along — their love for the team didn't begin when LeBron James came to Miami from Cleveland, and it certainly didn't end when he went back. Continue to sculpt your narratives, national sportswriters. Keep making your jokes. Fire up the meme machine. Miami Heat Nation will just be sitting over here with stats whenever you're done playing grab-ass.  

A part of Forbes evaluation pie chart points to the Heat finishing sixth in attendance, well ahead of storied franchises such as the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, as well as the defending champions and history-chasing Golden State Warriors. Yes, the Miami Heat has better attendance numbers than a team having the greatest regular season in the history of basketball. Weird, you think you'd hear more about that. 

The Heat has sold 100.7 percent of tickets this season, tied for third-highest in the NBA and actually a tad better than the Eastern Conference top seed Cleveland Cavaliers. This comes following a 2014-15 season in which the Heat also finished sixth in attendance even during a season that saw the team miss the playoffs. 
Of course, attendance numbers aren't the only measure of fandom. Not everyone can afford to make it to the game. To take those people into account, Forbes measured each teams' TV ratings, and the Heat finished fourth-best in the NBA. The Heat finished in a similar spot the year prior, dropping only 27 percent of its viewership after LeBron left Miami. To compare, Cavs' ratings on Fox Sports Ohio jumped a ridiculous 172 percent after LeBron returned.

The Cavs also ranked at the bottom of the NBA in attendance while LeBron was gone, yet near the top now. Makes you wonder why fans in Ohio don't get as much crap for jumping on the bandwagon.
This wasn't the first time Forbes has done Heat fans a solid. Just last year, it ranked Heat fans as the best in the NBA. Back then, the magazine made sure to mention how differently Heat fans and Cavs fans handled their respective periods following LeBron's departure.

Heat fans took the top spot, to little surprise, although with a tad bit of initial disgust. But then we looked at the team’s numbers pre-LeBron and realized there was no need to jump on the Heat-hater bandwagon. Fact is, the team has ranked in the top five in the league in attendance and/or filled the arena to capacity since the 2004-05 season. From Forbes

Thanks to Shaquille O’Neal, Dwyane Wade and LeBron’s 4-year train stop, the team has had a player among those with the best selling jersey and/or the team’s merchandise has ranked among the league’s best-selling since 2004. The team ranks 3rd in the league in terms of its social media sheer volume of fans and its following as a percent of its population, a number that shows its reach extends beyond Miami-Dade County. To boot, LeBron’s exit didn’t lead to a mass exodus of fans.

The Heat are still playing to a full capacity crowd and its merchandise remains among the top-selling in the league. There is enough momentum that the team signed an extension with Fox’s Sun Sports this past November that pays triple the current rights fee and keeps them on the network through the 2024/25 season.
So just as the Heat franchise is showing once again it's bigger than just one player, Heat fans are gaining more and more evidence that settles it once and for all. Heat fans should be celebrated as among the best in the NBA. It wouldn't be right to say that Heat fans came back after LeBron left, because the truth is they never went anywhere. The numbers continue to back up that fact. 
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Ryan Yousefi is a freelance writer for Miami New Times, a lover of sports, and an expert consumer of craft beer and pho. Hanley Ramirez once stole a baseball from him and to this day still owes him $10.
Contact: Ryan Yousefi