But it was this emphasis on large markets that held the seeds of the Rochester Royal’s demise.
NBA rules forbid non-league exhibition games, which has been a source of much needed income for smaller market NBL teams, including the Royals. NBA rules also stipulated that the gate receipts for home games went entirely to the home team, so the small market teams like the Royals saw no financial benefit from playing in the big arenas on a road trip. Then, the NBA suffered a league-wide drop in attendance, following a major college basketball point-shaving scandal in 1951, which undermined public trust in the game at all levels.
The Royals paid attendance declined, from 79,212 in the 1915-52 season to 45,150 in 1953-54.
In 1955, the Royals moved from Edgerton to the new, bigger War Memorial, which sat 8,000. Attendance rebounded to 83,330 for the season.
But more challenges followed. The team was getting old. Al Cervi departed for Syracuse. Red Holzman and Bob Davies retired. The team faced competition in Rochester from the newly formed Rochester Americans hockey team, which quickly outdrew basketball in the War Memorial. The team’s fans were moving. Middle and upper class Rochesterians, who made up the largest proportion of the Royals fan base, were moving to the suburbs. Between 1940 and 1950, Rochester’s population grew 2.3%; the rest of Monroe County, however, grew 36.7%. Many suburbanites found the drive into the city to see the game increasingly inconvenient.
Especially when they no longer needed to make that drive to see the Royals. The biggest threat of all to the Royal’s financial stability was off the court. On the opening night of the 1951-52 season, following their 1951 NBA title, attendance at home was only 2,316. Why? For the first time, the Royals’s game was televised.
But that was only part of the story. In 1950-51, only 24% of American households owned a television. Six years later, in what would prove the Royals’s last season in Rochester, 79% of American households had a television. As Les Harrison lamented, “We played Tuesdays and Saturdays opposite Milton Berle…Attendance went down after our title year. It was just a matter of time before we had to give up.”