Staples Center officials refuse to divulge their merchandise sales, although league officials said the Lakers remain NBA's No. 1 merchandise-selling team because this year's bad news hasn't registered at the cashiers yet.


"Over the course of time, some teams may do well and other teams are not going to do well," said Matt Bourne, an NBA spokesman.


Fewer fans during the regular season and the absence of the playoffs is also hurting downtown businesses. The Palm Restaurant, located a block from Staples Center, hosted around 350 patrons before each Lakers game this season, down about 50 from last year.


The losses would have been more substantial for the three-year-old eatery had it not been for the influx of new residents into the downtown area. "Whenever there are fewer superstars and the performance of the team doesn't seem to be dynamic, fewer people come in," said Caroline Dyal, co-manager of the Palm.


About the only entity that continues to do well is the Lakers team, thought it will also lose revenue due to the failure to make it into the post season.


Lakers merchandise may be off, but all revenues from official merchandise is pooled and divided evenly among the 30 basketball teams.


The Lakers' slight dip in attendance has likely been made up by a 3 percent increase in the average ticket price, announced after the departure of other popular players Karl Malone, Gary Payton, and Rick Fox.


The Lakers charged an average $77.66 per seat, far above the Clippers who kept their core lineup intact and did not increase their far lower $45.28 average ticket price, according to Team Marketing Report, a Chicago-based sports consulting group. (Forbes still ranks the Lakers as having the highest value in the NBA, at $510 million.)


"Obviously it's been a disappointing season for the fans and the team," said John Black, spokesman for the Lakers. "(But) there are just a lot of loyal Lakers fans out there. We have been a real good franchise for over 40 years in Los Angeles and I think that means something to a lot of people."


The Lakers averaged 18,802 fans per game, selling out 28 of 39 games compared with an average of 18,970 fans per game last year when 39 of 41 games sold out. With television contracts already in place, the only real losses for the Lakers will come from the postseason games at the Staples Center that undoubtedly would have sold out.


Last year, regular season tickets cost $10 to $1,900 each, increasingly incrementally for each playoff round, with fans paying $18 to $2,800 per seat during the NBA Finals.


Becky Wallace, executive editor of the Team Marketing Report, said the Lakers' high ticket prices usually result in strong returns.


"Obviously," she said, "this season has not been indicative of their regular encore performances."

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