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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Knicks’ Resurgence Marks Peak in Dolan’s Sports Domain

  • The team’s on-court success is fueling a series of gains off it.
  • The Knicks’ rise is just one part of a series of operational successes for James Dolan.
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Knicks are once again a relevant factor on the NBA landscape, extending what has been a year of operational successes across many parts of James Dolan’s sports and entertainment empire. 

The Dolan-controlled Knicks are entering the playoffs as the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed, with New York’s 50 regular-season wins marking its best campaign since 2013. With that has come a series of boosts, including a 2% climb in attendance, a palpable jump in energy from Knicks fans at both Madison Square Garden and in road arenas, and an increase in average per-game revenues for parent company Madison Square Garden Sports. 

The NBA has operated for much of this century without the Knicks—traditionally one of its most popular teams and an anchor in the largest U.S. media market—being competitive on the court, and often existing as a sideshow off it. But three of the team’s seven playoff appearances since 2002 have come in the last four seasons, and now the Knicks will play the winner of the Play-In Tournament matchup between the 76ers and Heat. 

Despite the recent and abrupt departure of MSG Sports president and chief operating officer David Hopkinson at the beginning of the month, the trajectory and outlook of the Knicks is rising, even before accounting for the forthcoming playoff games.

“We are seeing overall positive momentum across our business and expect that to continue for the remainder of the fiscal year,” said Victoria Mink, MSG Sports’ chief financial officer, at the company’s last earnings call. 

On Sunday, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau put a finer point on the team’s situation when it passed up a potentially easier postseason matchup with a No. 3 seed, instead ending the regular season with a five-game winning streak to clinch that second slot.

“When you have competitors, it doesn’t matter,” Thibodeau said. “Competitors compete. It doesn’t matter if it’s a game, if it’s one-on-one, a shooting game, if it’s dominoes, some crazy podcast. They compete. You don’t have to wind these guys up and that’s what I love about them.”

Expanding Empire

Dolan is hardly a beloved figure in New York, as he has frequently clashed with the NBA and NHL, former Knicks icons, and individual fans. But there is no denying the results he has posted over the last year. The NHL’s Rangers, the Knicks’ sister franchise, finished on Monday what was the best regular season in team history.

The Sphere in Las Vegas, meanwhile, debuted last fall as a jaw-dropping spectacle, was quickly embraced by multiple sports properties, and will begin its second major artist residency Thursday with Phish staging a four-show stint to follow the 40-concert run that U2 completed last month.

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