NHL Attendance Issues…

So the word out of Phoenix last night was that the announced attendance for the Coyotes game was 6,899 but that probably more like 5000 people actually showed up. Clearly attendance in Phoenix is going to be a major issue this year, but it won’t just be Phoenix if early attendance numbers are any indication. Here are attendance numbers for three other southern U.S. teams that have played at least 3 home games so far.

Carolina Hurricanes

2008-09 2009-10 Difference
18680 18680 0
18680 16186 -2494
15016 13597 -1419
15635 14053 -1582

Nashville Predators

2008-09 2009-10 Difference
17113 14797 -2316
13259 14209 950
12042 12179 137
14704 13103 -1601

Tampa Bay Lightning

2008-09 2009-10 Difference
18552 17454 -1098
14420 14212 -208
15191 14126 -1065

It is still early but those are significant drops in attendance figures. Nashville is going to be particularly interesting to watch because they need to keep attendance above the 14,000 mark to maintain a full share of revenue sharing. Failure to achieve an average of 14,000 will cause them to lose 25% of their revenue sharing allotment which would equate to close to $4,000,000 which is significant to any team, particularly one that is struggling to break even. If Tampa struggles on the ice and fans become more disinterested because of it this could become a problem for them as well and we already know how unstable their ownership situation is. This despite a significant drop in average ticket price for Lightning games.

What is also interesting is that falling attendance may not be limited to non-traditional southern US hockey markets.

Ottawa Senators

2008-09 2009-10 Difference
20182 18075 -2107
20179 19360 -819
19318 17014 -2304
18952 17732 -1220

The rise in the Canadian dollar will help offset some of the drop in attendance revenue and if Ottawa can play well then I can see their attendance improving, but clearly some of the luster of high flying Senators teams of a few years ago when they sold out every game has faded away.

Detroit Red Wings

2008-09 2009-10 Difference
20066 20066 0
19011 19122 111
20066 17782 -2284

We all know that Detroit is an extremely hard hit city economically and it may start reflecting in the Red Wings attendance this year. The 17,782 that showed up to watch the Red Wings last night is 1,080 fewer fans that last years lowest attendance level of 18,862.

I revisit these teams and also take a look at a few other franchises (Atlanta, Florida, Dallas, etc.) in a few weeks once each team has played a few more home games but early indications are not all that good for some franchises.

This article has 9 Comments

  1. Teams that traditionally do well can survive a 2 or 3 year slump, or a 2 or 3 year economic downturn (Detroit, New Jersey).

    Teams in well-established markets can survive for years with bad teams (Chicago, Boston, any Canadian city).

    But teams that are struggling to establish themselves, and depend on rising franchise values to offset years of multimillion dollar losses? Much more difficult.

    But here’s an unlikely hero: the Canabuck has risen 20% against the U.S. greenback this year. This effectively means that revenue declines in the NHL are being offset by the extra C$ value coming in. And also that player salaries (paid in US$) are dropping relative to revenue.

  2. The scenario you paint where the Canadian dollar rises causing league wide revenues to remain the same is actually a worst case scenario for many small market US teams. Essentially what you are saying is that attendance and revenues will fall in, say, Nashville, resulting in a revenue drop but the salary cap and floor will remain the same. That makes them less competitive financially than they are now.

    But it gets even worse. Another condition of revenue sharing is that in order to maintain collecting revenue sharing dollars you have to grow your own revenues at the same rate or better than league wide revenue growth. So even if Nashville can somehow maintain 14,000 in attendance if they can’t maintain revenues because of a slight drop in corporate support, and league wide revenues remain stagnant because of the Canadian dollar, they will still lose 25% of their revenue share allotment. That’s not good.

    A significant reason why Winnipeg and Quebec City lost their franchises is because of a low Canadian dollar in the mid 1990’s and when it went even lower it put Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton at risk. Conversely, a high Canadian dollar could be the final nail in the coffin to Phoenix, Nashville, Florida, Atlanta, etc. and why Winnipeg and Quebec City are possibilities to get teams back.

  3. David: You make some good points about the effect of the Canadian dollar, particularly about the potential loss of revenue sharing. (It’s an odd formula that doesn’t account for currency fluctuations. Maybe that’s par for the course for a league front office that doesn’t have a lot of business sense.)

    My thoughts were more that the revenue from revenue sharing and the big Canadian TV contract(s) would increase with the Canadian dollar. That will provide at least some help to the troubled U.S. teams — though not enough to deal with the financial crises that many of them face.

    In any case, the NHL will have to deal squarely with the effects of a declining U.S. dollar, because odds are it will keep declining for a long time.

  4. To have attendance, you need a cold area, a winning team and a good spirit. In places like Montreal and Chicago, there is no problems, but the southern cities need to improve.

    I sincerely hope that the Preds, the Jackets and the Coyotes will stay in the NHL

  5. For me, the NHL died when the Whalers left for Carolina. I will not watch another minute of NHL hockey until they return to Hartford. Peter Karmanos, rot in hell.

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