The NHL has never backed away from talking itself up and it recently issued a press release that did just that. Much of the press release highlighted the increase in television ratings and increased traffic to NHL.com but there was some discussion on NHL attendance levels.
-Through Oct. 21, attendance increased or remained even for 18 NHL teams compared to the same number of home games last season.
-Teams with the largest gains in attendance included the Boston Bruins, Atlanta Thrashers, Washington Capitals, New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers and Columbus Blue Jackets.
It is interesting that they point out that attendance for 18 NHL teams have remained the same or increased because that implies that attendance has dropped for 12 NHL teams, which can’t be a good thing. It should be noted that nowhere in that press release did it discuss overall attendance levels which are actually down.
I have dug through all the NHL game data and compared this seasons home attendance to last seasons home attendance for every team comparing attendance for each teams first x number of home games this year to that teams first x number of home games from one year ago where x is the number of home games the team has played so far this season. Games played in Europe last year and this year have been omitted. Here are the results for games played through last night.
Atlanta had the greatest attendance increase attracting an average of 1,634 additional fans per game but it should be mentioned that they have only played 3 home games so far so the sample size is quite small and is likely influenced by the fact that two of their home games this year were Saturday games while none were last year and teams generally draw much better for Saturday games.
New Jersey is second attracting an additional 1,469 additional fans, but again, of their 4 games so far, two have been Saturday games and none were a year ago. Next at the top of the increased attendance list are Boston, Columbus and Washington who have benefited from have pretty good seasons on the ice last year. All other teams with an increase in attendance saw an increase of less than 1% while Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal and the Rangers had exactly the same attendance and sold out every game. Vancouver also sold out every game last year and again this year but somehow managed to find an additional 180 seats per game to sell.
Teams with the greatest drop in attendance are Phoenix (-30.4%), Anaheim (-10.9%), Islanders (-9.6%), Colorado (-8.9%), Carolina (-8.1%), Tampa (-5.0%), Nashville (-5.0%), Ottawa (-4.8%), Detroit (-3.1%), Dallas (-3.1%), Minnesota (-2.0%), Chicago (-1.1%), and Buffalo (-0.7%).
Overall attendance compared to last season has dropped 45,988 or about 307 fans per game which equates to a drop of approximately 1.8%. If these trends continue the NHL could see upwards of 350,000 fewer fans purchasing tickets this season. To put that into perspective, if each ticket sale lost was a $50 ticket, that would equal a drop in revenues of 17.5 million in ticket sale revenue which in the grand scheme of things is not that significant. That much revenue loss would equate to a salary cap drop of approximately $330,000, though a drop attendance would also affect other game day related revenues (parking, concessions, merchandise, etc.).
But what the NHL has to find disturbing is that the drop in attendance is mostly affecting the already financially challenged teams like Phoenix, Islanders, Carolina, Tampa, Nashville, etc. These teams cannot afford to become any less competitive with the big markets and additionally some teams like Phoenix and Nashville are facing the potential to see their revenue sharing dollars cut if they can’t get above 14,000 in attendance or can’t grow revenue at the same pace as the rest of the NHL.
Here is each teams attendance change from one year ago.