NHL's Attendance Woes
Attendance across much of the NHL appears to be trending downward this season which may create new trouble spots for the NHL and with the Canadian dollar unlikely to rise as significantly this year as the previous couple years, we could, for the first time, see the salary cap fall.
Last year there were 19 games with fewer than 10,000 fans, 13 of them in Phoenix and one of them being a snow storm related issue in New Jersey. So outside of Phoenix there were only 5 games where fewer than 10,000 fans showed up. This included one game in Atlanta, one game in Carolina, and three New York Islander home games. Not including the San Jose-Columbus game played overseas there have already been six NHL games with fewer than 10,000 fans, two in Columbus, two in Atlanta and two in Phoenix.
The table below shows each teams average attendance in their games following their home openers (since most teams sell out their home openers, games played in Europe not included) along with their 2009-10 Attendance.
As you can see there are a handful of teams that have experienced significant (and using the word ‘significant’ might be downplaying it) drops from last years attendance levels. Phoenix, Atlanta, Columbus and Dallas have all dropped at minimum 4500 fans (yikes, that’s bad) from last years average attendance levels while the Islanders, Devils, Florida and Anaheim have dropped 1800 or more fans. Now it is somewhat unfair to compare early season attendance with season long attendance since many teams, particularly those in southern US locations, get better attendance later in the season after the NFL and college football seasons end. For the teams with the biggest drops I compared this seasons post-home opener attendance with last years post-home opener attendance for the same number of games (i.e. Phoenix has played 2 games since their home opener this year so I considered the average attendance from their first 2 post home opener attendance from one year ago).
|Team||#Games||2010-11 Att.||2009-10 Att.||Diff||%Drop|
That only makes things look marginally better. Despite Phoenix only selling an average of 8031 tickets for their first 2 post home opener games last year they still saw a 7.3% drop in attendance. That is not a very good sign for the future of the Coyotes in Phoenix. But things aren’t looking very good in Atlanta or with the Islanders but the potential new trouble markets are Columbus and Dallas.
In Atlanta attendance has dropped a whopping 36% despite a 10.1% drop in ticket prices and that is a pretty bad combination for a franchise that was already considered in trouble. Those attendance numbers don’t look good for the Islanders but their did increase their average ticket price nearly 20% so their net revenue might be flat or even up a little. But the Islanders desperately need a new arena or their future on Long Island will forever be in doubt.
For the Blue Jackets, losing may finally be catching up to them. Their ticket prices have remained unchanged from one year ago but they have seen their attendance drop significantly. Their best home attendance after their home opener has been 11,727, which is 664 fans fewer than their worst attandance from last year. The Blue Jackets are a money losing organization and this year their losses could sky rocket as in addition to the lost ticket sales revenue they could lose a portion of their revenue sharing money. If the fans have finally soured on the Blue Jackets losing ways this could pose troubling issues for the franchise going forward.
The Dallas Stars are an interesting case. They are a big market who has been relatively successful on and off the ice in the past but their attendance drop has to have some at least a little concerned. Their drop in attendance is likely partly due to the uncertainty with the ownership of the team but I am sure having long time players Mike Modano and Marty Turco leave via free agency isn’t helping things either. Making matters worse for the Stars is they have dropped their ticket prices 2.5% this season and are now have the lowest average ticket price in the NHL by a sizeable margin. I won’t go so far as to say the Dallas Stars are a team in trouble but if they don’t get their ownership issues resolved soon and they are forced to trade a key player or two such as Brad Richards, it could be a troubling sign for the franchise going forward. Will the fans support a losing team?
There aren’t really a lot of bright spots in the NHL as far as attendance goes this season but one might be the Nashville Predators who are up over last years attendance but did so while increasing their average ticket price by 5.5%. They have been playing quality hockey on the ice too so while they are far from a strong NHL franchise financially they have moved past some of their financial woes of the past and are not one of the main problem franchises in the NHL anymore. The same can be said for Pittsburgh who has seen attendance and average ticket price rise in their new arena. Pittsburgh is now back as one of the strong franchises in the NHL. Drafting Sidney Crosby and winning a Stanley Cup certainly helped.
(Average ticket price data from Team Marketing Report)