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League-wide attendance down 2.5 percent compared to 08-09 season

Jun 16, 2010, 2:10 PM EDT

emptyseats.jpgA couple days ago, I discussed the many great signs the NHL can take from the 2010 playoffs. It’s not all puppy dogs and fairy tales for the league, though, as James Mirtle points out that league-wide attendance went down 2.5 percent last season compared to the 2008-09 campaign. To put it in another way, each team averaged 400 less fans.

He are some other interesting details from The Globe and Mail article.

The majority of the NHL’s biggest attendance drops this season came in warm weather cities, with seven of the 10 “sunbelt” franchises among the 12 teams with a 1.6 per cent or more dip. The average sunbelt team had 15,371 fans per game this season, down an average of 5.2 per cent from 16,185 and well off the league average of 17,072.

The average Canadian franchise had 18,957 fans per game, with only the Senators down significantly (3.6 per cent). The average U.S. franchise outside of the sunbelt (basically Denver, Midwest and Northeast) had 17,480 fans per game.

The success stories this past season in the sunbelt were the Kings, Sharks and Predators, who all did relatively all right at the gate compared to a year earlier. The two non-sunbelt franchises struggling the most were the Islanders and Avalanche.

There’s some reason for concern in Denver, too, given how well the team did.

As Mirtle pointed out, the Phoenix Coyotes ownership crisis had the biggest negative influence on league-wide attendance numbers.

Mirtle listed seven NHL teams with an increase in attendance (listed in order from highest jump to lowest jump): Los Angeles, Boston, St. Louis, Vancouver, Washington, Pittsburgh and San Jose. There were four teams without a change: Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton and Buffalo. The rest had at least a marginal loss. Chicago’s losses might not seem to make sense, but that was more about arena changes (like capacity) than anything else.

Here is a screen shot of the teams on the “minus” end: (click to enlarge)

droppedattendance.JPG

What does this say about the league? Well, for one, it reinforces some obvious truths. “Non-traditional” markets need a “winner” to sell tickets more than a traditional market (though naturally that helps no matter what). The Colorado Avalanche have a way to go before they re-gain their status as one of the most popular professional sports teams in their area. Finally, the Phoenix Coyotes really need to resolve that whole “franchise in limbo” thing.

This doesn’t mean the sky is falling, just that reality must counteract some of the abundant positivity. The NHL still has a way to go, but perhaps the league can continue to take advantage of its considerable momentum.

  1. Dollar Bill - Jun 16, 2010 at 5:05 PM

    In case Mr. O’Brien forgets, many working folk experienced a significant drop in income during the last hockey season. While some hockey teams charge relatively low prices for nose-bleed seats, even that amount of money would often go towards essentials of life rather than discretionary entertainment. And need I mention additional costs for parking/travel, and even a single soda or beer?
    I am amazed that attendance only dropped a few %. Good thing the recession is over and I can stop crying into my $7.50 beer.

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