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Blue Jackets might make playoffs, but work remains to attract fans

Mar 29, 2014, 9:05 AM EDT

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 25: Columbus Blue Jackets fan Dustin Dulinksi waves an Ohio flag prior to the start of the game against the Detroit Red Wings on March 25, 2014 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Getty Images

With a 37-30-6 record, this is shaping up to be one of the best seasons in the history of the Columbus Blue Jackets. That’s a pretty sad statement, even after acknowledging the fact that the franchise only debuted in 2000-01.

Maybe that’s why fan interest in the Blue Jackets remains an area that’s lacking, even as the on-ice product seems to be moving in the right direction. Despite bolstering the number of season ticket holders they have compared to the shortened campaign, the Blue Jackets’ average home attendance has actually dropped this season and ranks 29th in the league at 13,959, per ESPN.com.

Only the Phoenix Coyotes have done worse and both teams are well behind the Dallas Stars, which rank 28th with an average of 14,477 fans. TV viewership for the Blue Jackets is similarly down and ranks 29th in the NHL.

“We’ve still got work to do with some folks, and we’ve not shied away from that,” Blue Jackets’ president of hockey operations John Davidson told the Columbus Dispatch. “People have been disappointed by their hockey team here through the years, and so we have a lot to prove to those people.”

This isn’t an issue the Blue Jackets can hope to completely solve by the summer, but they can certainly take some important steps in the right direction.

They are in the thick of the battle for an Eastern Conference Wild Card spot and if they get to the first round, that might spark renewed interest and excitement in the franchise. That would be especially true if they manage to at least make things interesting in the first round after they got swept in their only postseason series to date.

That’s the underlining theme as they prepare for tonight’s game against Carolina. They aren’t just fighting for a postseason spot. They are competing to win over a market that wants to start seeing results.

  1. pdmjr - Mar 29, 2014 at 9:20 AM

    Too many Columbus people from other areas, and the real Columbusites are too busy following the choke plagued Buckeyes

  2. pucknut25 - Mar 29, 2014 at 9:48 AM

    A playoff appearance will without a doubt help get fans back. Hockey really is becoming bigger here in Columbus and there are a lot of people in this city that love the Jackets. In the first few years of the franchise the arena was full every night and that’s when the team was bad. The year they made the playoffs the arena was packed. A lot of people have been tired of seeing the losing product on the ice but there are still many loyal, die hard CBJ fans. I was at the Nashville game last season where they had a chance to clinch a playoff spot and the atmosphere was unlike any game I’ve ever been to. 19,000 Jackets fans packed the arena that night and it was awesome! There’s no denying that Buckeye football is king in Columbus, and I love Buckeye football, but a playoff appearance this year and with the direction JD and Jarmo have this team heading, fans will be back on the Jackets bandwagon quick.

    Go Jackets!

  3. penguins87and71 - Mar 29, 2014 at 9:54 AM

    I was a little surprised and disappointed in the Columbus BlueJackets fans last night, you would think if your team is in playoff contention, people would show up. There was probably 50% Penguins fans last night. This reminds me of when the Pirates were terrible, when they would play the Phillies there would be more Phillies fans then Pirates fans. The point is winning cures everything.

    • florida76 - Mar 29, 2014 at 11:04 AM

      It was enjoyable seeing the large amount of Pens fans in that building, but there is another factor involved. Significant numbers of Western PA residents were forced to leave the area during the tough economic times of the 1980s, and those fans moved to other parts of the country, but kept their loyalty. It’s always funny when broadcasters talk about how a team travels well, when in reality, the out of state fans are living in the area of the home team.

      Ohio may not be cut out for pro hockey, there’s no tradition or history there.

      • tolbuck - Mar 29, 2014 at 12:16 PM

        There is a lot of pro hockey tradition and history in Ohio. People aren’t aware of it because the Jackets, and before them the Barons, were NHL train wrecks. The AHL Cleveland Barons were arguably the seventh best team in hockey during the Original Six era, and made several attempts to join the NHL in the 50s and 60s. However, the NHL owners at the time didn’t want to split money with another team and kept them out. Toledo has won more minor league hockey championships than any other city. The Columbus Chill were a such a tremendous success at the box office that the NHL decided it as a worth expansion candidate.

        The problem isn’t the lack of hockey fans in Columbus, and Ohio as a whole. The problem is two fold. Ohio State football casts such a shadow over everything else in Central Ohio that is difficult for anything else to compete. The locals are front runners, and they won’t show up until the Jackets have an extended run of success.

        Hockey can work in Columbus. They were amongst the attendance leaders in the league their first few years. But the Jackets wasted all that good will, and it will take a long time for them to build it back up.

  4. godsmacked1 - Mar 29, 2014 at 1:02 PM

    JD will make it right. Give him another season or two and he’ll build a winner and fill the house. OSU may own the town, but everybody loves a winner

    • imleftcoast - Mar 29, 2014 at 2:17 PM

      He was a terrible announcers on MSG, but he sure has an impressive track record rebuilding the Blues and BJs. Screw Urban Meyer, the fans will come.

  5. jacketsfan7 - Mar 29, 2014 at 1:10 PM

    Maybe if your fans didn’t invade all the seats out fans would’ve showed up
    You guys absolutely invaded our arena lol

    • handsofsweed - Mar 29, 2014 at 2:30 PM

      True. You guys knew we were coming. I swear, every time we play at Columbus, it’s on a Friday or Saturday night. And when you walk into the arena, you can smell the Polish/smoked sausages cooking and see Yuengling stands everywhere. It’s actually kinda funny. Your arena management knows us all too well and I’m not gonna lie, we’re pretty damn predictable.

      However, I’d rather our few idiot fans that scream “Let’s Go Pens” DURING THE NATIONAL ANTHEM would stay home and quit embarrassing the rest of us though. Jagoffs.

  6. chanceoffleury - Mar 29, 2014 at 2:52 PM

    I have an idea to increase revenue for the Blue Jackets: serve people who are well over 21! A guy friend from college and I went to the game last night and they wouldn’t serve us for the sole reason our IDs were vertical. I’ll be 23 within 3 months and he has been 23 for almost 6 months. I’d never heard of that rule in my entire life. BEAUTIFUL arena, but that was my only complaint. Overpriced drinks are a staple at any sports venue you go to, so for an organization hurting for revenue it seemed like a bit of a flawed business practice. I was prepared to put a dent in my bank account but alas the blue jackets staged me an intervention. My liver was so confused when it was watching the opening faceoff live but I was sober as an ox. Luckily we found some very nice blue jackets fans in front of us that offered to get us our drinks, but between the 2 of us we ended up spending about $30 on drinks the whole night because we didn’t want to make the people get up and go get them unless they were already buying them for themselves.

    And just for reference, I went to a Pens game at Consol with this same friend right before the Olympic break and we spent at least $150 on drinks alone. We probably would have spent at least that last night had they served us instead of having to go get a middle man to buy them for us. Or maybe the lady was just trying to do her part in keeping Pens fans out of Nationwide and/or justice for concussion victims everywhere and this was just a rule that she made up when she saw my Neal jersey. I haven’t ruled this explanation out yet…

    • bobc74 - Mar 29, 2014 at 6:27 PM

      So do you go to the games to drink, or watch the game?

      • chanceoffleury - Mar 29, 2014 at 8:49 PM

        Both. I have a stressful job with long hours as a nurse and I don’t really go out that often. Two of my favorite things to do when I get a chance are going out drinking with friends and watching hockey. Is it weird I like to go all out and do them together? I guess I gave off the wrong idea that I go there and get trashed, which isn’t the case. Maybe it’s of note that I don’t really like beer? And for an average sized girl, I’d say I have a decent tolerance. At Consol the vodka/lemonades and captain/iced tea run $12 a piece. I got there an hour before the game so over the course of 4 hours I had 7. With tips that’s about $100. I obviously wasn’t in a condition to drive but I was hardly drunk. I guess I’m just the minority but being a little bit tipsy makes me have more fun getting into all the chanting and booing and stuff.

  7. dutchman1350 - Mar 29, 2014 at 4:40 PM

    You should have elbowed her in the head, just like Neal.

  8. cheesesteak75 - Mar 29, 2014 at 6:08 PM

    Great arena! It was fun with so many Pens fans, almost like a home game. If they want to attract more fans perhaps they should get rid of the bug mascot and the REALLY fat guy dancing shirtless. Also, video big screen showing bloopers of everything but hockey is a bit confusing.

  9. csilojohnson - Mar 30, 2014 at 9:45 AM

    Probably has to do with local law. They dont serve vertical licenses in Maryland either, no matter the age. Time to go stand in line at mva/dmv and get that fixxed.

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