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Vulgar Statistics: 2010-2011 Attendance Review

05/02/11
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Ah, another season come and gone, and for most NHL teams another 600,000 and change fans have come and gone as well.  Who were the big attendance winners, who were the big losers, and what other points of interest are there?


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A few things to note:

  • There are several arenas that offer standing room.  Oftentimes this is either unlisted, or the number fluctuates year to year (and at times within a season).  I did my best to credit teams with a sellout when they filled all their seats, but not all their standing room, but I am not all knowing so there may be discrepancies.
  • Six teams started in Europe last season so they only have 40 home games.
  • I also give credit to teams that host the Winter Classic. I figure if a team has the support for the NHL to chose their city for such an event, they deserve credit.
  • I checked every figure for every team for every game.  The arena capacity numbers are from Wikipedia.  This is as correct as it can possibly be.

So…how about them Islanders?  I think the biggest surprise to a lot of people will be St. Louis.  They’re not typically considered a strong hockey market, but those fans are plenty passionate.  Why they don’t get credit is beyond me, though I suspect it has something to do with their latitude and certain stereotypes regarding hockey teams “down there.”.  On the flip side, for me at least, is Tampa Bay.  With a strong team and one of the most exciting players in the game, I thought they’d manage to rise above 90% and get into that upper echelon, but they fell disappointingly short.  It’s also pretty impressive how strong the NHL is in terms of fan support.  To have all but eleven teams averaging over 90% attendance, and all but five averaging over 80% is something to be proud of.

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This may look like the same chart three times and it is, but it’s sorted three different ways, percentage of seats filled since 1990-1991 (the earliest I could find attendance data), since 2001, and since the lockout. Remember that even if teams have played a different number of years, the percentage of seats filled is comparable.

Let us now take a moment to congratulate Carolina for finally moving out of the bottom spot. I’ve long used the first version of this chart to smack uppity Canes fans upside the head in pointing out that they’ve actually sold a smaller percentage of tickets in Raleigh than the team did in Hartford. And yes, I know that Carolina played in the approximately 21,000 seat Greensboro Coliseum for two years while their stadium was being built. But I don’t see Buffalo, Calgary, Edmonton, or Ottawa (cities smaller than Greensboro) whining, nor do I see complaints from Tampa Bay (who played in the approximately 40,000 seat Tropicana field for three seasons).

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Why choose 80%?  Mainly because 80% capacity gets a team out of the bottom five, and I had to make the cutoff somewhere.

I really enjoyed this chart, mostly because it’s interesting, but also because the Northeast division came out on top, something I did not expect with the force that is the fans of Northwest division teams.  It’s interesting because as passionate as northern fans are, and as much as they have a leg up on the south solely because for three months of the year they can actually go outside and play the game, three of the teams that were guilty of often playing with empty buildings are northern teams in New Jersey, Colorado, and the New York Islanders.

There really is no one reason to explain poor attendance figures either.  Some teams play in decent markets, but don’t play well enough to draw in the crowds, some play in poor markets and never get the fan support they deserve, some suffer because there are other, more popular teams in other sports that play nearby, and some are set back by a combination of the three.

Final Thoughts:

The fans in the south are really, really bad hockey fans, but some of that is difficult to gauge because a few of the teams (Atlanta and Florida in particular) have had almost no success.  Still there are other markets with a multitude of success, including the ultimate prize, who see their numbers continue to flounder.  Perhaps it’s still too soon even after over a decade of existence for those teams, but I think it can safely be said that their numbers will never reach those of norther fans who have grown up playing the game in their own back yards as kids.

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