The big question heading into the abbreviated 2013 season concerned how fans would respond to the NHL lockout. Specifically, would fans return to arenas to watch their favorite teams after players and owners bickered over money for months?
With the regular season in the books, we can analyze all of the attendance figures from around the league and see if the lockout had that much of an impact. Which teams posted the best numbers? Which teams had plenty of empty seats?
All of the numbers used in this post originate from ESPN. It's kind of ironic that the network that barely recognizes hockey as a sport has some of the best attendance statistics, but that's how it is. When it comes to attendance, take the numbers with a grain of salt. The accuracy of these reports can be difficult to prove. More on this later.
The Chicago Blackhawks had the largest attendance total (522,619) and largest average attendance (21,775) in 2013. The Blackhawks now have had the largest average attendance for five consecutive seasons, dating back to 2008-09. Chicago's average per game was their highest since 2008-09.
A total of 16 NHL teams had a capacity either at or above 100%. Chicago's was a whopping 110.4%. By comparison, 16 teams had an average capacity over 100% in 2011-12. Only 12 teams accomplished this feat in 2010-11.
On the opposite side of the spectrum was the New York Islanders, checking in with the lowest average attendance with 13,306 a game. However, despite having the fewest average fans in attendance, in terms of capacity (82.3%) the Islanders finished 28th in the league. The Phoenix Coyotes (81.3%) and the Columbus Blue Jackets (80.3%) rounded out the bottom of the list in terms of capacity percentage.
Overall, some teams seemed to thrive with fewer games on the schedule while other teams continued struggling to get fans in the seats even with just 24 home games. It's safe to say that the lockout generally helped as the lowest average capacity in 2013 was 80.3%. In 2011-12, two teams had a lower percentage, including an ugly line of 72.5% from Phoenix.
There were a few interesting situations worth discussing.
The St. Louis Blues saw a decrease in attendance after the lockout, bringing in 17,263 fans (90.1%) in 2013 compared to 18,809 (98.2%) in 2011-12. Did Blues fans stand by their commitment to boycott the NHL after the lockout? Not quite. While the team was up for sale the old ownership group had a habit of inflating attendance figures. Sellouts were announced regularly despite large sections of empty seats. Now that the Blues have a new owner, the phony sellout reports are a thing of the past. It's situations like the one in St. Louis over the last couple years that make attendance figures almost impossible to rely on.
Phoenix. You knew we'd be talking about Phoenix here, didn't you? This time we bring positive news. The Coyotes saw a rise in attendance in 2013, bringing in an average of 13,923 fans in 2013 compared to an average of 12,420 in 2011-12. The ticket sales in Phoenix are still pretty disappointing, but you have to point out a positive when there is one.
While we're giving teams credit, give some to the Florida Panthers. Injuries destroyed Florida's lineup, causing the team to finish with the NHL's worst record. The Panthers were out of the playoff race pretty early in the year. You'd imagine ticket sales were probably pretty lousy, right? According to the figures on ESPN that's not the case. Florida's average attendance in 2013 was 16,991 (22nd in the NHL). That number might not sound very impressive, but their arena was on average 99.7% full (17th in the NHL). Not too bad, all things considered.
Look more for attendance analysis in the near future as other sites release their opinions and figures which we can then compare to ESPN's reports.
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FWIW Phoenix has a lot of good news. TV viewership was up 150% ... season ticket sales retention and season ticket sales were also at an all time high. Granted they were at the bottom but good to see it going up.
can't understand Detroit's attendance either.... always report 100% attendance, but when you watch the games, there are tons of empty seats!!!!!!!!!!!!
Wait a second. Florida's arena was 99.7% full? That can't be correct. They had announced attendance of 8,000 or less multiple times in the season. And announced is often inflated. Even just from the games that I watched of theirs with low attendance it's not possible for them to have averaged over 99% capacity unless they were up at over 150% capacity for like 8 home games. I don't know what information they use to get these numbers but there's no way it's actual attendance or even announced attendance. Anyone who actually watches hockey games from some of these markets on a regular basis knows that information isn't correct. It's mathematically impossible. Even if they sold out every game that I didn't see they still couldn't get even to 90% capacity. Maybe there was a typo and they claimed to have 60,000 or 70,000 people at a game which skewed the numbers.
For all of the bad press the "southern teams" get, the Carolina Hurricanes endured yet another horrid season and still managed to make it to the middle of the pack -- not bad for a team that is now making missing the playoffs an annual event.
The other interesting stat is that the Devils, a disaster area for years, almost caught the Rangers. Going to the finals last year must have helped.
@iluvhawks Another Enigma is Philadelphia, the Flyers ALWAYS do well but need to pretty much sell out the building every night PLUS make the playoffs to turn a profit. They always do, but thats a lot of pressure on thier GM
@iluvhawks FWIW i believe they are reporting ticket sales and not actual attendance numbers when they advertise that. So all those corporate people who buy tickets but dont always go ... they are reported. Its REALLY obvious even in the playoffs tons of empty seats in that lats game.
@TennisNewz If you read a lot of hockey publications like i do, you will see what i see, the NHL has only ONE financially Stable team in the SOUTH, only ONE........and thats the Carolina Hurricanes, many people confuse Attendance with Profit.
@TennisNewz I thought the exact same thing. Florida's numbers seemed to be the most peculiar.
@CharlesBoyer Carolina is the strongest attendance wise of all the southern teams, what Carolina Does right, is it makes tickets EASY for fans of the opposing teams to get. SURE, it might cause the Arena to be Half Canes fans and Half Flyers or Penguins or Rangers fans, but it keeps the team in good financial shape, As the team gets better, opposing fans will be replaced by Season Ticket holders.
But attendance and Profit are also 2 different things, Carolina is Blessed with being in a part of the USa where real Estate is DIRT CHEAP, Plus North Carolina State University is the main tenant of the PNC Arena and pays all the Bills, So the Canes have a really sweet Lease deal there. If the get 17,200 they are making profit.
@CharlesBoyer Well we were in it until Cam got hurt. I expect a better season next year.
@prole30 the Devils Are not in Debt. What they did was Overspend on Kovalchuk, and that messed up thier bottom line
@prole30 The owner commented on this during this season, he thinks it's because a lot of the people who grew up during the borderline dynasty years in the late 90's/early 2000's are just getting their first jobs now and can afford tickets, so the surge in attendance was a combination of that and the carryover from the cup run
@ReedMiller Thanks for catching that. We corrected it.
@David Rogers @TennisNewz Well, maybe when no one watches your games on TV either you can claim the attendance is pretty much whatever you want it to be. Who's to say there weren't that many people there? Maybe the Panthers include their regional TV viewers under the 'attendance' column. If you assumed 2 people on average watching per household (4,000 average) and added them to the attendance, that might almost get the numbers they're claiming. Would still be pushing it a bit.