Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Attendance padding

OK, back to hockey blogging.

The NHL has been trumpeting their attendance numbers for October, numbers the league said were record breaking.

Even looking at the attendance numbers for all 30 clubs provided by ESPN, things do seem quite rosy. How can a league complain about having 10 teams playing to capacity crowds every night? I originally dismissed Tom Benjamin's usual crankiness on the issue — when it's so omnipresent, it's hard to know sometimes when he's raving about something legitimate — but the old guy may be on to something when he says the numbers aren't as good as they seem.

Toronto Sun columnist Terry Koshan offered a plausible explanation for the high numbers today on the Fan590 radio station when he said that the numbers in some NHL cities must surely be padded. By way of example, he cited the recent Maple Leafs game in Carolina, a game for which attendance was listed at 13,801.

In Koshan's opinion, the 18,176-seat RBC Centre in Raleigh, North Carolina was half full that night. So, let's say his eyeball estimate is off by a few thousand fans, meaning there could have been perhaps 11,000 fans in the seats for the game, the sixth home date for the so-far tremendously successful Hurricanes this year.

Watching any NHL highlights from games in Raleigh, it'd be hard to argue with that number — and what looks like a half-full lower bowl.

Now, the thing is, the Hurricanes are currently 22nd in NHL attendance, meaning that their predicament six games into their home schedule is far from the worst. And, if their true attendance numbers are actually much worse than those listed, one wonders what sort of trouble the teams at the bottom (Washington, NY Islanders and Anaheim) are really in.

A game that lots of people are going to and enjoying is an easy sell for league commissioner Gary Bettman to make. Sitting in half-full rinks with overpriced tickets isn't.


At 8:33 p.m., November 15, 2005, Anonymous Lyle Richardson said...

This is nothing new, James. It's been going on for several years now. I've seen it with my own eyes watching the games on TV or on the rare opportunities I get to watch an NHL game live. I've been reading articles by hockey writers in most NHL cities noting that attendance was much lower than announced. Usually this has been explained away as number of tickets sold vice the number of actual butts in the seats. Your thoughts?

At 11:16 p.m., November 15, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Absolutely. I used to go to games that were officially sold out and yet had - by my eye - a few thousand empty seats.

At 12:08 a.m., November 16, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't believe you called someone else cranky. ;)

- Burninator

At 3:14 a.m., November 16, 2005, Blogger d-lee said...

Watching games from inside the RBC Center, I think it's easy to argue that our arena is "half full". It's much more difficult to gauge the size of a crowd when you can't see the whole thing. I don't wish to suggest that we're near capacity every night, but we're way over "half full" every night.
If you're going to base your opinion on highlight reels, you have to remember that some of the highlights you've seen of games there included Ottawa scoring at the 00:14 mark of the first period and Toronto scoring at the 1:29 mark of the first. Lots of people weren't in their seats yet for those.

And I know you already know this, but attendance numbers are not the same thing as turnstyle numbers. I really wish they could get turnstyle numbers, but we'll have to do with the number of tickets sold.

At 7:24 a.m., November 16, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Attendance numbers are also different than paid attendance numbers. I'm guessing that some of those teams in the south give a lot of tickets away, especially to corporate advertisers and charities.

At 8:54 a.m., November 16, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

>>I'm guessing that some of those teams in the south give a lot of tickets away<<

This has nothing to do with "the south" and everything to do with pro sports. Every team in every city gives away free tickets to advertisers and corporations.

As has been pointed out, almost every team in every sport announces paid attendance and not physical attendance. It's easier to count and generally sounds better.

At 10:07 a.m., November 16, 2005, Anonymous DonK said...

I agree that there are some cities where the announced attendance and bodies in the building bear only a passing resemblance to each other. But another issue: How much are people paying for these tickets? As Anonymous points out, there's the issue of attendance (tickets sold/distributed. which I believe is the figure you see the teams report) vs. paid attendance. But a third issue is ticket price -- a lot of teams have cut prices and/or are offering package deals, discount plans (student discounts, family packs, etc.). Even if they're selling tickets, teams may not be getting the same revenue they did in 2003-04.

At 10:30 a.m., November 16, 2005, Anonymous Greg said...

Three of my brothers and my dad were in Washington, and went to watch them beat the Leafs and the Thrashers two weekends ago.

What did they pay for their tickets?

$5 each. Normally a $10 ticket, but because they bought 4 of them, they were only $5.

One of my brother's is a Leafs fan (he's young and naive) and he bought a seasons ticket holders' spare ticket for that game - apparently a great seat, normally $90, he paid the guy $45.

Now that's Washington mind you...

At 1:11 p.m., November 16, 2005, Blogger James Mirtle said...


Yeap, this isn't anything new and I agree that it has probably been going on for a while. This year, however, the stakes are higher for the NHL — and their desire to say how 'well' they are doing is that much stronger.

The reason it's important to bring up the attendance padding now is that a) it's early in the year and b) the NHL is trumpeting everything as A-OK with the new NHL.

At 1:39 p.m., November 16, 2005, Anonymous Lyle Richardson said...

James: agree, but with the league trumpeting these heightened figures, it might leave them open to criticism of said figures by those in the media with far more sway, time and resources than I to do the research.

Feel a story coming on, James?

At 1:53 p.m., November 16, 2005, Blogger James Mirtle said...

I don't think I've got much of any of the three of sway, time and resources to tackle any NHL stories, other than to the extent I can do on here. I haven't written an NHL story for a newspaper since February.

The powers that be know where to find my blog, however. If it's deemed a story, I'm sure we'll be reading about it some more.


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