Hockey's magic number
The magic number for fans of the Nashville Predators this season has been 14,000: The paid attendance mark the fan base theoretically needs to achieve in order to stave off a potential relocation.
Historically, NHL teams have averaged about 15,800 fans per game since 1989-90, the last season for which I've been able to track down reliable attendance figures. (These are not paid totals, however, and we've long heard of the 'padding' that occurs with comped tickets — especially in some of the league's softer market.)
Over that 17 season span, from the end of the Oilers' dynasty in 1989-90 to last season, the Detroit Red Wings have been the NHL's top team for attendance, averaging nearly 20,000 fans per game for nearly two decades.
Of the 34 teams to play in those years, only seven have averaged lower attendance than the Predators — and four of those were relocated or folded by 1996-97.
In fact, the only team to have played every year from 1990 to last season and average less than 15,000 fans per game is the New York Islanders, who have averaged just 12,155 fans per game over the past 17 seasons:
The low end of the spectrum (the lowest eight teams in average attendance):
Boy, there are some ugly numbers in there.
The North Stars, for one, averaged just 7,838 fans one season in Minnesota, three years before going to Dallas. Carolina started below 10,000 before moving into a suitable arena.
Of all the teams represented there, however, the team that the Predators most closely resemble is the Hartford Whalers, who had a big dip in attendance, and as fans heard the overtures about the team leaving, they showed up in droves to 'save the Whale.' (Phoenix offers another close comparable.)
Here's a look at the Top 10 attended teams since 1990 (you'll have to click on this for the larger image):
Detroit's been a ridiculous model of consistency over the past 17 seasons, so much so that any potential drop off this season would be a huge story. Montreal's huge jump is, obviously, the result of their new monster building, a jump you see the Maple Leafs also make in 1999.
Columbus has to be a scary one for the league, given they're one of the few teams below the league average on this list.
Just outside of the Top 10 were: 11. Chicago, 12. Vancouver (hurt by a few low years in the late-90s), 13. St. Louis, 14. Tampa Bay, 15. San Jose.
Here's a look at the bottom six of today's current teams, and you can see where Nashville has fit in the past few seasons (this one has to be quite large to fit the detail in):
Nashville's in the same boat as Atlanta and Phoenix, essentially. Carolina's attendance has really taken off since 2006 (gee, I wonder why), while the Islanders are just god awful.
It'll be interesting to see how the new building improves the Devils' fortunes at the gate.
Historically speaking, the NHL's magic number for announced attendance is in the 15,000 range, close to the league average, and there are four teams falling short (Islanders, Carolina, Phoenix and Nashville). It's a dangerous spot to be.
|Avg. attendance since 1989-90|
|1||Detroit Red Wings||19906|
|6||New York Rangers||17801|
|7||Columbus Blue Jackets||17317|
|9||Toronto Maple Leafs||17255|
|13||St. Louis Blues||16471|
|14||Tampa Bay Lightning||16415|
|15||San Jose Sharks||16251|
|20||Los Angeles Kings||15575|
|22||Anaheim Mighty Ducks||15463|
|26||New Jersey Devils||15122|
|32||New York Islanders||12155|
|34||x-Minnesota North Stars||11637|
One more for good measure