NHL Lockout: The 10 Fanbases That Will Not Return
With the NHL lockout now entering its 10th week, and with no end realistically in sight, analysis of the actual damage being done to the game has to be contemplated on a much more personal level for many hockey fans around the league.
The day after Thanksgiving, the NHL announced the cancellation of games through December 14 (ESPN). With the two sides unable to reach any sort of consensus—or even any sort of middle ground at all—as to the make-whole issue, as well as other ancillary issues that matter to one side or the other, this most recent cancellation was not a surprise.
For those keeping track, more than a third of the regular season has now been lost. Included in that are the loss of the Winter Classic and now the All-Star game as well. The NHL is losing between $18 to $20 million per day (ESPN).
But the damage and animosity are going even deeper than that. Dave Bolland of the Blackhaws retweeted, apparently accidentally, a post calling for Gary Bettman's death (ESPN). The mistake, if it was a mistake, represents a true low point in this whole sad saga.
If you read my latest article, you already know that I am not optimistic, at all, that this most recent round of game cancellations will be the last. I know I am not alone here.
The fact that the two sides have agreed to mediation is a good step but I am still not that convinced anything positive will happen (ESPN).
People are mad.
People are frustrated.
And many people just don't care anymore.
This is where the real damage from the lockout will ultimately be felt. There are many fanbases around the NHL that will be profoundly impacted by the lockout and the length of the lockout. Many of these fanbases will see wholesale depletion of large numbers of their fans.
For some, the damage might very well be irreversible.
No, the Original Six franchises will be just fine. And, for that matter, pretty much any franchise north of the border will probably not notice a significant decline in attendance numbers.
But one thing, among many, for which Gary Bettman has been criticized has been his insistence to place NHL franchises in questionable United States markets. It was a gamble that saw the game expand to some rather unexpected places with mixed results.
It is a gamble that could blow up in Bettman's face as some of those markets have fanbases that, being lukewarm to the idea of hockey in the first place, are now just completely disillusioned with the sport after yet another work stoppage.
Many of these fanbases are likely done with the NHL and will not be spending their hard earned cash on tickets and merchandise to support a sport that has shown an increasing indifference to those very same fans.
For those who read this, please don't get this wrong. This article is not, in any way, an attempt to minimize the passion and loyalty many fans of the teams to be discussed in this article display season in and season out. Rather, it is an attempt to identify 10 NHL teams whose fans, for a variety of reasons, might not be so willing to come back, spend money and watch the NHL this time around.
We are all hockey fans. We are all passionate about the sport and teams we love. But some fanbases are not going to rebound so quickly this time around—if they rebound at all.
Which fanbases won't return if and when the NHL does?
Here are 10 fanbases that won't be back.
10. Colorado Avalanche
The glory days of the Avalanche have been a distant memory for a while now
The fans in Denver can be some of the most passionate fans in all of sports. Their support of the Colorado Avalanche over the years is no exception.
The Avalanche were born in 1995 when the Quebec Nordiques moved to the Mile High City. Their very first season in Denver, the Avs took the Stanley Cup and took the hearts of the city with them.
For the next decade, the Avalanche were one of the top franchises in the NHL. Led by stars such as Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Patrick Roy and Ray Bourque, the Avalanche added another Stanley Cup championship in 2001 and set an all-time NHL attendance record with 487 consecutive sell outs between 1995 and 2006.
That sure sounds like a dedicated fanbase and one that could be immune to the fan disenchantment that normally accompanies any sort of work stoppage.
So why do I think this is a fanbase that won't be bouncing back when the NHL returns.
Take a look at this graph and you will see my concern.
In particular, look at what happened to the Avalanche after the last lockout.
The Avs saw no difference in attendance during the 2005-2006 season, the first full season after the last lockout.
But the next four years saw a steady decline in attendance. By the 2009-2010 season, the Avs were averaging more than 4,000 fewer fans at games than they were averaging prior to the lockout.
Yes, it is no coincidence that during the same time frame the Avs were in a rebuilding mode. And, yes, the Avs have gained back about 1,500 of those fans the past two seasons.
Even so, the Avalanche still ranked 23rd in the NHL in attendance last season. In general, the Pepsi Center was only filled to 86.1 percent of capacity.
But if there was any momentum building, the current lockout will pretty much kill it.
And if this lockout has a similar effect on attendance figures that the last one did, then I think the future of the Avalanche is in flux. The Avs are not really rebuilding, but they have still only qualified for the playoffs twice in the past five seasons.
Maybe the addition of P.A. Parenteau (ESPN) will help make the Avalanche more competitive. But I have real concerns that another lockout, combined with a team a few years away from really contending, is going to have a dramatic effect on the fanbase in Denver.
If that happens, it will be a sad day for all hockey fans as one of the real flagship franchises from the past 15 years might be in trouble.
9. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning win the Stanley Cup in front of their home fans in 2004
The Tampa Bay Lightning are another example of a team suffering from the effects of the last lockout. The eventual impact of the current lockout will be felt far and wide in Tampa when all is said and done.
The Lightning were the last team to win the Stanley Cup prior to the past lockout taking place. When the NHL resumed business for the 2005-2006 season, the Lightning's attendance shot through the roof. The defending champions had an average attendance of roughly 20,500 per game, nearly 3,000 above their average from the 2003-2004 season.
But if you look at this graph you will see that the 2005-2006 season might have been an anomaly. The Lightning's average attendance would drop each of the next four seasons. By the 2009-2010 season, average attendance for the Lightning was down by 5,000 per game from the high point a few seasons earlier.
Sure, a lot of that had to do with the Lightning falling apart during the 2007-2008 season. It was not until the 2010-2011 season, when Tampa Bay made an unexpected run to the Eastern Conference finals, that the Lightning's attendance numbers improved.
But if you compare Tampa Bay's chart to Colorado's, you will notice something similar: roughly four years of declining attendance numbers and then a resurgence the past two seasons.
Again, this coincides with hockey's rise in popularity the past couple of seasons. But this increase in popularity did not occur until four years of declining interest in the sport in certain regions.
This is what I believe to be the ripple effect from the 2004-2005 lockout. The impact this time around, I fear, will be more pronounced.
This might be especially true in a city like Tampa, who gets as much snow in a century as Lake Tahoe gets in an hour during a light dusting.
Admittedly, the Lightning averaged 18,468 during the 2011-2012 season, 96.2 percent of capacity at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. The Lightning's attendance was strong enough to rank No. 13 overall in the NHL, ahead of teams like the Rangers and Bruins.
So why am I so down on the chances that the Lightning faithful will return this time around? Well, for one, we are talking about Tampa here. No matter what Gary Bettman might think, hockey and Florida just don't go together.
The only reason the Lightning survived the last lockout was because they were the defending champions. Everyone loves a winner and the Stanley Cup hangover buoyed the Lightning's attendance numbers for a year or so...then the bottom dropped out.
This time, the Lightning are not the defending champions. In fact, they just had a pretty disappointing season, a season that saw the team rank near the bottom of the standings in many key defensive categories, including dead last in goals-against-average.
The Lightning should be better this year. They still have stars like Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. But they will not be good enough to stave off what I anticipate will be a significant reduction in attendance this season.
This is another fanbase I do not see returning whenever the NHL decides to come back.
8. Nashville Predators
Bridgestone Arena transforms for a Predators game
The Nashville Predators fanbase is a tough one to figure out.
Unlike the Colorado or Tampa Bay examples used previously, the fans in Nashville did not fluctuate too much after the last lockout. By and large, attendance hovered around the 15,000 mark for the four years after the 2004-2005 lockout.
The past two seasons, as the Preds have become a contender in the Western Conference, attendance has increased to over 16,500 per game.
So why is this going to change? I think you will see the fanbase in Nashville stay away, to a certain extent, because of a couple of factors.
The first factor has to do with the fans in Nashville just being as fed up with the whole process as pretty much all hockey fans. The people in Nashville are not stupid and they will know when they are being abused and taken advantage of just as much as any other fanbase.
In particular, the fans in Nashville also know that their franchise has been one of the franchises most directly on the relocation radar of the NHL for many years now. Over the past five years, moving the franchise to Hamilton, Ontario or Kansas City have been discussed (Fox Sports).
That can't make the average fan feel too appreciated.
Whatever the case, the Preds financial stability has been somewhat erratic over the years. You can read about some of that history in this 2009 article from the Nashville Scene.
This past offseason, they spent a ton of money to keep defenseman Shea Weber in Nashville, matching the offer sheet submitted by the Philadelphia Flyers and signing Weber to a 14 year, $110 million contract (NHL.com).
Naturally, this is one of the contracts the NHLPA wants to have guaranteed, something the NHL has been less than willing to do as the lockout has progressed. What sort of impact will all this have on the Preds financially and how long might it be before rumors of a sale and/or relocation begin again?
And though the Predators retained Weber, they did lose Ryan Suter to the Minnesota Wild (ESPN). Will that have any sort of psychological effect on the fanbase? If the team falters in a shortened season, will there be a mass exodus of fans?
But take all of these factors, mix them up, combine them with a long lockout and the fact that the Predators are part of Bettman's southern expansion experiment and I think the Predators fanbase may not return this time around.
I admit I might be wrong about this. The Predators' fanbase has been very loyal and consistent over the years.
But I have a sense that this time will be different
7. Florida Panthers
The Florida Panthers fall to the New Jersey Devils in OT of Game 7 at the Bank Atlantic Center last spring
Hockey in Miami has always seemed, well, unnatural to say the very least.
If you review this graph, you will see that the folks in Miami have never truly embraced the concept of ice hockey.
Since the prior lockout, the Panthers average home attendance has been fairly consistent, hovering around the 15,500 per game mark.
Considering the Panthers missed the playoffs for 10 consecutive seasons from 2001 through the 2012 playoffs, keeping attendance figures consistent is quite an accomplishment for any team.
Last year, the Panthers made a remarkable turnaround winning their first ever division title just a year after finishing last in the Southeast division for the second consecutive season. The resurgence led to the Panthers average home attendance increasing by roughly 1,000 fans per game.
The problem though is that even with the team capturing its first ever divisional title, and even with attendance on the rise, the BankAtlantic Center was only filled to 86.4 percent of capacity last year. The Panthers still only ranked 21st in the league in attendance last season.
In general, since the last lockout, BankAtlantic Center has only been about 81 percent full for Panthers home games. If you look at the graph from earlier, you will see that is pretty much the norm for the Panthers since they came into existence. The only real exception to that was the 1998-1999 season—and that was the year they acquired Pavel Bure.
Selling the concept of hockey to the good people of Miami is just really tough. There are many Panthers fans who are as passionate as any other fans in the NHL. But they are in the minority.
Now, with the defending NBA champion Heat trying to firmly establish a dynasty, combined with the Dolphins being somewhat respectable again (we won't talk about the Marlins as that team is a mess), will enough people really care about the Panthers when the NHL returns?
I doubt it.
The fanbase in Miami will be another casualty of the 2012 lockout.
6. Carolina Hurricanes
The Carolina Hurricanes capture the Stanley Cup in 2006, the first season after the last lockout
The Carolina Hurricanes are another example of why Gary Bettman's southern expansionism might not have been the best of ideas.
Well, to be fair to Bettman, the Canes ending up in Raleigh happened several years before he started placing hockey teams in non-traditional hockey markets.
It was back in 1997 when the Hartford Whalers left New England, came to North Carolina and became the Hurricanes. From the word go, it was a move that did not make a ton of sense.
With no arena in Raleigh then ready to host hockey, the Canes tenure in North Carolina started in the Greensboro Coliseum, about an hour and a half away from Raleigh. If the fans in Raleigh were lukewarm about the team, the folks in Greensboro could have cared less and the Canes' attendance was abysmal.
Even after the arena in Raleigh was complete, the Hurricanes attendance was not where it was hoped to be. In 2002, the Canes reached the Stanley Cup final and, finally, people started to show up. A few more people came to see the Canes the next season but the level of play declined and for the 2003-2004 season, the Canes saw attendance drop by more than 3,000 per game from the previous season.
Then the 2004-2005 lockout hit. When the NHL returned, so did the fans. And with good reason as the Canes would capture their first Stanley Cup in a thrilling seven game series with the Cinderella Edmonton Oilers.
The next year, as defending champions, the Canes had their highest average attendance numbers ever and it seemed like Raleigh was finally transitioning into a true hockey town.
But it did not last, as this graph demonstrates. By the 2009-2010 season, Carolina's average home attendance was more than 2,000 less per game than just three years earlier. The Canes were not a good team during that time frame but one still has to wonder if the ripple effect from the prior lockout was a factor.
After a resurgence of fans for the 2010-2011 season, the Canes lost about 400 fans per game last season. Carolina ranked 22nd in attendance last season, one place lower than Miami which, in my opinion, is much less of a hockey town than Raleigh.
The PNC Arena was only 85.9 percent filled last year.
Is there reason to be optimistic this season (if there is a season) that people will come back? Perhaps. The Canes will be a much better team this year having added Jordan Staal (NHL.com) and Alexander Semin (NBC Sports) to their ranks.There is every reason to think Carolina can challenge for, at a minimum, the Southeast division crown, if not much more.
But will anyone care any more? Perhaps curiosity about the new Canes and how good they might actually be will buoy attendance figures for a little while. Perhaps the good people of Raleigh will figure lightning can strike twice and they can capture the Cup after this lockout as well.
But in the end, Raleigh is just not the sort of fanbase that is going to be happy about having to deal with another work stoppage and the threat of further work stoppages in the future. The city's acceptance of hockey, historically, has been somewhat tenuous at best.
The 2012 lockout might very well be the straw that breaks the camel's back as far as the Hurricanes' fanbase is concerned.
5. Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks capture the 2007 Stanley Cup on home ice at the Honda Center
As someone who has lived in California the past 20 years, I know all too well how fickle sports fans can be out here.
One year you are hot, the next year you are pretty much forgotten. The Anaheim Ducks are a great example of this.
Unlike the teams in the southern states, hockey in California seems to have more support. Maybe its because there are so many people who have transplanted here from all over North America that there are bound to be some hockey fans along the way.
Or maybe because the state is so geographically diverse—never mind the fact that there are parts of the state where it snows a ton—the population accepts the notion of hockey more so than they do in states like Florida or Tennessee.
Whatever the case, Californians have been some of the most ardent supporters of teams like the San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks over the years. But, for some reason, the folks in Anaheim have become rather disenchanted with the Ducks these past few years. That does not bode well for the Duck's future moving forward.
The Ducks have always been a bit of an enigma. They were originally based on a Disney movie and they used to be known as the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. For the first five years of their existence, the team had excellent attendance marks even though the rival Kings were playing 25 miles up the road in LA.
But the fascination soon ended and the Ducks attendance took a nose dive for four years straight, from 1998 through 2002.
The Ducks would make it to the Stanley Cup Final in 2003 and this led to Anaheim becoming a real hockey town. If you review this graph you will see how the Ducks' attendance numbers went through the roof from the 2003-2004 season all the way through the 2008-2009 season.
Along the way, the Ducks stopped being Mighty and no sooner did they do that, they captured their first Stanley Cup in 2007. Anaheim was electric and the Honda Center had one of the best atmospheres to watch a hockey game. For the next two seasons, the Ducks had excellent attendance figures.
But then something changed for the 2009-2010 season and the Duck's attendance plummeted by more than 1,800 persons per game. This seemed to coincide with Chris Pronger being traded to the Philadelphia Flyers and Rob Niedermayer leaving via free agency.
The Ducks have yet to recover. They have failed to reach the playoffs two of the past three seasons. Last season, the Ducks ranked 26th in the NHL in attendance. The Honda Center was only filled to 86.1 percent of capacity.
The Ducks have real problems and the fans in Anaheim have plenty of other options to keep them away from games. The Ducks probably will not be that great of a team this year and you now have the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings playing very close by and, in all likelihood, pulling fans away from Anaheim to make the short trek to Staples Center to watch the champs in action.
Los Angeles has been trying to, in essence, make Anaheim a suburb of LA for many years now (the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim?). With LA becoming the center of the hockey universe—for this coming season anyway—I just don't see the Ducks fanbase rebounding anytime soon.
If the Kings keep winning, we might not see the Ducks' fanbase recover at all.
4. New York Islanders
Unfortunately for the faithful on Long Island this is about as much excitement as they have seen in a long time
I want to qualify this a bit.
The Islanders' fanbase on Long Island will not be returning; whatever happens once the team gets to Brooklyn may be another story entirely.
From 1979-1984, the New York Islanders were a dynasty. The Isles took home the Stanley Cup four times during those five seasons. They were loaded with Hall of Fame or Hall of Fame caliber players.
Mike Bossy, Dennis Potvin, Billy Smith, Clark Gillies, Butch Goring, etc. You could stack up the Islanders' dynasty against even the great dynasties of the Montreal Canadiens and the boys from Long Island matched up very, very well.
But success after the dynasty years was sporadic at best. There were the occasional great moments, such as the shocking upset of the two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1993 playoffs. But that run to the Conference Finals back in 1993 was the most success the Islanders would see up to the present day.
How bad has it been on Long Island? The team has been to the playoffs only five times since the 1993 playoffs. They have not won a playoff series since their upset of the Penguins in 1993. They have missed the playoffs six of the past seven seasons and the past five seasons in a row.
Is it any wonder then that the Islanders ranked 29th in the league in attendance last year. The Nassau Coliseum seats only 16,250, but the Islanders averaged only 13,191 for home games. Yes, that was a sharp increase from the pathetic average of 11,059 for the 2010-2011 season. Still, the Islanders have never averaged more than 13,800 for any season since the last lockout.
So it is really no surprise at all that the Islanders are moving to Brooklyn starting in the 2015-2016 season (ESPN). For the next three seasons though, the Islanders will remain on Long Island.
Don't get me wrong here. The 13,000 plus fans who show up at Nassau Coliseum are as loyal and passionate as any you will find in the NHL. But it is an awful lot to expect even those die-hard fans to feel really gung-ho about continuing to support a team they know is leaving town, sort of, in a few years.
Throw this absurd lockout on top of the situation and I see no real way the Islanders fanbase on Long Island will be coming back.
What happens when the Islanders start playing at the Barclays Center is anyone's guess. By the 2015-2016 season, the Islanders could be a pretty good team. The team they will share Barclays with, the Brooklyn Nets, also figure to be pretty good by then, if not sooner.
Brooklyn could suddenly be caught up with a sports fever it has not known since the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958. If that happens, I think the Islanders fanbase could be back in a way we have not seen since the mid 1980s.
But if the Islanders continue to struggle, just how interested will the folks in Brooklyn be about the Islanders—especially with the Rangers playing not too far away.
It will be an interesting few years for the New York Islanders. But the good times on Long Island are done.
3. Dallas Stars
The Stars get the better of the Sharks in a shootout from March of 2012
All good things must come to an end, or so the saying goes.
The Dallas Stars resemble that remark somewhat.
Since coming to the Lone Star state for the 1993-1994 season, the Stars have always had good attendance numbers. And with good reason. The Stars won the Stanley Cup in 1999 and got back to the Stanley Cup finals the following season.
Along the way, the Stars were playing to capacity crowds at the old Reunion Arena. When the team moved to the American Airlines Center at the beginning of the 2001-2002 season, even though the new arena had an extra 1,500 seats, the capacity crowds followed.
Ironically, that 2001-2002 season would be the only time the Stars failed to make the playoffs up until the 2008-2009 season. By any standard, the Stars were one of the most successful franchises in the NHL.
But then the team started to falter. It is useful to note that the Stars have not had a losing season since the 1995-1996 campaign. But starting in the 2008-2009 season, even though the Stars were still a better than .500 franchise, they could not compete well enough with the other teams from the Western Conference to be able to qualify for the playoffs.
The Stars have missed the playoffs the past four seasons—and the fans in Dallas have not been willing to accept the Stars as a quasi-rebuilding team.
The numbers in this graph don't lie. The Stars average attendance has decreased each of the past four seasons. In fact, decreased is not a strong enough word. Crashed and burned is a better description as the Stars average attendance has gone down by 3,400 fans per game as compared to the 2008-2009 season.
Last season, the Stars attendance ranked 28th in the NHL. Only 76.8 percent of American Airlines Center was filled, second worst in the NHL.
Have the fans in Dallas grown weary of the Stars failure to thrive these past few seasons? It sure looks that way.
Relief may not be coming either. In a curious change of course, the Stars added two 40 year olds to their roster in the offseason by signing Ray Whitney (NHL.com) and Jaromir Jagr (ESPN). The idea is to mix veteran leadership with the youthful core of the Stars.
The strategy has the potential to be a great success—or a massive failure.
But if the fans in Dallas were feeling better about their chances, the current lockout pretty much wiped that out. Whitney's deal is for two years, but Jagr's was only for one. If this season is lost, Jagr will probably never set foot on the ice in Dallas.
Several years of failing to make the playoffs, combined with a work stoppage that might just rob the Stars of much of the value they gained from their two key free agent signings this past offseason, all point to a continued decline in the dwindling fanbase of the Dallas Stars.
2. Columbus Blue Jackets
Highlights of the first ever home playoff game for the Blue Jackets from April of 2009
You have to feel some sympathy for professional sports fans in Ohio.
Neither the Browns or Bengals have ever won a Super Bowl.
The Cavaliers lost Lebron James to the Miami Heat and lost any realistic chance the team had to bring a title to Cleveland for the foreseeable future.
The Indians have not won the World Series since 1948. The Reds have been more successful, but they did just lose a divisional playoff series after winning the first two games on the road.
And then there are the Columbus Blue Jackets. To say that the Blue Jackets, as a franchise, have struggled is one of the biggest understatements ever made.
The Blue Jackets came into the league for the 2000-2001 season, 22 seasons after the Cleveland Barons, the NHL's other Ohio experiment, actually ceased operations.
Unlike places like Florida or North Carolina, hockey in Ohio makes perfect sense. The problem with the Blue Jackets is not the location of the franchise...its just that the Blue Jackets have never been a very good team.
How bad have they been? Well, the Blue Jackets have played games in 11 seasons so far. They have had just one winning season during that time. That one winning season, the 2008-2009 campaign, translated into the teams only playoff appearance so far.
Once in the playoffs, they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings and the Blue Jackets have not been back since.
For the most part, fans at the Nationwide Arena have been more tolerant of this futility than many other fanbases would have been. But after the 2004-2005 lockout, there was a definite impact on attendance numbers for Columbus.
Within two years of the last lockout, attendance at Blue Jackets games had gone down by about 2,000 per game and it has, more or less, hovered there ever since.
Last season, the Blue Jackets ranked 27th in attendance with Nationwide Arena only being filled to 80.1 percent of capacity.
If the last lockout had the effect of reducing attendance by 2,000 per game, this current lockout could be the hockey equivalent of an extinction level event for Columbus.
When the NHL canceled the last batch of games, they wiped out the 2013 All-Star weekend in Columbus as well (ESPN). The loss of the All-Star weekend will have a huge impact for Columbus and central Ohio.
In an article in the Columbus Dispatch's Blue Jackets Xtra column, figures were being quoted noting that the event would have generated some $12 million for central Ohio and the All-Star game would have been one of the biggest sporting events ever in Columbus.
As if that is not enough of a kick in the gut, if the Jackets do play this year, they might not be very good having lost their star player, Rick Nash, in a trade with the New York Rangers this offseason (ESPN). Getting Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov back in the deal will help some.
But if the organization is willing to part with its best player because he too was pretty much tired of the losing, what kind of message does that send to the fans.
As great as the fans in Columbus have been so far, I suspect they might have seen enough and they won't be returning once the lockout eventually ends.
1. Phoenix Coyotes
The Coyotes had their best playoff run ever last spring
If putting hockey teams in the south made little sense, then putting one in the desert made no sense at all.
At least that was what many people thought when the prior version of the Winnipeg Jets moved to the desert in 1996. Somewhat surprisingly, the fanbase in Phoenix/Glendale was very supportive of the Coyotes.
There were a few lean years here and there as the team could not win a playoff series. But the season prior to the 2004-2005 lockout saw the Coyotes have one of their best seasons, attendance wise. The season immediately after the lockout was even better.
In fact, the Coyotes attendance figures were quit stable and fairly successful up until the 2009-2010 season. It was in May of 2009 that the Coyotes filed for bankruptcy. The entire situation was a mess. The Coyotes were supposedly moving to Hamilton, Ontario. Then they weren't. Then maybe they were again.
At the end of the whole sordid affair, the NHL ended up buying the Coyotes and assuming their liabilities. Since then, several attempts to sell the team have been made and several bidders have come forward. For one reason or another, these deals all fell through.
As these deals have all collapsed, it has been the City of Glendale, and not the NHL, that has been absorbing the Coyotes' losses. To date, Glendale has paid $50 million just to keep the Coyotes in the desert (ESPN).
Understandably, the uncertainty over the team's future has had a significant impact on the fanbase. Referring once again to our trusty graph, you can see that once the Coyotes filed for bankruptcy, and the depth of the teams financial woes became known, fans stopped showing up.
Attendance for the 2009-2010 season dropped by almost 3,000 fans per game from the season before. It has only rebounded by about 500 fans per game since then.
What has to be equally concerning is that attendance has been down, but the Coyotes have been a very good team the past three seasons. This past season, the Coyotes won a playoff series for the first time in franchise history and they actually reached the Western Conference finals.
It had no real impact at all on attendance as the Coyotes ranked last in the NHL in attendance. On average, Jobing.com Arena is only filled to 72.3 percent of capacity, worst in the NHL. Hockey in the desert is in real trouble and it has been for a while, despite the herculean efforts of the fans and government of the city of Glendale to keep the team there.
Meanwhile, rumors of the team moving to Quebec, or Seattle or Saskatoon or pretty much anywhere else you can think of persist (SB Nation.com).
Then there are just as many rumors circulating that the sale of the team to former Sharks CEO Greg Jamison is a done deal (SB Nation.com via ontheforecheck.com ). If the Jamison sale goes through, the Coyotes will remain in Glendale for many years to come and this saga will finally be over—maybe.
But will the fans be back even if the Coyotes remain. Has the whole saga left such a bad taste in the mouths of the Coyote fanbase that they won't be left wondering when rumors of the team leaving again will return? The team was losing money even before the 2009 bankruptcy. What will Jamison do different to prevent that from happening again?
The Coyotes will still be a good team. Despite all the uncertainty with the team, captain Shane Doan signed a four year deal to come back to the desert and remain with the only franchise for who he has ever played (CBS Sports).
But, as shown earlier, winning does not always translate into success as far as putting fans in the stands.
I fear that the good people of Glendale will look at the NHL and rightfully ask, What have you done for us lately?
It is a valid question as the taxpayers in Glendale have been footing the bill for a team that the NHL technically owns just to keep the team in the desert.
Throw this lockout in on top of all of that. How is that for giving something back to the fans?
When you factor in all of this, the Coyotes fanbase is the fanbase most likely to not return when the lockout eventually ends.