Angst over NHL attendance has spread steadily this holiday season.
Compared to the lockout-shortened—and, thus, lockout-inflated—statistics of 2012-13, crowds are significantly smaller all around the league this winter.
However, a more accurate comparison to the opening half of the full-length 2011-12 campaign reveals only the smallest of declines.
Globe and Mail reporter James Mirtle riled up fans everywhere with his tweeted graphic last Thursday, showing seven teams with attendance declines of more than 6 percent compared to last year and four with declines of 14 percent or more. Per Mirtle:
Attendance down 8% or more in six NHL markets: Columbus, Ottawa, Dallas, Carolina, NJ, Florida. League down 3%. pic.twitter.com/V028UCQ1sF— James Mirtle (@mirtle) December 12, 2013
Simply put, the comparison is not equitable. Teams hosted just 24 home games a season ago, a recipe that all but guaranteed attendance increases: the schedule crammed partial-season ticket holders into less variety, avoided football scheduling conflicts (which rarely go well for the NHL) and raised the importance of each contest.
Hockey's attendance appears in a different and brighter light when directly contrasted against the 2011-12 campaign with the same sample size.
This autumn and winter's team attendance averages were compared with the same team's average through the same number of home games two years ago. The results can be seen below, using data from HockeyAttendance.com, with the biggest swings highlighted in yellow:
|Team||2013-14 Average||2011-12 Average||Change|
|Detroit Red Wings||20,066||20,066||Even|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||19,358||19,503||-0.74%|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||18,280||18,753||-2.52%|
|Los Angeles Kings||18,118||18,085||+0.18%|
|New York Rangers||18,006||18,178||-0.95%|
|San Jose Sharks||17,562||17,562||Even|
|St. Louis Blues||16,479||18,877||-12.70%|
|New Jersey Devils||14,059||14,812||-5.08%|
|New York Islanders||13,419||12,615||+6.37%|
|Columbus Blue Jackets||13,289||14,166||-6.19%|
At this point in the campaign, just five teams have experienced a decline of more than a mere 4 percent, and a counterbalancing six have actually experienced an increase of more than 4 percent. For all of their southern-market struggles, clubs like Phoenix and Dallas are showing signs of growing support—helping to ease stress over the falling influence of franchises such as Ottawa, Florida and (very oddly) St. Louis.
As a whole, the league's average attendance after 520 games (17,224) is down just 0.39 percent from the first 520 matches of 2011-12, which drew an average of 17,292 spectators.
In fact, that 17,224 average is down just 1.32 percent from the overall average of 2011-12 (17,455) and only 2.81 percent from lockout-inflated 2012-13 (17,721); it's higher than four of the six seasons before that. See a chart, based on ESPN statistics, below:
With attendances expected to rise in many locations as the importance of each home game grows, calling 2013-14 a notably disappointing campaign for NHL attendance is nothing short of an outright lie.