NHL Attendance 2013-14: Supposed Decline a Mirage Compared to Previous Seasons

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NHL Attendance 2013-14: Supposed Decline a Mirage Compared to Previous Seasons
Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images

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:

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:

NHL Team Average Attendance: 2013-14 vs. 2011-12
Team 2013-14 Average 2011-12 Average Change
Chicago Blackhawks 21,400 21,426 -0.12%
Montreal Canadiens 21,273 21,273 Even
Detroit Red Wings 20,066 20,066 Even
Philadelphia Flyers 19,744 19,724 +0.10%
Toronto Maple Leafs 19,358 19,503 -0.74%
Calgary Flames 19,289 19,289 Even
Vancouver Canucks 18,910 18,877 +0.17%
Pittsburgh Penguins 18,585 18,554 +0.17%
Washington Capitals 18,506 18,506 Even
Buffalo Sabres 18,401 18,669 -1.44%
Tampa Bay Lightning 18,280 18,753 -2.52%
Minnesota Wild 18,155 17,452 +4.03%
Los Angeles Kings 18,118 18,085 +0.18%
New York Rangers 18,006 18,178 -0.95%
Boston Bruins 17,565 17,565 Even
San Jose Sharks 17,562 17,562 Even
Ottawa Senators 17,451 19,016 -8.23%
Edmonton Oilers 16,810 16,839 -0.17%
St. Louis Blues 16,479 18,877 -12.70%
Nashville Predators 16,433 16,477 -0.27%
Colorado Avalanche 16,334 15,090 +8.24%
Anaheim Ducks 15,649 14,917 +4.91%
Winnipeg Jets 15,004 15,004 Even
Carolina Hurricanes 14,974 14,958 +0.11%
New Jersey Devils 14,059 14,812 -5.08%
Florida Panthers 13,939 16,039 -13.09%
Dallas Stars 13,629 11,470 +18.82%
New York Islanders 13,419 12,615 +6.37%
Columbus Blue Jackets 13,289 14,166 -6.19%
Phoenix Coyotes 12,662 10,890 +16.27%


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:

Per ESPN attendance statistics.

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.

Mark Jones has been a Carolina Hurricanes featured columnist for Bleacher Report since 2009. Visit his profile to read more, or follow him on Twitter.

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