An estimated 74,524 total hockey-starved fans will attend one of four games when the NHL's 2014-15 season begins on October 8.
All four opening day hosts—Toronto, Boston, Calgary and Los Angeles—will continue to draw sellout crowds for their 40 other home contests in the coming campaign.
For some of the league's 26 other franchises, however, the nightly crowd size may be a bit more variable.
By the Numbers
NHL attendance declined 0.4 percent in 2013-14 compared to the last full-length season (2011-12), down from 17,433 to 17,368 per game. Fourteen teams averaged at or above reported arena capacity, while just one (Dallas) filled less than 80 percent of capacity, the least since 2008-09.
Computer models, based on quadratic growth calculations on data from the 2009-10 season on (excluding lockout-inflated 2012-13), project league-wide attendance in the upcoming 2014-15 season to rise slightly up to 17,421 per game.
The models' projection for every NHL team lies in the chart below:
|2014-15 Attendance Projections by Team|
|Rank||Team||Attendance||Change||Change in Rank|
|3||Detroit Red Wings||20,066||Even||Even|
|5||Toronto Maple Leafs||19,498||+52||Even|
|7||Tampa Bay Lightning||19,103||+491||+2|
|14||Los Angeles Kings||18,118||-23||-2|
|15||New York Rangers||18,076||+70||Even|
|17||St. Louis Blues||17,559||+534||+1|
|18||San Jose Sharks||17,261||+128||-1|
|26||New Jersey Devils||14,596||+209||+1|
|27||Columbus Blue Jackets||14,437||-261||-2|
|29||New York Islanders||13,511||-347||Even|
|Per computer models|
But the above projections are based only on history, failing to account for additional influencing factors like team success, offseason changes and marketing campaigns.
All things considered, the NHL appears potentially poised for a significant attendance spike in 2014-15.
Expect Larger Crowds in Smaller Markets
Perennially improving TV ratings have foreshadowed the coming spike for years, yet on-ice improvement in several of the NHL's more volatile markets sets up 2014-15 for a noteworthy spike.
Colorado, Columbus, Dallas and Tampa Bay all ended postseason droughts last spring. The Avalanche and Blue Jackets set six- and four-year attendance highs, while Tampa Bay remained in the top 10 in the league for the second consecutive season.
Stocked with young stars and well-respected front offices and riding high off successful offseasons, all four clubs are solid bets to again qualify for the NHL playoffs in 2015—and continue to attract more and more fans in the process.
This summer, the Avs and Stars rank No. 1 and 2 in the NHL in new season-ticket package sales, per Alex Silverman of the Sports Business Daily.
Dallas' season-ticket holder base has increased 50 percent (6,000 to 9,000) since 2011, and president Jim Lites is aiming for another 3,000-holder jump by this time next year. "Once we can sell the lower arena of the AmericanAirlines Center out on a season-ticket basis at fair prices, we’re going to be well on our way to being profitable on an annual basis," said Lites to Silverman.
The 2012-13 season, when the lockout reduced each team's home schedule from 41 to just 24 games and inflated attendances in many smaller markets, is often dismissed as a superficial increase. And indeed, league-wide attendance jumped 1.6 percent during 2012-13, then proceeded to drop 2.0 percent the following year.
The inflation was arguably evident nowhere more clearly than in Carolina, where attendance jumped up 9.5 percent from 2011-12, then fell down 11.8 percent in 2013-14.
The glimpse of crowds of 18,000 regularly filling PNC Arena in 2012-13, though, has motivated the franchise's newly remade front office to address its issue with inconsistent attendance. Former Thrashers general manger and veteran executive Don Waddell was hired in July as Carolina's new team president.
Per Luke DeCock of the Raleigh News & Observer:
Growing revenue from sponsorships and ticket sales is Waddell’s top priority, given the now annual drops in the season-ticket base during the team’s five-year absence from the postseason. Both Waddell and [GM Ron] Francis are busy making calls to season-ticket holders both current and former.
In anticipation of the coming season but also perhaps because of the team's efforts, the average Hurricanes ticket price on the resale market has jumped from $36 earlier in 2014 to $73 today, per SeatGeek.
Big Markets Still Driving Demand
A ticket for the Montreal vs. Toronto opening day game, based on the current resale ticket selection, will cost one a minimum of $296.
It's markets like those two—where attendance is dictated not by demand but by arena capacity—where the real money is made, even if year-to-year variance in the smaller, less stable markets has the greatest effect on overall attendance averages.
And the NHL, fortunately, has plenty of markets like those too. In addition to the 14 teams that sold out every game last year, three more—San Jose, Washington and Ottawa—were a part of the group in either 2012-13 or 2011-12 and could rejoin it soon.
Compared to the NBA, in which only eight teams averaged 100 percent of capacity attendance last season, a cast of 17 teams boasting nightly sellouts would certainly leave the NHL with nothing to complain about.