What's Going On in Phoenix: The Root of the Coyotes' Attendance Struggles

Blake BenzelCorrespondent INovember 4, 2009

Ok.  I get it.  The Phoenix Coyotes probably couldn’t draw a crowd if they offered a Ned Braden-esque strip show at the conclusion of every game.


It’s shoved in our face in absolutely every single article or every single mention of the team.


Every. Single. One.


Never mind that the team is 9-5-0 and playing some pretty darn good hockey.


Let’s forget about the fact that they have one of the top goalies in the league right now or that Dave Tippett actually has this team playing up to their potential or that Shane Doan and Ed Jovanovski have resurrected this team on the ice.


No.  The main topic of every single media outlet is their attendance.


But let’s look at this.  Why is a team that is playing so well on the ice struggling so much?


Well, first of all, let’s be honest.  They’re hardly playing barn-burning hockey.  They’ve only scored more than three goals three times so far this season and, while Tippett certainly has them playing well, they’re struggling to find the back of the net.


Winning is good and all, but unless you’re in a hockey-crazed state and/or city, you’re hardly going to attract a crowd with 2-1 victories.


I mean, sure, Minnesota did it.  But that’s in Minnesota.  The State of Hockey.  The Braden-esque strip show could be the only attraction and fans would still show up in droves.


Second, the ownership debacle has been a large factor.


Consider this: Last season, in 41 home games, the Desert Dogs averaged 14,875 fans per game compared to 9,407 in this season’s seven home games.


You’re telling me that in one season’s time, 5,468 people just magically stopped caring about hockey?  Yes, the product on the ice was bad last season, but they were in the playoff hunt for a good portion of the season.


The ownership situation of the Coyotes made season ticket holders hold off on renewing their tickets.


Think about it.  Why would someone pay $738 (this is without taxes, mind you) for a sporting event that they weren’t even sure that they would attend?  And that’s just for the cheap seats.


Without ownership, the marketing team wouldn’t even know if they would have a product to promote, let alone be able to promote them successfully.  They would have no direction, no idea of what they could/could not spend on things.


In essence, the ownership struggles have been far more of a factor in the attendance at Jobing.com arena than anything else.


Finally, we find ourselves also faced with the stark reality that we are a country that has come on hard financial times.


There are season ticket holders for the most successful of teams that did not renew their tickets simply because they could not afford to.  The difference in these teams was that they had people waiting in the wings to snatch these tickets up.  For a team like the Coyotes, losing season ticket holders is like the kiss of death.


But there’s still the single-game tickets.  I mean, it was sold out for the White Out, right?  There have got to be people that care about hockey in the desert.


That is completely true.  There are a great deal of hockey fans in the desert.  Fans that would love nothing more than to support their Phoenix Coyotes team in person.


But things are tough all over.


The upper level tickets range from $15 (the last four rows of the ends) to $40 (center ice).  $15 for a ticket.  Not bad, right?  My guess would be that those tickets are the first that are snatched up.


Sure, 14 sections, approximately 30 people per row over four rows.  That’s 1,680 people.  Not a bad start.  But that is just the start.


Now I’m not saying that $40 per ticket is a bad deal.  Believe me.  I’ve paid more than that for an upper level ticket at a hockey game before.


But $40 per ticket, plus parking, plus food, plus drinks, and you’re looking at much more than just a $40 evening when you could watch the game at a sports bar or even your own home for a fraction of the cost.


It starts to add up a bit.


The bottom line in all of this isn’t to malign the Coyotes.  In fact, I think that this team deserves to test putting a good team on the ice in Phoenix and see how the fans respond then.


This season they’ve performed very well, so far.  They’re playing with a chip on their shoulder and they’re winning hockey games.


But they’re doing so in the shadow of ownership squabbles and relocation.


Hockey in Phoenix can work.  We’ve seen it work in other non-traditional markets like Dallas and Carolina.  But the NHL and Coyotes ownership needs to give these fans a chance and a reason to come out, respectively.


Uncertainty does nothing but shoot the team in the foot.  Before ticket sales can increase, before even the talent level on the ice can increase, the team needs to be certain of its future.


The NHL made this move to Phoenix and it owes it to the players that have grown roots in the community and the fans that love this team to try and make it work.  The team has started to turn around and win some games.  Now it’s time for the league to provide the fans the certainty that their investment in the team won’t be for naught in a season’s time and give the team some stability, if only for a couple years, to prove that hockey can flourish in the desert.


It’s time that we are allowed to watch the Coyotes without anyone making mention of their attendance in a disparaging way.  The fans and the players at least deserve that much.


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