This Stanley Cup Playoff has brought a lot of attention to Florida hockey. A packed barn with rabid fans and great TV ratings. Success has not been limited to the playoffs either. An NHL team in Florida was top 10 in NHL attendance this year and averaged 98% capacity. The bummer for the Florida Panthers is that it is happening less than 300 miles to the north of Miami, in Tampa. How can a city with less than half the population of Miami be so much more successful than the Panthers? If you listen to the critics online, hockey cannot work in Florida…yet here we are, one time thriving while the other struggles.
Success on the ice
As with most teams and sports, the single biggest thing that impacts attendance is winning and more specifically, reaching the playoffs. Often the attendance lift happens the year after making the playoffs while people set on locking in playoff tickets by becoming season ticket holders the following year. So let’s take a look at the success rates of NHL Franchises.
Some of you that grew up with hockey might not know this, but Playoff hockey is the gateway drug to hockey. Tampa Bay has seen average success in getting into the playoffs where Florida has struggled. You can see the impacts of their success on their attendance records of both teams below.
As I’ve called out many times before, this year’s substantial drop in Florida was expected as new ownership went through a strategy shift of no longer offering deeply discounted tickets.
I know I know…why should winning impact attendance, I mean “real fans” go to see their team play regardless right? Well not so fast my friend. With rare exception, (see Edmonton & Toronto) most teams struggle to draw attendance during a stretch of poor performance.
USA Hockey Growth in Florida
I have never thought that you need to play hockey to be a hockey fan but hockey participation can be an indicator on how it is doing. Unfortunately USA Hockey only provides detail at the state level but it is clear that Hockey is taking roots in Florida.
There are 25 USA Hockey territories with over 5000 USA Hockey memberships and of these, Florida has seen the 5th highest growth over the last 10 years.
Since I started this project people assume I want to see the Coyotes or Florida move to Seattle. I have several “discussions” with friends on the topic as well. Do I think those franchises should relocate? The answer is a resounding, No. I don’t know if the Panthers will stay in Florida but I do know that they need to win to stay and I believe the new ownership group is taking the necessary steps to make it work.
A lot of Seattle Sports fans had their hearts ripped out when the Sonics left so the last thing I am rooting for is to do that to another community.