Season over season, the NHL’s league wide average attendance was relatively flat in 2018-19 season compared to 2017-18. This should be viewed as a positive considering most major professional sports saw somewhat significant declines season over season (NFL down .5%, MLB down 4%, and MLS down 4%). The NBA also remained flat season over season.
Big increases in attendance from Colorado, Carolina, and Arizona were offset by declines in Florida, St. Louis, and Ottawa.
Changes in attendance are usually indicative of how well a team performs. Colorado and Carolina are certainly on the rebound as far as quality of play from last season.
Florida hasn’t been making the playoff which shows at the turnstiles. In a bit, I will get into how they are set up for a comeback.
St. Louis actually declined in attendance, but let’s not forget the “worst to first” scenario that played out through the second half of the year. When your team feels eliminated in January, there is no wonder why people might not have been motivated to come out to support the team.
Ottawa’s challenges are numerous and it is clearly being reflected in their attendance. The Senators were the worst team in the NHL last season, they traded away the core of their team, and the owner hasn’t been winning over the fans since he threatened to move the team in December of 2017. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been any significant off-season changes in Ottawa to expect a turnaround anytime soon.
The rest of the teams seem to fall into place as you would expect. Teams on the incline (i.e. Islanders, Predators, and Stars) are getting more fans in the building, while teams in the decline (Blackhawks, Kings, & Rangers) are seeing drops. There are a few teams that are out of sync with their on ice performance. The Sharks and Flames had very good seasons on the ice, but attendance lagged a bit. The change there isn’t too much to be concerned about and should offset with gains next season.
Sellouts and capacity
Increasing attendance has been a challenge for the NHL mainly because they have somewhat of a capacity issue. For years over 60% of games played are essentially sellouts which makes increasing the average attendance difficult when a majority of your teams cannot physically bring more people into the arena.
As a whole, the league sellout % is down season over season with only 55% of games being sold out this season vs 64% of the games last season.
Across the league, there were 119 less sellouts games in 2018-19 season compared to the 2017-18 season. If we peel the onion back, we will see some similar teams. Rangers, Blues, and Flyers account for half of the decline with a collective 65 less sellouts this season compared to last season. Islanders saw the biggest increase in number of sellouts, but this should be served with a little bit of context. 21 of their 41 home games were played at a remodeled Nassau Coliseum with the remainder being played in Barclays. The Coliseum has a capacity of 13,917 vs Barclays 15,795 and accounted for all 14 of the Islanders sellouts this year.
Here is the net change in sellouts by team:
Forecast Notes for 2019-20
- It is safe bet to expect a healthy improvement for St. Louis Blues. Anyone who was remotely following the Stanley Cup Playoffs knows that the Blues pulled off a worst to first scenario. They clinched a playoff birth with just 5 games left in the season. By achieving such feats, it is not a stretch to expect them to sell out every home game next year.
- With the Devils’ and Rangers’ off-season additions of Hughes/Subban/Gusev and Kakko/Panarin respectively, we should see a pop in attendance for both of those teams.
- Assuming the off-season signing of Bobrovsky helps out the goal tending in Florida, fans should share a bit of optimization to start turning out early to see if the Panthers take that next step as a playoff team.
- We should expect continued gains in Carolina and Arizona and improvements for Calgary and Dallas as an increase in attendance is expected the year after making the playoffs.
- Unless I am reading the on-ice talent incorrectly in LA, Detroit, and Montreal, I anticipate attendance challenges to continue for all those teams.
- As a whole, I expect the league average attendance and # of sellouts to improve quite a bit for the 2019-20 season.