Saturday, December 19, 2009

Senators: 3,000 freebie tickets; paid attendance firm across most of NHL

Please keep in mind nothing with Ottawa Senators attendance is happening in a vacuum.

One part of the Ottawa Citizen report citing a "confidential report" that the Senators have had one of the biggest attendance drops in the NHL since last season lays bare that it's not just the economy. This really lays bare that what is happening with Senators attendance is unique even within the Wonderful World of Gary Bettman:
"In a memo accompanying the data, the NHL’s chief financial officer Craig Harnett wrote, 'It is worth noting that the 3.7-per-cent decline in paid admissions is mainly driven by three teams (Phoenix, Ottawa and Tampa Bay) that are each down over 21 per cent year-over-year. Excluding these three teams, paid admissions are down 0.8 per cent year-to-date."
You have your own interpretation, which is fine. Still, that basically says about the same number of people are paying to see NHL games this year as opposed to 12 months ago. One Canadian-based franchise in hockey-mad Canada is a major exception, right down there with two teams in based in U.S. states which have been devastated by the recession (both Arizona and Florida are right up there in the home foreclosure stats).

One reason empty seats are so commonplace at a lot of games in the big four ball-and-stick leagues is that teams have cut down on the free tickets (you'll remember this coming up in discussions about the Blue Jays). You don't give away your product in such times (which might actually make it worse).

Attributing the attendance drop to three franchises, granted, might be a major lily-gild on the NHL's part. This league has been known to offer up more than the occasional lame excuse. However, it was an internal report, so that would take away the incentive to sugarcoat. (If not, then the league really is in deep water.)

Here's the red meat of the Citizen article:
"The 22.8-per-cent drop is third-highest in the league, behind only the Phoenix Coyotes and the Tampa Bay Lightning. In the 30-team league, the Senators have fallen from seventh place in paid attendance to 19th.

"The Senators’ reported attendance has not fallen as far — only about seven per cent — because the number of free tickets issued by the team has increased dramatically.

"According to the report, the team handed out an average of 895 complimentary tickets per game last year. This year, that number has more than tripled to 3,047. Only two other teams, the Dallas Stars and the Atlanta Thrashers, give away more free tickets.

"The Senators have gone from using less than five per cent of their seats for free tickets to almost 16 per cent.

" ... And the Senators are the only Canadian team giving away such a large chunk of their tickets. Ottawa has six times as many complimentary seats as the next highest Canadian club, the Vancouver Canucks. And while the Senators are third highest, the other Canadian teams occupy five of the bottom six spots in the league for free tickets."
Senators president Cyril Leeder counter-point that might contain traces of BS: "We're already doing better in December. They have had only three home dates in December, a game vs. the Montreal Canadiens (announced attendance: 18,866) and two games that drew in the 16,000s, vs. Buffalo (16,917) and a Saturday night tilt vs. crappy Carolina (16,229). Bear in mind there might have been fewer freebies dished out for those games, we don't know that.

The other defence is there were fewer premium-price games against rivals such as Toronto (such as that is a rivalry). However, the Maple Leafs and Canadiens have each made one visit to SBP, the same as this point in 2008. The Pittsburgh Penguins, defending Stanley Cup champions, have already made both of their visits (last year the Pens' second one came in the new year) and the Alex Ovechkin-led Washington Capitals have been in once. Call that point a wash, at best.

Again, these are tough times. On a broader, macro level, there may be a seismic shift in the public's willingness to pay top dollar for to attend games of the Big 4 ball-and-stick leagues. Still, it's a bit of a sticky situation for the Senators.

Banner year eludes the Senators; The team is hot, but sales are cool; 22.8% drop third-highest in NHL, according to confidential report (Ottawa Citizen)
Senators attendance drop should raise red flags (Nov. 9)


Von Allan said...

My deep held assumption, though admittedly with not a lot of proof, is that the Senators would fair poorly attendance-wise with a .500 and lower team. Especially a team that has a tendency to be viewed, rightly or wrongly, as one that chokes in the playoffs.

Why? The location of that stadium. Now barring in mind Bruce Firestone's points about why Scotiabank Place is where it is (, it still is a bear to get to. It will always be a bear to get to and I suspect the only way around that is if high speed light rail goes out one day to the stadium. In the meantime, if you live downtown without a car, like I do, hopping on the bus to see a game is a pain in the ass. Car owners face a long commute if they live downtown or to the east. It's just an awful experience to get to a game.

Sadly, I don't know if there's anything they can do about it. If the team is successful, people will put up with the inconvenience. When the team is average or below that, particularly with no past playoff success, who the hell cares?

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Rob Pettapiece said...

So we're in agreement that a disgruntled Senators employee leaked this to the Citizen? Simplest possible explanation.

Attributing the attendance drop to three franchises, granted, might be a major lily-gild on the NHL's part

If I were looking at these numbers, that would be exactly what I would focus on: 3.7% down, but mostly attributable to two troubled franchises (and one that deserves lower ticket sales, being in a horrible location). That's a fair analysis, especially for an internal document.

The Senators' free tickets thing is pretty damning, both the 5%-to-16% increase and the three-times-as-much-as-Vancouver fact. Recession or not.

Does anyone know if and where they report paid admission for each game, as opposed to attendance counts? Would be interesting to take a closer look at these numbers.

Rob Pettapiece said...

Leeder said Friday the Senators provided six bonus tickets to each season’s ticket holder who renewed by a certain date. That’s up from two bonus tickets in a similar package last year.

So four more bonus tickets per season's tickets holder. How many such holders do the Sens have, 8,000? 10,000?

That means there are many thousands of additional bonus tickets, right? And the report says 2152 more complimentary tickets have been handed out so far, right? (3047 minus 895.) Which means a large majority have yet to be used, right?

Then why does Leeder later say "a lot of the bonus tickets were used by season’s ticket holders in the first two months of the season" (i.e., fewer of them will be used from here on) unless he's desperately trying to spin the numbers?

Naturally, the reporter did not follow up on this point, but, hey, the only reason I'm barely employable is the lack of numeracy in the media.

sager said...

Senators have 10,000 season ticket holders, so 40,000 more freebies.

Nineteen home games have been played so far. (Tonight's was 20.)

sager said...

Rob, to address your first point, I wondered it the Citizen buried the lede a bit.

I would have gone with: "Contrary to popular belief, attendance is not down league-wide across the NHL.

"Three teams account for the league's 3.7% drop in paid attendance — and the Ottawa Senators are one of them, according to an internal league report."

The Minnesota Wild's equipment truck had more of a holy-shit factor. Still, when you have local radio personalities saying the NHL should relocate troubled franchises to Canada and a team in Canada has the biggest attendance drop-off in the league ... well, that's got a whiff of scandal.