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.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 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."
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)