The Carolina Hurricanes returned home Tuesday night for a tilt against the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning. Having started this October better than those in recent years, the Hurricanes had on their home ice one of the NHL’s hottest teams. The Lightning also feature one of the league’s hottest forwards, Nikita Kucherov. For hockey fans, and supporters of the Hurricanes, it was to be a great game. Unfortunately, many of the seats were empty, as they have been more often than not for much of the past several seasons.
Attendance: ‘Chicken or Egg’?
After filling the PNC Arena for the home-opener, Hurricanes fans have, in large part, decided to stay home. A sold-out opener of over 18,600 against the Minnesota Wild turned into barely over 9,000 in game two against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Frankly, it was very disappointing to see such a drop in numbers.
After four games on the road, there was hope that the attendance would spike up for the returning ‘Canes. Sadly, that was not the case. The announced attendance was 10,498, but, there did not seem to be any way that was the real number of fans in seats. Most likely, it was the number of total tickets sold. Either way, there were a depressing number of empty seats.
— Angus Mak (@yellowrocket96) October 25, 2017
The age-old question is, “Will winning bring the fans out, or will the fans coming out spark the winning?” Obviously the fans have not had a lot to cheer about of late. The Hurricanes have not made the playoffs in almost a decade. Their eight-year playoff drought is currently the longest in the NHL. That’s a long time for any team, but particularly for a team that is not a traditional hockey market. This is Raleigh, North Carolina, part of college basketball’s infamous “Tobacco Road.” Where NC State University, Duke University and the University of North Carolina play some of the nation’s most elite college hoops.
And while the word “elite” is not typically used when describing college football in the area, it is still a big competitor for the sports fans’ attention and dollars. On top of that, the NFL franchise, Carolina Panthers is nearby in Charlotte. The Bank of America Stadium, home to the Panthers, is routinely full and not inexpensive. The Hurricanes are competing against long-entrenched other sports in the region, so it is incumbent upon them to put a product on the ice that fans want to see. That means making the playoffs, and doing so on a consistent basis.
Stanley Cup Loud
The region responded incredibly when the Hurricanes went on their Stanley Cup run in 2006. At one time the PNC Arena was touted as the “loudest building in the NHL.” The excitement and attendance were incredible. Cam Ward and Jordan Staal were just starting out what would be lengthy tenures with the team. Hockey was hot and loud in Raleigh:
Those were some amazing times to be a hockey fan in Carolina. Unfortunately, the Hurricanes have only returned to the playoffs once since that fantastic run. This is not Montreal or Toronto, where hockey is king and the fans bleed ice. This is an area with a lot of competition for the sports/entertainment dollar. Winning will bring the fans back again, in all likelihood. But, until then, 11,000 might just be the attendance norm on any given night. Last season the attendance average was dead last in the NHL at 11,776.
It has to be frustrating for the players to look up into the arena and see so many empty seats. Athletes can feed off the energy of the home crowd, and the opposite may be true, also. They can feed off a lack of interest in their home city and it’s a negative thing. Fighting to make yourself and your team relevant in a city has got to be an added pressure that the Hurricanes don’t need. But, until they start putting a consistently successful team on the ice, it may be that they will have to continue to play in an arena that sometimes sounds like a practice facility.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.