Coyotes Attendance Is Up Despite Ownership Woes arena was built with the plan of having an NHL hockey team as the anchor tenant. The arena capacity for hockey is 17,125.

Coyotes Attendance

Coyotes Attendance Improving
Phoenix Coyotes

There’s plenty of room for improvement for Coyotes attendance and the trend is on an upward swing. Median attendance for the Phoenix Coyotes this season (14,928) is within a couple hundred and change of a full house at the “House Of Coyotes Chirpers” MTS Centre in Winnipeg. Let’s briefly examine that comparison just for giggles.

MTS Centre was built for NHL hockey and the owners were confident that the prior failure of their NHL hockey team wouldn’t be repeated. The return of the NHL was always a goal and the arena was built with a hockey capacity of 15,004, 2,121 less than the Glendale arena and 3,000 less than the NHL median. If the success of an NHL team based on assumed overheated demand for tickets, was assured in Winnipeg, one might ask why was the decision made to build the smallest arena in the NHL? The Winnipeg Free Press DID ask that question (click here) and True North’s Mark Chipman responded:

I think it’s very suitable because its (sic) suitable for our market. The building’s got to fit your market. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past 15 years, if your supply far outstrips your demand, it’s a slippery slope, it’s a very difficult business to be in.

It’s interesting that Chipman, widely respected as a savvy businessman, feels the demand for NHL hockey in Winnipeg is correct for the smallest NHL barn. It’s also interesting that the bankrupt Coyotes in a non-traditional hockey market draw (within a busload) enough people to fill MTS Centre. So why are the Coyotes the target of incessant ridicule from many sources while the Jets numbers are applauded?

After last night’s weeknight sold out game, the Coyotes will have played 7 home games in March… 5 of them with attendance higher than the arena capacity at MTS Centre.

Sorry for the deviation from the point of this article. We’re going to jump into some numbers shortly, sometimes that’s not fun if you’re not a math geek. The NHL has a pretty good NHL Attendance By Year page on their site, by the way.

NHL Attendance History

Islanders logoThe Coyotes are not unique in having attendance problems. Let’s use an example from another metro area where I spent considerable years of my life, New York.

The Islanders currently own the worst attendance in the league, having battled the Coyotes for the attendance basement in the NHL for some years now. This is despite being based in the traditional hockey market New York metro area with over 8 million residents versus the non-traditional Phoenix metro area market with 4.2M people. The Phoenix metro area, by the way, covers 16,573 square miles with virtually no mass transportation versus 11,842 square miles with tons of mass transportation. Getting to the arena is significantly faster for NYC people.

Blackhawks Attendance History

What about the Blackhawks? After being blasted out of the playoffs last year by the Coyotes, Blackhawks fans have been chirping constantly. Of course, they use attendance as ammunition.

Raffi Torres
Coyotes eliminate Blackhawks
(Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE)

The Chicago Blackhawks have a lot of advantages the Coyotes don’t. The Hawks are an “original six” team in a traditional hockey market with a population of 9.7M, a downtown arena and mass transportation.

The Blackhawks had an average attendance of 12,727 in 2006-2007. Those numbers compared to the Coyotes are significantly worse, with the Hawks drawing 62.1% of their arena capacity versus the Coyotes at 79.89% arena capacity.

Hawks apologists have excuses for their poor attendance, attained a couple years after ESPN gave them moniker of “the worst franchise in professional sports”. A bunch of Hawks fans abandoned their team to support the AHL Chicago Wolves. The attendance excuses eventually boil down to what Hawks fans consider horrible ownership policies of Bill Wirtz. After Wirtz died, the restructured Hawks did indeed begin their climb to the top of the attendance charts.

Doesn’t that prove that ownership has a LOT to do with attendance success?

Despite having WORSE numbers with significantly less adversity than the Coyotes, Hawks fans (among many others) refuse to acknowledge that their attendance chirps directed at a team with a history of a worse owner and then NO real owner are off base.

Penguins Attendance History

The parallels that can be drawn between the Penguins and the Coyotes are many, maybe a subject for another time. For now, let’s just look at one instance of trouble and bankruptcy and poor performance. In 2002-2003 the Pens ranked 25th in NHL attendance, with an average 14,750 in attendance. Amidst ONE YEAR of relocation rumors and poor play, Pittsburgh dropped to dead last in 2003-2004 to 11,877. The Penguins sold out ONE game all season.

During relocation and purchase discussions, Gary Bettman was pushing a slot parlor.

“If the Isle of Capri is not granted the license (ed: to run slot parlors) on Wednesday, then an already volatile situation will be aggravated,” he said. “It is imperative that the Penguins have a new arena on economic terms that make sense for the franchise and for the team to remain in Pittsburgh.”

Glendale is currently in litigation against the Tohono O’odham Nation regarding a casino resort in the vicinity of arena. I’m just sayin’.

After the lockout, Lemieux and crew got their ownership group together and Pittsburgh began THEIR climb up the attendance ranks.

Coyotes Rising Attendance

Props to Greg Dunaway for compiling and crunching a lot of numbers. Once the attendance numbers are analyzed, the trend is obvious.

It’s important to note that the number of “free” and ridiculously discounted tickets per game has been severely curtailed. Coyotes President Mike Nealy states:

The Coyotes define their attendance as tickets sold and complimentary tickets, which are free tickets distributed by the team. In the past, complimentary tickets would range from 3,000 to 5,000 per game, but this season they’ve usually been only a couple hundred and definitely less than 1,000.

Naysayers will maintain that Nealy is lying and his gate numbers are significantly inflated by promotional tickets. There is really no argument to convince that subset of people, so please take Nealy’s statement at whatever value you place on it and the rest of us can continue with the discussion. Naysayers feel free to just jump to the “comments” section and fire away with clever invectives.

  • Coyotes averaging 14,779 over their last 11 games.
  • Coyotes median attendance is now 14,928.
  • Coyotes average attendance is now 13,682.
  • Coyotes averaging 764 more people through the gates than last year.
  • Coyotes weekend attendance up average 701 per game.
  • Coyotes weekday attendance up on average 1,013 per game.
  • Year over year, Coyotes attendance is up 6% overall.

Ownership Vital To Attendance

The history of the NHL demonstrates that attendance in some markets is greatly driven by on-ice performance. Beyond that, however, it’s obvious from the numbers that attendance in ALL markets is driven by stable and attentive ownership.

Even without real ownership and a lackluster season, the attendance for the Coyotes is on the rise. I’ve explained (“Coyotes Games In A Resort Destination“) elsewhere that attendance at Coyotes games is partially dependent on the opposing team, fans for the opposition are an important part of the Coyotes marketing plan (or should be). Some credit for the increase in attendance must obviously go to Mike Nealy and his staff for pushing through the long term disadvantages they are saddled with and getting more people into the barn anyway.

In short, if one looks at the attendance numbers and examines the history of the NHL, it’s plainly obvious that the Coyotes IN GLENDALE are an extremely viable commodity. Politics and weirdness has plagued the Coyotes fiasco from the beginning, yet there is still a lot of reason for optimism here in the desert.

Stay tuned.