Putting Phoenix Coyotes Attendance Figures in Context

The Phoenix Coyotes attendance figures have been a constant point of contention between supporters and critics of Gary Bettman’s Southern strategy. It is undeniable that they are among the worst in the league. So how should they be interpreted? And what can we learn by looking at them?

Jobing.com Arena (Photoree/Creative Commons)
Jobing.com Arena (Photoree/Creative Commons)

The Pure Numbers

The Phoenix Coyotes’ franchise suffered a severe drop in average attendance when the team was purchased by the NHL in 2009. According to attendance figures compiled by ESPN, average attendance of Phoenix Coyotes’ games went from 14,875 in 2008-09 to 11,989 in 2009-10. Since then, the Coyotes have made modest but consistent gains at the ticket office. The team averaged 12,188 in 2010-11, 12,420 in 2011-12, and 13,929 in the abbreviated 2013 season.

With five home games already played in the 2013-14 season, the Coyotes appear to have regressed slightly. At the time of this post, the team is averaging 12,833 per game, a drop of slightly over 1000. While that may seem to be cause for alarm, let’s take a look at how these figures stack up against the first five home games of each season since 2009.

A Little Context, Please

While it is true that attendance typically depends on which teams are playing and what day of the week the game is being played on, the first five games of each season have a sufficient amount of variation to be a good sample. Here’s how they look in chart form:

Attendance at the First Five Phoenix Coyotes Home Games

2009-10

2010-11*

2011-12

2013**

2013-14

Game #1

17,532

17,125

17,132

17,363

17,125

Game #2

6,899

6,706

11,051

8,355

10,594

Game #3

9,162

8,189

7,128

14,780

14,624

Game #4

11,938

8,171

6,948

8,581

10,141

Game #5

7,968

6,761

7,434

12,955

11,684

TOTAL

53,499

46,952

49,693

62,034

64,168

AVG Per Game

10,700

9,390

9,939

12,407

12,834

* Technically, the Phoenix Coyotes played their first “home” game in Prague as part of the NHL’s European Series. The figures here only represent those games played in Glendale.

**Because of the NHL lockout, the first five home games for the Coyotes were played in January.

Analysis

While many of those numbers are ugly for a professional sports franchise, there are more than a few encouraging signs. First, the Coyotes successfully sold out all five of their home openers (the listed capacity of Jobing.com Arena is 17,125). While that should be a no-brainer for an NHL team, the Coyotes have demonstrated a basic level of competence in that regard.

Second, with the exception of 2010-11, the average attendance of the first five games of the year has been higher than the previous year. This will become important later on.

Finally, the Coyotes have had 10,000+ fans attend each of the first five home games of 2013-14, something that they could not claim during any of the bankruptcy years. There is nothing particularly special about the games this season compared to seasons past, so this is encouraging.

Conclusion

Small sample size aside, the Phoenix Coyotes attendance figures should instill some confidence in their fans. Much like the holistic season figures, the numbers are trending positively as each season progresses. Even more importantly, there is a noticeable difference in early season attendance averages and whole season attendance averages. This means that the Phoenix Coyotes tend to draw more fans later on in the year.

Much like points in the standings, early season success pays off down the stretch. The Coyotes should expect to see their season average pick up as snowbirds from Canada and the Northeast flock to the Valley in the winter months and as the other professional sports franchises in the Greater Phoenix Area either end their seasons or are eliminated from postseason contention. While the numbers may not be improving quickly, they are improving. This bodes well for the financial success of the Phoenix Coyotes heading into the future.