What’s up with attendance in Ottawa and St. Louis?

Jason Kay
Columbus Blue Jackets v Ottawa Senators

According to reports, the Ottawa Senators yesterday had their worst-attended home game since 2004 when their afternoon 4-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets drew an announced crowd of 15,535.

The weak turnout comes on the heels of a piece by the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch that analyzes the downturn in seats sold at Canadian Tire Centre. The Sens, according to figures assembled by espn.com, rank 20th among the 30 NHL clubs in terms of percentage capacity, by far the lowest of the Canadian franchises.

Team president Cyril Leeder tells Garrioch that in spite of this, revenues are up, thanks to a handful of factors, including a more lucrative TV deal, fewer 2-for-1s, giveaways and discounts. This drives up the average return on each ticket sold. We’ll take Leeder’s word for it, but we also know the Sens are still offering discounts; we’ve seen the emailed offers distributed to local businesses.

We also know the NHL remains a gate-driven league. While some TV and ancillary revenues have grown in recent years, eyeballs at the rinks are what fuels a major portion of hockey-related income. That, combined with a team struggling to find its identity this season, playing in a rink in deep suburbia, owned by a man who has claimed substantial losses in recent years, makes Ottawa a market to watch.

Similarly, the St. Louis Blues’ attendance numbers are a red flag. THN’s pre-season pick to the win the Stanley Cup, the Blues have lost just once in regulation at home and have the league’s second best goal differential at plus-20 (behind only San Jose). They play a high-tempo, physical style that should engage spectators, yet they are averaging just 16,547 at Scottrade Center, filling the building to 86.4 percent capacity. That’s eighth-worst in the league. And they didn’t sell out any of their three playoff games last season.

What gives? Perhaps the St. Louis Cardinals’ MLB playoff run stole a portion of the audience. Maybe the Blues lack of a marquee name – a true offensive star in the Crosby/Ovechkin/Stamkos mold – is a buzz-kill. Maybe the franchise’s lack of playoff success (no Cups, three Cup final appearances, but none since 1970) has them cynical in the Show Me State.

Whatever the case, the town’s apathy to its hockey team is noticeable.