Coyotes games will be a tough sell in Phoenix as long as the ownership situation remains up in the air. (Getty Images)
It’s not as though the situation in Phoenix needed to look any worse, but did anyone notice the announced attendance figure for Thursday night’s game at Jobing.com Arena?
Not sure what’s more disturbing, whether it was the fact the announced attendance was just 6,899 or the fact that “announced” attendance in Phoenix represents every ticket that goes out the door, whether it was paid for or free. It was discovered last season that the Coyotes regularly padded their attendance numbers by between 3,500 and 4,000 tickets per game.
The NHL does not keep track of attendance low-water marks, but I can’t remember a crowd that low that wasn’t the result of some sort of catastrophic weather. Consider, too, that the Coyotes have promotions for weeknight home games that offer an all-you-can-eat deal for $30 and tickets as low as $10 for students and military personnel, and the number paints an even bleaker picture.
So think about it. After going hammer-and-tong with Jim Balsillie in a battle for the team, there’s a very good chance the league will have control of the Coyotes before long. And if the crowds stay like this, the league will come to the same conclusion former owner Jerry Moyes did. The only problem is, how can the league ever hope to attract a buyer for a team that can’t even come close to 10,000 paid?
Perhaps that’s what prompted the Coyotes to post a letter from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on their website recently. In the letter, Bettman assured Coyotes fans that, “We are confident in the future of the Coyotes. Just as we know the Coyotes need help and we are committed to providing it, we need your help, as well.” Bettman also went on to say, “I want to remind you and your co-workers and friends that affordable ticket packages and season tickets are available for the 2009-10 season.”
The interesting thing is that across the league, attendance is actually looking pretty good. Not including the four games played in Europe, average attendance going into Friday night’s games was 17,584, which is more than the league posted at the end of last season, when it recorded an all-time attendance high for the fourth straight season.
So at least the bottom line is in good shape and the players won’t have to worry about having too much escrow taken off their paychecks. Thank heavens for that.
But the league is whistling in the dark if it can’t see the trouble spots. The Nashville Predators have had crowds of 12,179 and 13,103 for their past two home games. The Tampa Bay Lightning has about 5,000 empty seats for every game and the league’s most promising team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, had a crowd of just 13,280 for their second home game of the season.
Even in Ottawa, the Senators have failed to sell out three of their four home games this season.
But nothing matches the ugly numbers in Phoenix. Thank goodness the Coyotes are at least competitive this season, but even that might not prevent the numbers from getting even uglier.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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