The Carolina Hurricanes enjoyed a 7.2% increase in attendance from the 2009-10 season to this past season, but is the glass half full or half empty?
The team had the advantage of hosting the NHL All Star Classic this past January and leveraged that benefit to lure several new season ticketholders into the family, but what will happen next season? Will attendance drop back down to the 2009-10 level?
The good news is that when compared to the rest of the league, the Canes aren't doing too badly. They rank 20th overall, ahead of huge markets like Colorado, New Jersey, Anaheim, and Dallas.
The bad news is that at this stage in the life of the market, they should probably be drawing better. It was a somewhat disappointing total of 17,700 fans who made the trip to the RBC to watch the most important game of the season, the elimination game against Tampa Bay. A sell out would be 18,620.
The club had eight sellouts for the season and most of those were comprised of a fairly large contingent of fans from other teams, (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, etc.).
Keep in mind, Carolina is among the smallest markets, if not the smallest, in the league. Also, several fans in the area have moved from other major cities and they brought their previous loyalties with them. But still, the team needs to do better.
What seems to drive attendance more than anything else? Winning and losing.
From that standpoint, the team is it's own worst enemy. Since the Stanley Cup run in 2005-06, the Canes have only made it to the playoffs once in the last five years. You'll notice from the chart above that Carolina's best season at the gate was the year immediately after winning the Cup.
The worst attended season in recent years was in 2009-10, the year the Canes had a 14 game losing streak and spent much of the season in last place.
Obviously, the Hurricanes can't be expected to win the Cup every year, but it would help if they could be competitive and consistent. The years when they flirt with last place seem to kill any attendance momentum from the previous year.
In 2002-03, the team finished dead last in the NHL and scored the fewest goals in modern NHL history. The following season, attendance fell off the chart and was 29th in the league. Management got so desperate that in mid-season they fired Paul Maurice and hired Peter Laviolette.
Hopefully, it won't take such a drastic drop in attendance for the next coaching change to take place, if it's needed. That's why the start of next season is so important. The franchise simply can not afford another season where they spend the majority of it looking up at the top eight playoff teams, hoping that they will somehow slip into the mix during the last week.
Also, it still seems like the club could do a better job marketing and selling the game. Now that their AHL affiliate is in-state, (Charlotte Checkers), that should help broaden their regional appeal. But more needs to be done.
In a perfect world the RBC would sell out every night. We don't live in a perfect world, but over 17,000 a night should be a realistic goal and something the marketing department should strive for. The team has several young stars. Everywhere you look around town, or on local TV, you should be seeing their faces.
Peter Karmanos has been looking to sell a share of the team to investors for about a year now. It can't be easy trying to do that when your enterprise is losing money more often than not and has only made it to the postseason once in five years.
The team needs higher attendance, but what's the solution to the problem?