After making it to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2008-09, most thought the Carolina Hurricanes would make it to the playoffs again this season. But the team ended up falling short of expectations in the win column and not surprisingly, their poor performance on the ice transcended to the box office.
The team averaged 16,572 fans per game the previous season, (which placed them at 20th in the league), but attendance dropped to an average of 15,240 this past year, (23rd in the league).
Several factors adversely affected attendance, including: a 14 game losing streak near the beginning of the season, a team which was in last place in the league and was performing in last place in several categories including scoring for the first part of the season, a poor economy, a local higher than national average unemployment rate of over 10%, and injuries to key players including Eric Staal and Cam Ward, faces of the franchise.
Believe it or not, even bad weather affected the gate. Let's take a closer look after the jump.
Here is a month by month outline of official attendance numbers for the 2009-10 season as presented by "The Whaler" from The Hurricanes Hockey Report.
Scheduled ---- 5 9 7 7 3 8 2
October November December January February March April
18,680 15,089 14,990 14,071 18,393 17,048 16,073
16,186 14,164 13,954 16,892 15,527 16,426 18,680
13,597 13,510 12,758 14,812 16,466 17,690
14,053 14,163 16,514 16,031 15,832
15,549 12,194 14,820 13,512 18,144
13,502 16,288 15,473 15,311
13,224 16,947 6,896 18,046
TOTALS 78,065 123,106 106,271 97,687 50,386 134,605 34,753
Gms played 5 9 7 7 3 8 2
Gms remain 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Average 15,613 13,678 15,181 13,955 16,795 16,825 17,376
Highest 18,680 15,089 16,947 16,892 18,393 18,144 18,680
Lowest 13,597 12,194 12,758 6,896 15,527 15,311 16,073
Pc of Cap 83.6 73.2 81.3 74.7 89.9 90.1 93.0
Sellouts 1 0 0 0 0 0 1
The number that really sticks out is the 6,896 in late January. The Blackhawks were in town for that game and there was supposed to be a near sell out crowd, but the area was hit with ice and snow that day and people were told to stay off the roads. That type of luck is what the franchise had to deal with all season long.
As indicated by the chart, attendance picked up in the latter part of the season, which is not unusual for this area. Coincidentally, the team also started playing better hockey and was winning games.
Some fans got upset yesterday when Forbes writer, Michael Ozanian issued a short blurb on his blog mentioning the news that Peter Karmanos was selling a portion of the Carolina franchise. In it, he criticized the area by making the statement, "The folks in North Carolina really don't care about hockey". He used recent attendance results as the basis for his remark.
But if one were to compare attendance with other franchises in a fair and objective way, they should not be selective with their criticism. For instance, what about Colorado? Here is a franchise that has had a lot of success and even made a surprising run this year. How can their season average of 13,947 and 27th place finish be overlooked?
In many cases attendance cycles go up and down in relation to how a team is doing. It's no surprise that Carolina's dipped this year, just looking at that factor alone. In year's past, the same thing has happened to other franchises.
Chicago, which is selling out every game and looking great at number one in attendance right now, finished at 29th in the league with an average gate of 12,727 as recently as in 2007.
Washington was 24th in 2008, 27th in 2007, and 28th in 2006. Now it's hard to get a ticket.
The Hurricanes almost always finish higher than the Islanders and the Devils, two teams in huge metropolitan markets.
Even the Boston Bruins finished below the Hurricanes at 26th in the league in 2008. Should one make the assumption that folks in Massachusetts don't care about hockey?
The Hurricanes should do better at the gate this season and have several positive factors working for them. The All Star game should garner significant support and will help build season ticket sales. Having the farm team in Charlotte will create more interest region wide, especially as favorite players in Charlotte are recalled to fill in for the injured in Raleigh. The team should be younger, more energetic, and hopefully more fun to watch.
The franchise is still young when compared to most others and the fanbase is still growing. The market will expand as the population continues to increase. While this season was disappointing, there are better times ahead for the Carolina Hurricanes.