Were you one of the 7,892 hearty souls who braved 90-degree weather to come watch the Carolina Hurricanes face the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday? This column isn’t for you.
Were you one of the countless others, 10,000 of whom came to the season opener but didn’t return for what looked to be - and ended up being - a low-scoring, defense-heavy plodfest? This column isn’t for you, either.
In fact, this isn’t a column about attendance at all, insofar as it being a symptom of a bigger issue rather than it being the root problem itself.
Who this column is targeted at is those who could - and should - have done more to avert an embarrassingly small crowd on Tuesday night.
First, to put this in perspective: only three times before Tuesday had the Canes ever drawn fewer than 8,000 people to a game at PNC Arena. It hadn’t happened since January of 2001. Yet there it was, staring you in the face: seventy-eight hundred people turning out to watch a major-league sports team.
Look, I get the idea behind reducing comps, not counting tickets distributed or any of the other tricks that teams use to artificially inflate attendance. It’s admirable, in a way, that the Canes are willing to take the darts that come with so many empty seats. And it certainly rewards the Canes’ season ticket members, who have been throwing good money after not-so-good since time immemorial, by not devaluing their investment.
Who would you rather be, the Canes owning a bad attendance, or an NFL team claiming a sellout when it’s obvious half of a stadium is empty?
But Tuesday night, in my mind, is when the line was crossed. At some point, the spin becomes the story. This one felt different.
This is a good team, one that deserves the attention and plaudits being paid to it. But fans who aren’t regulars are certainly entitled to their apathy after eight playoff-less seasons. The Canes must put effort forth to reach those fans, and now they have a marketable, young, talented team with which to do just that.
It’s obvious that when the Canes put their marketing muscle to work, they can draw fans into the building. That much was obvious on Saturday, which was the fullest I’ve seen PNC in many years. It was a sellout that looked, sounded and felt like one.
So where was the marketing push to fill the building for game two? There are 40 other home games after the opener, and while every game isn’t going to be like the opener for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in eight seasons, it can’t be asking that much for there to be some sort of an attempt to draw fans in.
Did anyone see an advertisement for the Columbus game, outside of on the Canes’ own broadcast Saturday night, which is nearly entirely preaching to the already converted? We’re in the midst of football season, and whether the Canes want to admit it or not, at this time of year they can’t just fling the doors open and say “here we are!” without at least making an honest effort.
Which brings us to the fact that the list price for the cheapest ticket downstairs - again, for a game on a Tuesday night against a team with no built-in rivalry that’s going to be a challenge to draw anyone to - is $82.
And if you don’t want to sit in the end zones, it’s $107. (Not to mention, $20 for parking now. Credit cards gladly accepted.)
I appreciate that the Canes broke even last season, so clearly someone knows what they’re doing. But at what cost? The atmosphere inside the arena Tuesday night was flat as a pancake. You can’t possibly convince me that handing out a few comps to a game like that would be a bad thing.
Here’s an idea: once a season, have a general admission night. A single flat price downstairs, a single flat price upstairs. Include it in STM packages at a minor discount, but lower than prices for the other 40 games of the year. Then - and here’s the biggie - publicize the hell out of it.
Spend money to make money, for once, instead of nickel-and-diming your way to embarrassingly small crowds. Stand out from the crowd, and make your mark in creative ways. And if that one game is the difference between breaking even and losing money for the year, oh well. If I were Don Waddell, I’d take that chance. I’d rather have a small loss and viral publicity than break even while playing in front of tumbleweeds, but maybe that’s just me.
Sometimes, a loss leader is beneficial. Why do grocery stores sell twelve-packs of soda at less than half of the normal price at least once a month? Because it gets you in the door to spend a hundred bucks on other things that make more money.
Maybe this is the plan. Maybe the decision has been made, by people who are smarter than I am, to prioritize certain games at the expense of others.
But Tuesday night’s crowd size was an entirely preventable travesty, and the Hurricanes owe it to their fans to do everything in their power to make sure it never, ever, happens again.