Cold Hard Rants: An Avalanche of Empty Seats

Posted by Drew Mindell in Cold Hard Rants on November 17, 2009 — 4 Comments

Saturday October 3, 2009

Colorado 3 – Vancouver 0 Attendance 13,416 (74.5 % of capacity)

(AVS record entering the game 1 win-0 losses-0 overtime losses)

Friday October 23, 2009

Colorado 5 – Carolina 4 Attendance 13,673 (75.9 % of capacity)

(AVS record entering the game 6 wins-1 loss-2 overtime losses)

Saturday October 24, 2009

Colorado 3 – Detroit 1 Attendance 17,690 (98.2 % of capacity)

(AVS record entering the game 7 wins-1 loss-2 overtime losses)

Wednesday November 4, 2009

Colorado 4 – Phoenix 1 Attendance 11,012 (61.2 % of capacity)

(AVS record entering the game 10 wins-3 losses-2 overtime losses)

Friday November 6, 2009

Colorado 4 – Chicago 3 Attendance 15,616 (86.7% of capacity)

(AVS record entering the game 11 wins-3 losses-2 overtime losses)

Sunday November 8, 2009

Colorado 3 – Edmonton 5 Attendance 12,118 (67.3% of capacity)

(AVS record entering the game 12 wins-3 losses-2 overtime losses)

Saturday November 14, 2009

Colorado 2 – Vancouver 8 Attendance 15,823 (87.9% of capacity)

(AVS record entering the game 12 wins-4 losses-3 overtime losses)

Currently

AVS record (12 wins-5 losses-3 overtime losses, 2nd in Western Conference)

Attendance (Averaging 14,504, slightly over 80 % in capacity, 25th in NHL)

In short, what gives fans of the Avalanche?

To say expectations were low in Colorado this year would be an understatement. To the impartial observer, the team had several holes in their roster, and those players that they were icing on a regular basis were woefully inexperienced. Most prognosticators ranked the Avalanche out of the playoff picture, and many had them battling the Coyotes of Parts Unknown for last place in the conference. (In Illegal Curve’s own season preview, the ceiling for the AVS this season was 12th in the West, 4th in the Northwest Division.)

Given the well documented low expectations, it could be expected that the fans would be hesitant to throw their hard earned money at the team early on the season. For better or worse, this is now a “show me” world, and very few teams in professional sport will have unyielding support regardless of record. However, the Avalanche has shown their success, as demonstrated by their current holding of 2nd place in the Western Conference, almost a quarter of the way through the season. So, with the attendance improving only modestly at best throughout their strong start to the season, the question becomes is Denver a good hockey town or is it a town that only supports their team when they are a front runner?

It has long been documented, the love-hate relationship that the city of Denver has had with hockey. The Colorado Rockies (the ex-hockey team, not the current baseball team for our readers who may not be old enough to remember all the way back to the early eighties) were a flop, to put it mildly. Of course, some would say they were a flop because of the ineptitude of the on and off ice hockey product that was being marketed. It was not until 1994 that hockey exploded onto the Colorado scene, with the tremendous success that was the International Hockey League’s Denver Grizzlies. Of course, some would say they were a success because of the team’s on ice record, culminating in winning the Turner Cup (the IHL championship).

When the Nordiques moved to Colorado in 1995, the owners had a built in base of season ticket holders (thanks to the Grizzlies of the IHL who had relocated to Salt Lake City with the arrival of the Avalanche), and more importantly they had immediate on-ice success thanks to the years of futility of the Nordiques which culminated with the Avalanche being the lucky recipients of a “new” franchise with many future Hall of Famers already aboard. The AVS had an eleven year run of sellouts that (coincidentally enough!) ran concurrently with eight division championships, two Presidents Trophies and two Stanley Cups.

Of course, as with most professional sports teams, success is very much cyclical and since the lockout the AVS have been hard pressed to make the playoffs, and success has been in fleeting amounts. Shockingly, this has coincided with the downturn in Avalanche attendance.

I am not so blind as to believe that under no circumstances should attendance be tied to success. It’s a fairly obvious corollary that success is an important factor in positive attendance figures. However, what I can’t figure out is why a city like Denver, which is intimately familiar with the concept of winter, and one would think ice hockey, has attendance patterns eerily similar to the untraditional hockey markets that populate the sun-belt of the United States. I am not saying attendance should always be at peak capacity, but at some point in time, especially when the team is playing well and having tremendous on-ice success, the fans should be turning out in droves (droves=an arena full to capacity) to cheer their success. Even when the team is only middling along through a season, fighting for a playoff spot, the arena needs to be at capacity during the “traditional” hockey season (i.e. a Saturday night in January).

It appears that the challenge for the Avalanche and their marketing department is to engage a fan base that is only especially tuned in when the team is realistically fighting for a Stanley Cup. Surprising good play from a young team that had minimal expectations is not enough to dial in the fans and make them shell out the dollars to attend an NHL game. The seeds of a consistent, unequivocal, hockey market with the accompanying fan base, which exists predominantly north of the border and in some U.S. marketplaces, does not exist in Denver with the Avalanche. Unfortunately, it’s a situation replicated far too often in the NHL.

For IllegalCurve.com, I am Drew Mindell.

Agree? Disagree? Think there is another explanation for the Avalanche lamentable attendance figures? Let’s hear from you in the comments.

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  • J

    ATLANTA BRAVES

  • KC

    The marketing department at Kroenke has done a terrible job of selling the Avs. It seems they believe the avs should sell themselves, and so they put all their effort into selling the Nuggets. Denver is a sports town and we love all of our teams, so KSE is essentially competing with itself when it puts more emphasis on the Nuggets.

    Everyone knows the deals for the Nuggets. Going to the game is definitely above and beyond the viewing experience on TV. The in-arena experience for Avalanche fans is not that much different from watching it on tv, and with Hi-Def and DVR in some ways it’s better at home. There are a few deals for the Avs tickets, but no one knows about them, and everyone believes the tickets are two expensive.

    This is probably 70% management’s unwillingness to change the model that worked when we had a Stanley Cup caliber team, 20% economy, and 10% bandwagon fans that are present in every state. This has also always been a Broncos first town. Once the NFL is over there will probably be a lot more fans filling the stands.

  • Chibigodzilla

    The Avs are not the only sports team in Denver that is having a great start to their season. The Broncos were a team that may fans thought would be lucky to get 3 wins all season and they started the season 6-0 (now 6-3). The Nuggets are 7-3 and first place in their division (3rd in their conference with a game in hand). If I’m a sports fan (as opposed to a just hockey fan) in Denver do I spend $92 (the cheapest ticket in the lower bowl) to see the 12-5-3 (.600) Avalanche or do I spend $60 for the same seat in the same building to see the 7-3 (.700) Nuggets? Before you answer, consider this: last year the Nuggets went to the western conference finals, and the Avs are a team that the “experts” say can’t possibly continue to be this good.

    As KC mentions KSE has done a horrible job of advertising the Avs; they have a few lame commercials that only run during the Avs games, on the same channel as the Avs games. That’s all I’ve seen from KSE advertising the Avs, no mention of the “Franchise Record” (the way that the Avs as an organization treat the Nordiques years is another issue entirely) wins in the month of October. No mention of Craig Anderson’s NHL record tying, “Franchise Record” 10 wins in October. No mention of Ryan O’Reilly’s 12 points (3rd among rookies) and +12 rating (first among rookies). No mention of Matt Duchene, who hasn’t put much up on the score sheet, but is darn fun to watch.

    One last thought is that the “announced attendance” is actually tickets sold, not people in attendance; in years past those attendance numbers have been boosted by season ticket holders that didn’t actually attend all the games. The crowd in the lower bowl at the Chicago game on 11/6 was fairly close to the crowds I’ve seen the last few years.

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