Attendance is a major factor in the National Hockey League. Ticket sales generate about a third of the league’s revenue to date, which is much higher than other leagues like the NBA, NFL, and MLB. Because of this, important factors like the salary cap are heavily influenced by ticket sales. The salary cap for each team is projected to increase by four million from $83.5M in 2023–24 to $87.5M in 2024–25. This is a massive jump given the stagnation we’ve seen from the NHL for years. If attendance numbers in the 2023–24 season decline, could that $87.5M number drop? This is definitely something to watch over the course of the season. So, we created an attendance model to track which teams are being attended more than others, with percentages. The model looks at both home and away attendance percentages, so it removes any biases from the equation.
A few things to note. First, the Arizona Coyotes have a capacity of 4,600, so keep that in mind when looking at their attendance figure. Second, because the NHL season started on October 10, there is a smaller sample size of games compared to future months.
Combined Average Attendance in October
The Win Column’s attendance model has finished crunching the numbers for October. Here is the list of combined attendance (home and away values):
|Rank||Team||Combined Average Attendance in October|
|3rd||Los Angeles Kings||99.71%|
|4th||Toronto Maple Leafs||99.13%|
|5th||New Jersey Devils||99.04%|
|7th||Vegas Golden Knights||98.89%|
|15th||New York Rangers||96.52%|
|18th||Columbus Blue Jackets||95.83%|
|20th||St Louis Blues||94.81%|
|22nd||Detroit Red Wings||93.77%|
|27th||Tampa Bay Lightning||91.58%|
|29th||San Jose Sharks||88.34%|
|30th||New York Islanders||87.91%|
The Connor Bedard show is in full force
The NHL has done a fantastic job marketing Connor Bedard so far. He is an elite player already and looks to be one of the future superstars of the league. Where were his first games of NHL action? A road trip to face his idol Sidney Crosby on opening night in Pittsburgh, then stops in Boston, Montreal, Toronto, and Colorado. This road trip, plus the rest of the Blackhawks games that were heavily attended, make them the most attended team in October. I would imagine the Blackhawks stay high on this list, especially for away games, as everyone lines up to see Bedard in action for the first time against their team.
I was surprised to see Nashville as the second-most-attended team so far. They don’t have the greatest roster by any means, and they are caught in a transition year of sorts. But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. Nashville has an extremely passionate fanbase. It seems like it would be an awesome time to catch a game there.
Quite a few teams struggling with attendance already
Tickets are expensive and the cost of living continues to go up, so it isn’t a surprise that attendance numbers are falling in some markets. There are also other factors like team direction, talent, team watchability, and previous history that could impact ticket sales. The five teams that struggled in October were the Winnipeg Jets, Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders, San Jose Sharks, and Calgary Flames.
I would group the Jets, Islanders, and Flames in a similar category. All three teams have fine rosters but lack the game-breaking talents. When you don’t have game-breaking talents, it’s hard to drive ticket sales both for home games and especially for away games. Let’s say you have the choice between watching the New York Islanders or the New Jersey Devils with Jack Hughes. For an equal cost, you are picking the Devils every time, just because of that star factor. These teams might make the playoffs, but they might not. Although the Jets and Islanders have gotten off to better starts than the Flames. Calgary will be an interesting team to watch if their record does not improve. They were in fact the team in the building when the Washington Capitals’ sellout streak ended earlier this month:
Buffalo is an interesting situation. Obviously, things have been rough in that market for a long time, but the team is young and fun and on the up. I would imagine attendance will only increase if the Sabres put together a good season. Even moreso if they are around or in a playoff spot.
The Sharks are off to a horrific start, which might drop attendance further
The Sharks are certainly a team this season (well, kind of). The tank is on, and usually that means fans don’t want to pay money to watch their favourite team lose. If I were placing a bet, I would say San Jose finishes the season as the least-attended team in the league. I guess we will have to see.
Photo from CHGO Sports on YouTube.