Four games were on the schedule for this Monday night in the NHL, respectable crowds assembled in Edmonton and Philadelphia, where 16,465 and 19,457 respectively took in the action on the ice, fought in the lines for beer, popcorn and souvenirs and added to the cash flow of the two home teams.
Those two solid hockey markets in the NHL, provided a marked difference to the scenes on Long Island and in Washington on Monday.
Monday night on the island found but a reported 8,161 souls in the seats to watch the hometown Islanders drop a one goal game to the Stars of Dallas. An optimist will point out that there was little delay in placing an order for food or beer and the traffic was light at the end of the game, but if they’re paying the players based on just above 8,000 paid attendees then they may need the Enron accountants to make it work out.
Thing were a little better in the DC area, the hometown Capitals attracted 11,204 fans to their rink to watch the Buffalo Sabres come into town to claim two points from the still reeling Caps. While it’s probably expected that attendance might drop a bit when a team is not doing so well, dropping close to the 11,000 mark is not going to make Ted Leonsis a happy guy. He’s invested a fair amount of money in his team, thought that this was going to be a breakout year and yet it would seem that the fans are beginning to find better ways to spend their time and more importantly spend their money.
Neither city can blame the colossus of sport the NFL for their gate driven misery on Monday night, the featured attraction was Pittsburgh and Miami, and while back in the seventies that may have been a stay at home event, these are not the seventies. And as the riveting final score of 3-0 shows, the Monday night brand on this night should not have been one that would be troublesome to the NHL.
The low attendance numbers show a continuing trend in American hockey markets that must be raising a few alarm bells at the league office. If a former rock solid franchise such as the Islanders is struggling at the box office and a strong owner such as Leonsis sees little in the way of progress on his front, you have to wonder how long the owners in the less hockey savvy markets will be thinking of hanging on.
Even the long time traditional hockey markets like Chicago, Detroit and Boston are starting to show empty seats on a nightly basis, a once unheard of thing in the NHL.
The NHL needs to keep on top of the trending; otherwise crowds of 8100 may start to be the norm, rather than the exception. And in a gate driven league such as the NHL that spells out trouble with a capital T.