Friday, December 3, 2010

On that whole attendance thing...

Back in early October, Matt Wagner of The Cannon coalesced a handful of Columbus Blue Jackets bloggers to answer a bunch of questions about the team as they embarked upon the 2010-2011 season.

The first question out of the gate didn't involve the new coaching staff, the ongoing improvement of our young goalie nor the enigmatic Russian who came back in from the cold.

Nope, it was about tickets.  And ticket sales.

Specifically, Matt asked us: Much has been made of the team's ticket woes. Many former season ticket holders are taking a wait and see attitude. If the team can get off to a hot start after their trip to Sweden, how quickly do you think fans in Columbus will respond at the box office?

The answers speak for themselves, but I'll take the liberty of reprinting my response for your amusement:
I think that the "wait and see" attitude will be exacerbated by the challenging economy in Ohio. Should the Jackets take off in the standings - and that's by no means a given - I wouldn't expect to see much of any change in attendance until after the first of the football season will be out of the way, the Winter Classic will help refocus attention and the Jackets will have a body of work by then to prove to the community that they are legit.
I'll stand by everything I said.  On the very bright side, the Blue Jackets are off to one of the best starts in team history - if not the best.  14-8-1 is absolutely nothing to sneeze at, and it places the team squarely on a path to the playoffs if my notions about point accumulation over the course of the season have anything to do with it.

A couple more things related to that October statement should positively impact the Blue Jackets.  First, "the" Ohio State University football team isn't in the national championship hunt.  They still might be playing in a BCS bowl if the chips fall right for them, but the insane expectations for the Buckeyes mean that some Ohioans actually are willing to look at alternate sporting options if their team isn't competing for the mythical national championship.  Also, the HBO Winter Classic 24/7 show is sure to help boost public interest in NHL hockey - in theory, that might turn a couple Ohio heads toward the Blue Jackets.  Regardless, these are both positives that I did not consider when making the statement in October.

Thus, here we are: A terrific start to the season, a less-than-stellar Ohio State football season and increased mass media attention to the NHL.  So now it's up to the Blue Jackets to do their part for the home faithful.  Why the home folks?  Simple: When you've lost roughly 25 percent of your season ticket holder base from last season to this season, you need to perform well at home to turn some heads in Columbus to get casual fans interested in coming back to the games.  The diehards are still turning out, but clearly the casual fans are not drinking the CBJ Kool-Aid right now.

Away wins are great for the standings and the big picture, but home wins mean so much more for community support.  Sending 10,000, 15,000, or 18,000+ folks home happy has a carry-over effect that a televised victory that wraps up after midnight just can't replicate.

Pray tell, how has the home performance been at Nationwide Arena?  Let's run the numbers and see...

6-5-1 at home this season.  That's decidedly mixed.

Average home attendance thus far: 12,159.  That's roughly two-thirds of Nationwide Arena's published capacity of 18,500.  Only 4 of the 12 home games were higher attendance than that average.  Again, not great at all.

Even harsher, however, is that 5 of the 6 best-attended games - including the 2 announced sellouts - were losses.  2 of the 3 best-attended games had the worst margins of loss.  So let me ask you: If you were a casual fan, went to the sold-out home opener against Chicago and saw the home team get shellacked, would you want to rush back and grab another ticket?  I'm guessing most wouldn't.

What the uneducated analyst doesn't appreciate is that ticket sales reflect fan satisfaction roughly twelve months after the fact.  The team is paying for the sins of last season in this season's low attendance numbers.  People suffered through last season, threw their arms up (or just as likely lost their jobs/tightened their belts in this sad economy)  and said, "I'm not buying tickets next season."

It's up to the team to play well and get them back.  And when the team finds a way to lay eggs in front of their largest crowds, it's that much harder.

Which makes December downright critical.  A strong December - especially at home - will be of great use in building some momentum in the community as we head into January, when most eyes in Columbus turn to the Blue Jackets (at least for a passing glance).  As such, I consider the following home games "must wins" - not for standings purposes as much as for ticket sales purposes:
  • Saturday, 12/4 - Pittsburgh
  • Monday, 12/6 - Dallas
  • Saturday, 12/11 - New York Rangers
  • Saturday, 12/18 - Dallas
  • Tuesday, 12/21 - Calgary
  • Thursday, 12/23 - Vancouver
  • Monday, 12/27 - Minnesota
  • Friday, 12/31 - Ottawa
Eight games.  Eight games to get Central Ohioans excited once again about their team and carry them through into April and May.  If the Blue Jackets storm through December like they blasted their way through California, I'll be bullish on their attendance numbers for the rest of the season.  If they stumble and fall, it might be too late to make much of a difference in ticket sales until the playoffs.  

Don't get me wrong - I'm thrilled that the lack of ticket demand allows a diehard fan on a budget to get into a game for less than $20 in some cases.  (One DBJ reader used that link to get $9 tickets for the most recent Nashville game - amazing!)  But while that satisfies short-term needs, it does not solidify the long-term future of the franchise in Columbus.  To succeed in this town for the long haul, the Blue Jackets need to fill the arena.  It still can happen this season, but the Blue Jackets need to start winning, and consistently, at home.  Because the adage is true: Winning Cures Everything.

If you're reading this blog, odds are that you're a Blue Jackets fan.  Get a ticket and go watch your team.  They're playing pretty good hockey right now, and it's safe to say that the future is even brighter for the CBJ as they settle into the Scott Arniel system.  Also, you will be able to boast to your friends that you were there as the Blue Jackets turned things around - on the ice and in the seats.

Carry The Flag!


  1. Like I said before, I'm going down on Saturday and I'm definitely deciding whether or not to spend the money again if they don't win at home. Even if they're 41-0 on the road, you can't sell tickets to an ever losing home team.

  2. That being said, I'm a Clevelander. I'd go see them regardless. (I'd prolly just not go as often, gas costs a lot for a college student!)

  3. But as a student you can get CBJ Rush Seats for cheap in the arena!!


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