by Mike Chen on 01/13/10 at 02:05 PM ET
Since I’m on the west coast and I watch a lot of Pacific Division match-ups, I’ve had the opportunity to catch a variety of Phoenix Coyotes games throughout the season. Normally, this wouldn’t mean too much but it does allow me to get snapshots of how the Phoenix market is trending without getting involved on a fan level. I think we’ve all seen the pictures from early on when an announced crowd of 8,000 really seemed like about half of that. You could pause the game and literally count the number of people in a section. It was pretty brutal, to say the least.
Since the Coyotes’ ownership situation has stabilized somewhat, I’ve noticed my look-ins on the Coyotes have gradually changed in that you can actually see people in the crowd. Some games have more than others, and certainly many people are wearing the opposition’s sweaters, but butts in the seats still means butts in the seats. Here are the reported attendance figures for a 3+ week period:
(Update 10:30 AM PST—Corrected some typos in the days of the week. My fault, got my 2009/2010 calendars mixed up.)
Monday 12/21/09 vs. Columbus: 9,348
Wednesday 12/23/09 vs. Anaheim: 10,030
Saturday 12/26/09 vs. Los Angeles: 16,131
Tuesday 12/29/09 vs. Vancouver: 13,976
Thursday 12/31/09 vs. San Jose: 12,472
Saturday 1/2/10 vs. Detroit: 17,125
Saturday 1/9/10 vs. New York Islanders: 11,454
Tuesday 1/12/10 vs. San Jose: 9,248
Of course, reported attendance is a relative figure often inflated and twisted around to seem better than it is. Still, you can see a trend up compared to the beginning of the season, especially during the holidays. The Detroit game is a no-brainer, but I’m not sure why Tuesday nights against LA and Vancouver were such a big draw. Maybe it’s just people needed something to do before and after Christmas.
In addition, you can actually see a difference during the games. In the past two Sharks games in Phoenix (New Year’s Eve and last night), the reported attendance may not have been too far off from games in, say, October. However, the mausoleum feel was gone, and while the building was far from full, you could actually see living, breathing people in the seats. So perhaps these figures are far closer to the real thing than before.
Considering all the franchise has been through, it’s unrealistic to judge the market on this season alone—the team’s been awful for years and the ownership situation was a mess. With some ownership stability and a team that actually seems capable of winning games, it’s a good litmus test for the market.
The team and what fanbase it had (remember, the games were pretty well attended during the Jeremy Roenick/Keith Tkachuk days) was essentially left for dead by many hockey pundits. However, I think a good indicator of market viability is February and March. The NFL season will be over, the stretch run will be in full force, and by then, any local sports fan should at least get the general message that the team is doing well. If the numbers show a consistent trend upwards—not non-stop sellouts, but signs that the old fanbase is waking up from their ten-year sleep—then maybe there’s a faint pulse in the market after
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