So... Back in February I published a post commenting on the effects, or lack there of, a lockout on the NHL. One of the things that I looked at was the rise in attendance across the league. Well it has taken 3 months, but I have begun to wonder if that is a real phenomenon for small market teams like the Predators, or if it is fools gold that is going to cause a problem as we move back to a full schedule next year? Lets look at a couple of things that are making me question whether or not the drastic increase in attendance for Nashville is sustainable, and even realistic, at this point. This season has put into play several extenuating circumstances that the franchise will not be able to take advantage of in a full season.
Partial Season Ticket Sales:
One of the ways demand increases is as a result of a supply decrease. That is exactly what happened this season in the NHL, and last season in the NBA as well. In a normal season the Predators offer a varying degree of partial season ticket packages. They offered a flex game package and a half season package. (Note:This appears to be changing because the only options I see available for next season are a half season and full season tickets.)This season the half season pass you bought prior to the lockout would give you tickets to almost the entire season. The Flex season option you bought before the season would give you tickets to up to half of the home games. The decrease in the number of home games actually increased the number of season ticket holders. This put more people in the seats for each and every game, and drove the attendance up to levels never really seen in these parts. When the next season rolls around the schedule will automatically flip back to 41 games. That means we will have those half season ticket holders going back to only being there 20 games. This will leave a void in the overall attendance that will be hard to fill.
Percentage of home games vs. rivals:
In a normal season we would have 3 home games a piece with Detroit, St. Louis, and Chicago. Those three fan bases are within driving distance, or the cost of a cheap flight, to beautiful downtown Nashville. They are also known to come down to our wonderful city in droves. Well, this season we had 2 games a piece with each of those teams. I know. I know. You are thinking that should lead to less attendance, but remember we are talking about special circumstances this season. Let me Explain.
- In a normal season we would have 9 games against those 3 teams. That is 22% of our total home schedule
- This season we had 6 games against those 3 teams. That is 25% of our total schedule.
- Fans also had less opportunities to come to games. There were less dates available.
So now we have a slight increase in the percentage of home games vs our rivals. We also have less games for Predators fans to get those in demand tickets, and we have less games for the opposing teams fans to plan their mini-vacation to Nashville for a good time. These factors all play a roll in the increase in attendance per game this year.
This is the topic that has probably caused the most heartburn around OtF the last couple of weeks. We are all passionate about this team. That leads to very passionate discussions regarding the direction and future of this franchise. I am of the opinion that no matter what side of that argument you are on, we should all be able to agree that a youth movement/rebuild will not help increase attendance in the short term. Long term it could be HUGE, but over the next year or so it may be rather difficult.
- Attendance has been down as we got closer to being eliminated. Over 2000 tickets were available the the recent Blues game.
- Not making the playoffs will not help sell tickets. Just ask Titans fans, and Tennessee Vol football fans, what half full stadiums look like when you don't win as has become expected.
- Increasing single game tickets prices will begin to stifle growth if this team is not winning
- More discounted/free tickets will eat into the profitability of the franchise.
For fans that follow the team closely it will be an exciting, and frustrating, time to see the youngsters stepping into larger roles, but it will also come with it's share of lumps. Maybe the franchise will make some moves this off-season to improve the team and this last point will be invalid. I hope so, but looking at the roster that we currently have next year could be difficult.
When you look at the 3 variables introduced this season, and there are probably more, you can start to see a misleading picture regarding the sellout streak and attendance as a whole in Nashville. I am not saying that we will be back to struggling to get 14K fans in the barn each night, but I do not think the sellout streak was as a telling sign as it has been trumpeted. Attendance is not something that we can ignore. We are not there yet. It i refreshing to see the gains the local ownership group has made, but we are not out of the weeds quite yet. Especially after missing the playoffs this year. Next year we will be back to a full season. That will lead to an increase in available tickets to watch this team, and more than likely, a noticeable decline in average attendance and sellouts. How much of a decline will be a key thing to watch next season.