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Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Will the Fans Come Back?

The Oilers lost 6-3 to the Carolina Hurricanes last night and dropped to 2-4-1 in their previous seven games. They are experiencing their first rough patch of the season, but last night the results on the ice weren’t the biggest story in my eyes. It was what I saw in the crowd.

There were numerous empty seats. The official attendance on the game sheet was 16,175 which was the lowest crowd of the season. But from my spot, it looked there were more than 2,172 empty seats. Regular capacity at Rogers Place is 18,347, and last night by a rough count I had more than 3500 empty seats. That is just me averaging rows and sections, not counting every seat of course.

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The Oilers have only had two sellouts so far; the first two games of the year.

Here is their game-by-game attendance:

Wednesday, Oct 2nd v. Vancouver: 18,347
Saturday, Oct 5th v. Los Angeles: 18,347
Wednesday, Oct 16th v. Philadelphia: 17,107
Friday, Oct 18th v. Detroit: 17,420
Thursday, Oct 24th v. Washington: 17,144
Sunday, Oct 27th v. Florida: 17,278
Monday, Nov 04th v. Arizona: 17,105
Wednesday, Nov 06th v. St. Louis: 17,068
Friday, Nov 08th v. New Jersey: 17,240
Thursday, Nov 14th v. Colorado: 17,188
Saturday, Nov 16th v. Dallas: 17,346
Saturday, Nov 30th v. Vancouver: 18,035
Wednesday, Dec 04th v. Ottawa: 17,162
Friday, Dec 06th vs. Los Angeles: 17,044
Sunday, Dec 08th v. Buffalo: 17,227
Tuesday, Dec 10th v. Carolina: 16,175

Through 16 games Edmonton is averaging 17,327 fans which ranks 18th overall in the NHL. They are 20th overall in percentage of capacity at 93%.

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The Oilers came out of the gate hot, and they were 5-1 when the returned home to face the Flyers, yet they had 1,240 fewer fans in attendance that night than they did for their opening two games. The frustration of missing the playoffs 12 of the previous 13 seasons has fans staying away from the rink. Despite their recent struggles, the Oilers are still in first place in the Pacific Division and six points ahead of Vancouver for 9th place in the west, but fewer fans are showing up to games.

I recognize a Tuesday night against Carolina isn’t a big draw, but in previous years those games were sold out; at least according to the NHL game sheets. I’ve sat in the rink some nights in previous seasons when they announced a sellout and saw many empty seats. Maybe those seats were actually sold, and people didn’t show, but if that is the case that would be even more concerning to me. If people are willing to just waste money and not show up to games, that suggests apathy has set in.

Some analysts have mentioned the economy as a factor. I have no doubt, that is part of it, but it isn’t the only reason. Many season seat holders did not renew their seats this past spring. And there is no longer a waiting list for tickets. I’ve had friends who had registered on the list four years ago receive calls from the Oilers seeing if they are interested in buying seats.

For the first time in a long time, fans are staying away from the game. Many of you are still watching at home, but have made the decision not to buy tickets.

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The next four home games will see Toronto, Pittsburgh, Montreal and Calgary as the opposition. Four teams who are big draws regardless of the day they play, but when the Maple Leafs and Habs are on Saturday and the Penguins and Flames on Friday, close to Christmas, these games will be sold out. But what about the remaining 21 home games?

What will it take for fans to return, because winning clearly isn’t enough?

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The Oilers organization is hopeful a return to the playoffs will re-ignite the passion of some frustrated fans and they will buy back in next season. I think that is plausible for some people, but if the team makes the playoffs, but loses in the first round I don’t think that will be enough to entice enough people to buy season seats to equal those who walked away this season.

Professional sports in North America are seeing reduced attendance. Older fans like watching on their big-screen TV from the comfort of home, while many younger fans enjoy watching on their phone or tablet and interacting on social media during the games. Winning one round in the playoffs would help, no question, but even then I’m not sure that will be enough.

I receive thousands of texts a week during my radio show on TSN 1260, as well as countless tweets, facebook comments and online comments here at the Nation and the frustration from Oilers fans is higher than I’ve ever seen. But it isn’t just about the on-ice product anymore. Many admit the cost of attending games is simply too much. Ticket prices combined with food and beverage is too expensive. The number of fans willing to fork out hundreds of dollars to go to games regularly is diminishing.

Is that mindset due to a decade of consistent losing, or is it simply a money based decision? Each fan is different, but for the past few years I’ve felt pro sports in North America could be trending towards a financial reset. Not a major crash, but lowering ticket prices and food and beverage.

Cost is a big issue, but so too is how sports fans consume content today. There are so many more options to watch and younger fans watch sports differently today then we did 10 and 20 years ago. That isn’t a bad thing. Times changes. Some like shorter snapshots, and only the highlights instead of watching an entire game. That is a factor in why younger fans are staying away from the arena. Some aren’t interested in a three-hour commitment, and some older fans who have embraced new technology feel the same.

Should the NHL be concerned about how their fan base has aged the past two decades? According to the Sports Business Journal the average age of NHL fans who watched games on TV in 2000 was 33. In 2006 the average age was 42, and in 2016 it was 49.

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Sport Avg. age
in 2000
Avg. age
in 2006
Avg. age
in 2016
PGA Tour N/A 59 64
LPGA N/A 59 63
Horse racing 51 56 63
ATP tennis 51 56 61
NASCAR N/A 49 58
MLB 52 52 57
WNBA 42 49 55
WTA Tennis 58 63 55
Olympics 45 50 53
College football 47 48 52
College basketball 44 48 52
NFL 44 46 50
Boxing 45 47 49
NHL 33 42 49
NBA 40 40 42
MLS N/A 39 40
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That is a jump of 17 years of a 16-year span. It is important to note that in 2000 the NHL average age was the youngest by far, and compared to other sports the average NHL age is still young. However, but the NBA and MLS have grabbed the attention of younger fans more, and the NHL must ensure they don’t lose too many young fans. We are all creatures of habit, and if your sport watching habits don’t include the NHL in your early 20s and 30s it is doubtful you will suddenly become a huge fan in your 40s. Possible, sure, but those fans would not be the norm.

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WHAT WILL BRING YOU BACK?

I’d like to read your feedback in the comment section to the following questions.

  1. If you cancelled your season seats, what would make you purchase them in the future?
  2. For those who buy mini packs or a few games a year. Are you buying less? How come? What could entice you to return?
  3. Is watching a winning team your biggest motivator to be in the arena? If not, what is?
  4. Is losing or the price of tickets/food/beverage the biggest detractor for you attending games?

Every fan will be different, and there is no right or wrong answer, but the Edmonton Oilers, despite being more competitive, are struggling more than they have in years to get fans in the stands.

Will this continue? Are playoffs enough to win the fan base back?

Time will tell, but right now the empty seats on game nights is a discussion worth having.

MONTH OF GIVING…

Thanks to Larry for bidding on the Jean Beliveau jersey and ticket package, and to Travis for bidding on Michelle Derk’s realtor commission package. Thanks for supporting Santas Anonymous.

Day 8, Package #1: 

  • Pub party for 10 at Urban Tavern Includes meals and beverages for all.
  • $400 GC from Urban Tavern as well as a Lobster Boil (for eight).
  • Pair of tickets to the Oilers/Predators game on January 14th and dinner with Edmonton Oilers President and COO, Tom Anselmi, in Studio 99 prior to the game. This is your chance to talk to Anselmi about the entire game day presentation and more.

You can bid by calling 780.444.1260 or text 101260 between 2-6 p.m. today on TSN 1260.

Package #2: Pyramid of Giving for Adopt-A-Teen. We build a Pyramid of donations.

We need 10 people to donate $100
Then eight people donate $200.
Four people will donate $500
And two people, or companies, to donate $1000.
It goes from 2-6 p.m. You can text the show between 2-6 p.m. at 101260 and include your name and donation. Thanks in advance.

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