I have been tearing up a storm (ie: beating a dead horse) writing about the downturn in attendance, and I do not feel the need to stop. Sure, the rest of the world may have moved on, but not me. I stand at the front lines, atop the wall, ready to do battle.
You have seen the ticket prices, know that the economy is committing suicide, and you still don’t buy it. You still think there must be some other reason. Here are some other reasons, like them or not, believe them or not, for the “attendance problems” the Avalanche are having. Some of them you may not really know about, or understand, without living in Denver.
Other sports, Major League: Baseball took it’s toll on Denver this year, with the unexpected run of the Colorado Rockies to the World Series. Playoffs mean more money for any sports franchise, and it has to come from somewhere. Don’t just stop at tickets, think about all the merchandise that was sold, parties that were had, and other money that was spent. The football season takes it’s piece of the pie every year, no matter what some would have you believe. And we are talking about the NFL here, not the CFL. To have someone from Calgary tell me how the football juggernaut works down here is silly. Then there are the Nuggets. Last season, the big splash for the Nuggets involved a blockbuster trade, drawing more “Denver Sports Fans” (a term for people who enjoy many sports and support the many teams in Denver) to basketball. The major league dollar, and the major league attention is getting spread thin. The Avalanche may not have had a budget to stick to, but regular people do.
Other sports, Smaller edition: Hey, you know what? There are other sports in Denver aside from the four big ones. In the Pepsi Center alone, there are the Mammoth (indoor lacrosse) and Crush (arena football). Around town, you have the Rapids (soccer), Outlaws (outdoor lacrosse), and plenty of college sports. Denver is one of the most saturated sports markets in the US.
Hey, what was that Mammoth thing again?: Yeah, perhaps you didn’t know, but lacrosse is taking the city over right now. After the success of the Mammoth, the city wound up with an outdoor lacrosse team. How successful are the Mammoth? They are the top team for attendance in the NLL, and they are ahead of the pack by an average of 2,500. And they have been leading the league for three years, and were second place the year before that. Unlike the Avalanche, they do some fun and interesting promotions, and they work hard for ticket sales and fans, much like a minor league hockey team. Hard to believe the team is owned by the same people. If this doesn’t take a bite out of hockey sales, I want to hear your take.
Other hockey: You may not realize this, but there are other options for hockey in Colorado. Sure, it isn’t NHL hockey, but it is still hockey, and pretty successful hockey at that. The Colorado Eagles, two time winners of the Central Hockey League championship, have been selling like mad for a few seasons now. In northern Colorado, they are very popular, and their arena is only 50 miles from the Pepsi Center. Even closer is the Rocky Mountain Rage, a new team in the Central Hockey League, and direct rival to the Colorado Eagles. The Rage currently are 2nd in the league, and first in their division. Their brand new arena is only 17 miles from the Pepsi Center, and only 14 miles from the heart of Boulder (less from the border). Like I said, it isn’t NHL hockey, but it is hockey, and a much less expensive ticket.
Soccer: They just built a new stadium for the Colorado Rapids, the MLS team. They have their own place. Can you believe that? More competition for the other sports in town.
Denver is expensive: Yeah, I know, it’s expensive to live everywhere. But the housing market in Denver is insane, rents shot up in the last ten years, and the cost of living is outgrowing the salaries. For example, from the Rocky Mountain News from June 27th, 2006:
Denver ranks No. 8 in the country in new cost-of-living rankings, with expensive groceries but cheap utility bills and booze.
Denver is tied with Minneapolis and – surprisingly – ahead of Boston, Seattle and Honolulu in the report released Monday by the publisher of the Economist magazine.
While not everyone agrees with the Economist, it’s significant that the study mentions Denver. Not cheap. Not Boston, New York, or San Francisco, but not cheap
Injury: The top three forwards are out, two of them long term. This isn’t the same as Jordan Leopold being out for most of a season. Joe Sakic is the face and heart of the franchise, and he is out until April. Ryan Smyth is out until March. Sure, there is still a team being iced, but I am still interested in seeing the those guys, and I don’t feel like I get my money’s worth if the three major scoring forces are out.
Troubling trends: You would be hard pressed to find fans that have been paying attention who would tell you that the Avalanche have been making all the right moves lately. Even I would tell them to lay off the kool-aid. Money woes tied to the salary cap may have been a factor in the last few seasons, but making smart personnel moves, spending wisely, and making good on ice decisions are the new name of the game, and we all know it. But the fans have had a hard time digesting some of the moves made in the past couple of years. While dodging the bullet of the meltdown that David Aebischer had was a blessing, the acquisition of Jose Theodore has been a dividing line between the team and many of it’s fans. Seen as a lack of commitment to winning, the Theodore move was made even more grating when he was caught holding hands with Paris Hilton. Suddenly, this team of quiet men became loud and brash, and the personality that was emboddied by Joe Sakic was eroding away quickly, even before the season started. The lack of good play, followed by the lack of an offseason buyout had more fans questioning the move, and the commitment of the team. Then there is coach Quenneville. a conundrum to most Avs fans. If there is one thing every fan thinks they know, no matter what sport, it’s line combinations. Coach Q keeps them juggled. It doesn’t help that he doesn’t show much knowledge of how to handle goalies, and is believed (by some) to be the catalyst that sent Abby down the sliding path.
Television: National television is what it is, and that’s fine. The Avalanche broadcast all of their games that are not nationally televised on their own cable network, Altitude, which also carries the Nuggets, Mammoth, and other sports. But wait, the key word here is cable. It wasn’t that long ago that you could find the games on regular broadcast stations. I wouldn’t call the coverage at the time comprehensive, but it still existed, and was free of charge. Now you have to go looking, have cable (which most people do, but not everyone), and know where to look. If the Nuggets and Avalanche are playing at the same time, the Avalanche usually get bumped to the second tier network, “Altitude 2,” which is only used at times like these. It makes it harder for the casual fan, and not the rabid one who writes about hockey, to find the games. Less broadcast exposure over the free airwaves is bad for any sport. There’s a reason the NFL moved an important Patriots game to two broadcast networks, and off it’s own NFL Network. It’s a good thing that every Avs game is broadcast, since so many other markets have PPV games, but a regular over-the-air broadcast may not hurt.
All of these are compelling reasons for there to be a drop in attendance, and while each one may not do much individually, taken together they can have significant impact.
Does this mean that we can maybe lower some ticket prices and build some new fans? Get the old fans back to the arena?
No. Quite the opposite in fact. From the Denver Post:
The Avalanche has notified season-ticket holders by mail that prices will go up for the 2008-09 season. The top price, only for row 1 along the glass, is scheduled to increase from $190 to $196 per game, and the bottom price, for the upper end balcony, will be raised from $22 to $23.
Prices going up? Attendance problem, what problem? These are the season ticket prices, but if there is an increase here, expect it at the individual ticket level. Season ticket holders are the bread and butter. If they don’t feel they are getting enough of a deal on their packages, you can expect to hear about it.
The other 2008-09 prices, and their corresponding figures for this season:
• Rinkside $134 ($130).
• Prime loge $111 ($108).
• Club corner $106 ($103).
• Club end $96 ($93).
• Corner loge $94 ($91).
• End loge $85 ($83).
• Lower center balcony $62 ($60).
• Upper center balcony $51 ($50).
• Lower corner/end balcony $42 ($41).
• Corner balcony/mid-end balcony $36 ($35).
Hey, look, more numbers. Again, from the article, these are season ticket numbers. Some have only gone up by a dollar, but thats for 41 games, and no one has just one season ticket package. And with the play of late, how many people are going to wonder if they get their moneys worth?