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SBJ/20090420/This Week's News
Revivals in Chicago and Washington help hockey break attendance mark
Published April 20, 2009
The NHL rode the re-emergence of the Chicago Blackhawks, the exploding popularity of the Washington Capitals and the on-ice success of the Boston Bruins to a fourth-consecutive season of record attendance, and it matched its gains at the gate with a second consecutive season of national ratings increases.
Reported attendance for the league increased 1.1 percent to 21.4 million for the 2008-09 season, and paid admissions rose “a little over” 1 percent, said Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. The increases occurred despite the league sacrificing 30,399 fans by downsizing the location of the Winter Classic from Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium, which drew 71,217 in 2008, to Wrigley Field, which drew 40,818 in 2009.
“Especially in light of the economy, we’re pleased with where we ended up this year,” Daly said. “We had a good competitive year on the ice and the fans continued to respond to the product, which is a positive story.”
The league’s reported attendance increases were driven in large part by increases in Chicago, Washington and Boston. The Blackhawks led the league in attendance with an average of 21,752 — up 29.4 percent from 2007-08. The Capitals had the second largest jump in average attendance, increasing 17 percent to 18,097, and the Bruins had the third largest, jumping 10.4 percent to 17,040.
The gains in those markets were complemented by the continued strength of the Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, San Jose Sharks and all six Canadian clubs — all of whom played to 100 percent capacity.
“The revival and real energy you see in some markets — the Washingtons, the Bostons, the Chicagos — is great to see and helps on a leaguewide basis,” Daly said. “The fact that a good number of our teams sell out every one of their games is good news.”
The gains at the gate across the league were offset by struggles in some markets. The Tampa Bay Lightning, which was in its first year of new ownership under Len Barrie and Oren Koules, suffered an 11.7 percent decline in average attendance to 16,498, and the Colorado Avalanche, which finished at the bottom of the Western Conference, declined 8.4 percent to average 15,429 spectators a game.
The New York Islanders led the league in lowest average and lowest total attendance, drawing 564,697 spectators for an average attendance of 13,773. The Atlanta Thrashers and Phoenix Coyotes followed with an average of 14,626 and 14,876 spectators, respectively.
The leaguewide increase at the gate carried over to television, where average ratings were up at each of the league’s national broadcast partners. In the U.S., average viewership on Versus increased 14 percent to 310,000 viewers and a 0.3 cable rating, and NBC’s ratings rose from a 1.0 to a 1.1 household rating through nine telecasts. In Canada, viewership was up on CBC by 5 percent to an average of 1 million viewers, TSN by 12 percent to an average of 451,000 viewers and RDS by 7 percent to an average of 650,000 viewers.
NBC’s average ratings received a substantial lift from its broadcast of the 2009 Winter Classic. The game drew more than 4.4 million viewers, and without it, the league’s average would have slipped to a 0.8 household rating with 1.171 million viewers.
“That’s something NBC and (the NHL) work on together and will continue to work on to maximize those numbers,” Daly said. “It’s a factor of matchups sometime, weather on some Sundays and maybe time slots, and those are all things we will continue to focus on.”
Ratings results locally were mixed. The Blackhawks, Capitals, Thrashers, Bruins and Sharks all experienced double-digit ratings increases, while the Lightning, Islanders, Minnesota Wild, Red Wings and Florida Panthers suffered double-digit declines.
Staff writers John Ourand, Brandon McClung and Austin Karp contributed to this report.