December 15, 2009
Writing about attendance woes this season is tricky. First, because NHL teams in many U.S. cities traditionally see a spike after the New Year, as tickets are gifted for the holidays and the games gain more vitality; but mostly because in the battle of putting food on the table in a horrible economy and paying $300 for a regular season hockey game, thwarting starvation wins.
That said, there are some points of concern and frustration when looking at current NHL attendance figures -- those inflated, inequitable figures that tell us nothing of true turnstile count, of course. There are also a few mysteries, like the Colorado Avalanche's 13,811 per game.
Adrian Dater of the Denver Post has written about the small crowds for the division leader, noting that the Avalanche and the Calgary Flames drew just 11,448 on Sunday for a "family night" discounted game. Dater has a theory:
One question I have is: has the advent of HDTV made it less imperative to go to the games? Is the picture so good on TV now that, in effect, teams are hurting themselves by looking so good on TV?
And one final possible factor: Are hockey fans changing? Hemisphere Magazine, an in-flight magazine, sent me a link to an article on the NHL's embrace of the Internet as a marketing tool. I was going to dash off some airline jokes and ask you to imagine I'm reciting them in front of a spotlit brick wall, but instead the article got me wondering if the NHL's use of the Internet might be hurting regular season attendance a bit. Are these Avs fans home because they'd rather watch the game while posting on Twitter, with GameCenter Live on in the background, in case the Colorado game isn't great? As amazing as a live game is, do these fans prefer the online experience in some way?
There's a little more credence to Dater's theory at the moment. Think of the movies: How many folks are unwilling to pay to see an average film in the theater when a cheap DVD and a booming home theater system beckons in a few months? (Of course, there's also an entire generation growing up with the notion the Internet has made movies and music free, so why go to the theater anyway?)
But Ovadia's theory is something the NHL should be thinking about. Technology on television has made the game look great; technology on the Web has provided fans with an immersive, communal experience full of stats and real-time conversation between fans. When "television 2.0" technology combines HDTV with the tools on the Web ... well, what would compel someone to leave their house in a Colorado winter for a regular season game then?
If you live in an NHL city and aren't going: Why not? Has the cost/benefit of staying home to watch the game changed for you as technology has?