Arizona Republic writer Sarah McLellan captured this image, five minutes into the second period, and others from the press box of last night's 4-2 Phoenix Coyotes' victory over the visiting Los Angeles Kings. Announced attendance: 6,706.
Big win tonight. Had the crunch of the game. Thanks to the 5000 fans that showed up. Did people think it was 11 o'clock start?
The Coyotes sold out their first game of the season against the Detroit Red Wings, with plenty of Winged Wheels in the crowd. Phoenix Business Journal wrote that "a big test of the Coyotes attendance this season will be Thursday's home game against the Los Angeles Kings and a Saturday game in Glendale against the Carolina Hurricanes." Well, there's always Saturday.
This attendance plummet from Game 1 to Game 2 of the home schedule has become an unofficial tradition during the NHL's ownership of the team, which was placed into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009 as billionaire Jim Balsillie sought to move it to ... honestly, we simply don't have the bandwidth to recall that entire sad saga again.
From the Phoenix Business Journal in Oct. 2009, after the Coyotes' second home game:
The team announced attendance of 6,899 at Thursday's game against the St. Louis Blues, but personnel at the arena said they were told the crowd was between 5,000 and 6,000. The Coyotes won the game in overtime and are tied for first in the National Hockey League's Pacific Division.
The team, which is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy and is being operated by the NHL, drew 17,532 to Saturday's loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Coyotes lowered ticket prices for the home opener, but went back to regular prices for Thursday's game.
Phoenix didn't offer discounts that steep for this year's home opener.
The Coyotes aren't the only NHL team that suffered humiliation at the gate this week. The Blue Jackets drew an announced 9,802 fans vs. the Anaheim Ducks, which was the smallest home crowd in franchise history. The Atlanta Thrashers played in front of an announced 8,820 against the Buffalo Sabres.
It's the economy. It's October hockey on a weeknight. It's teams that either lost the fans' trust through a lack of success or through instability for the franchise's future in Phoenix's case (along with countless other demographic and geographic challenges in that market).
If these numbers aren't rising by December, then we've got a crisis. As it stands now, we've just got an embarrassment. Especially when Canadian journalists like Jeff Marek are given the chance to note that a Hamilton/Manitoba AHL game (6,116) nearly out-attended the Coyotes last night.
Stick-tap to Ryan Blight for the image.