Florida Panthers owners expect lower attendance, for good reason

(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The Florida Panthers have Roberto Luongo in goal. They have Jonathan Huberdeau, who won the rookie of the year two years ago and Aaron Ekblad, the top pick in this year’s draft.

They are, in theory, marketable, even if they haven’t been successful. If hope sells, they have it in bushels.

Yet the Panthers’ new owners predict that their attendance will be down this season.

But that’s because it shouldn't have been as high as it was in previous seasons.

Florida owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu admit that the team had been papering its building with giveaway tickets, inflating meager crowds with comp’d tickets.

"We want people who are there to be paying a fair price, the same price and enjoying a great product on the ice. We can get 15,000 in there if we gave away 5,000 seats. We don't want to do that. It's not fair,” Cifu told George Richards of the Miami Herald.

The Herald reports that the Panthers “devalued their product” giving away tickets and putting loads of them on the secondary selling market. This behavior effectively angered their season ticket holders, many of whom dropped their full-price plans as other fans attended the games on the cheap.

“There is total transparency,'' Cifu told the Herald. "Everyone in [a given] section is paying the same price. All of the things that franchises which are [fighting] to sustain themselves have done, we think was an operational mistake.”

The current owners will continue the practice of the previous owners: Using a tarp to cordon off a majority of the upper deck, dropping the arena’s capacity for non-marquee games to just 15,000 fans. The Panthers announced crowds of 14,177 on average last season – in tickets distributed, not turnstile count.

Viola and Cifu have said they want to keep the franchise in South Florida, and are determined to make it work. So the Panthers do have two mandatory things the NHL looks for in sustainability – committed owners and a modern arena.

What they don’t have is a large season ticket base, which is one of the reasons it was reported that the team lost $100,000 a day.

A day.