November 24, 2010
The Phoenix Coyotes don't exactly play an exciting brand of hockey, but Coach Dave Tippett has proven over the last year that they play a winning brand of hockey. In a non-traditional market that desperately needs to cultivate a fan base, that should start putting fannies in the seats, no?
The Coyotes currently lead the Pacific Division with 27 points. They're one point behind the Detroit Red Wings for the conference lead. And yet, near the end of November, they're still pulling crowds short of 10,000 tickets distributed.
Not fans in the building; don't fall for that ruse. Tickets distributed.
Now, local media in Phoenix is starting to wonder if, and when, the fans are going to start showing up to see what's now a contender in the West ... and if Phoenix is, in fact, an NHL market.
First, a glance at the Coyotes' home attendance this season:
10/16 vs. Detroit Red Wings - 17,125
10/21 vs. Los Angeles Kings - 6,706
10/23 vs. Carolina Hurricanes - 8,189
10/30 vs. Tamp Bay Lightning - 8,171
11/3 vs. Nashville Predators - 6,761
11/6 vs. Pittsburgh Penguins - 14,642
11/12 vs. Calgary Flames - 11,117
11/13 vs. St. Louis Blues - 9,412
11/23 vs. Edmonton Oilers - 9,354
The Calgary game was a Friday night with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in the building. The Red Wings and Penguins were both Saturday night games ... but so were the Blues.
After last night's 5-0 win over the Oilers, Craig Morgan of Fox Sports Arizona wondered openly about the fan base:
The market decides what succeeds and what does not. And no matter what the diehards say, hockey in Glendale has never been a cash cow, as the club's annual losses will attest.
But games like Monday's sure make it feel like the Valley doesn't want and doesn't deserve a hockey team.
And that's a shame because the Coyotes are the best pro team in the Valley. The competition isn't stiff with the Cardinals in free fall, the Diamondbacks in disarray and the Suns in transition -- which should not be confused with transition defense. They don't do that at US Airways Center.
We'll grant that the small crowds are partially a product of the Coyotes' limited marketing budget while they hold their breath and wait for impending owner Matthew Hulsizer. "Let's face it, you need a pocket calendar to know when we're playing over here," one club employee said.
Overall, I think this last point by Morgan is the critical one: Even though the Coyotes gave that market a taste of the postseason, there was no momentum built through a summer of quiet signings and Winnipeg relocation talk.
But Ken Campbell of The Hockey News and I mixed it up over the Coyotes' attendance and future in the market on Puck Daddy Radio yesterday, and he made a fair point: Why should ownership problems and the stability of the franchise factor into single game-night ticket sales? Sure, it's a drag on season tickets, but for one night at the rink?
"My goodness, these guys are getting 8,000 people a game," said Campbell, who said that someone did a head count at the Nashville game and found the crowd closer to 3,000. "In the past, you really haven't been able to tell if Phoenix was a good hockey market because they were so bad for so long. ... But it's gotta get to a point where you say, 'What are we fighting for here?'"
Stability in ownership has helped make the Nashville Predators an attendance success story this season, with attendance up 18.5% through seven games; maybe the same could happen in Phoenix?
Or maybe they need the power of the Force:
We said last month that it's crisis time in December if the Coyotes' crowds don't grow. The good news is that they're on the upswing, even if they're still under 10,000.
Bottom line, and our question for you: Do you still give Phoenix the benefit of the doubt as a hockey market until their off-ice ownership and relocation issues are resolved?