It's been no secret that attendance at the Pepsi Center has not been what it once was. The Avalanche still holds the longest sell out record in the NHL at 487 games. It began on November 9, 1995 (at McNichols Sports Arena), and ended on October 16, 2006 (at the Pepsi Center). However, since the 2006-2007 season, attendance has steadily dropped, bottoming out during the 2009-2010 season.
The Pepsi Center holds a maximum of 18,007 people. During the 2006-2007 season, the average attendance was 17,612, 97.8% of capacity. At that time, the Avalanche ranked 14th in the NHL for attendance*. If you recall, this was the first season in which the Avs did not qualify for the playoffs, setting another record in the process: never before had a team earned 95 points on the season and still missed the post-season. Perhaps this contributed to a continued drop in attendance as the team saw nearly 1,000 fewer people on average for 2007-2008.
The Avs returned to the playoffs that season, upsetting the Minnesota Wild in the first round but losing 4-0 to the Detroit Red Wings in the second. One would think that an exciting playoff appearance like the one experienced against the Wild would draw in the crowds. However, attendance dropped again in 2008-2009 to 85.7% of capacity (15,429 average), good enough for 25th in the league.
In 2008-2009, the team hit an all-time low in performance. The following year, the organization hit an all-time low at the gates. The 2009-2010 season saw the Avs' attendance coming in second to last in the league with the Pepsi Center filled to only 77.5% capacity. That translated to a dismal 13,947 people. For those of us who went to games, those numbers actually seem a little high. The reported figures say that the November 4, 2009, game against the Phoenix Coyotes was the lowest that season. I think it's safe to assume that the 11,012 count was the lowest of the team's history. About half of the games, especially at the beginning of the season, saw around 12,000 people.
When the young, fast, offensively-minded team surprised the league and its fans with a winning record and an unexpected playoff appearance, interest in the team began to surge again. The 2010-2011 season saw a 5% increase in average attendance; however, the 14,820 people still put the team in the bottom of the NHL at 24th in capacity. Injuries and less-than-stellar play saw the Avalanche turn in an even lower number of wins than the '08-09 season, leaving them second to last in the league at season's end.
One would think, based on past experiences, that attendance would wane even further after such a dismal performance. Happily, that is not the case. As of today, the average attendance for the 2011-2012 season is the highest it's been since 2007-2008 at an average of 15,439. Again, the team is boasting an 85.7% rate of capacity. There have been two sell outs (opening night/Forsberg's retirement ceremony on Oct. 8 vs. the Red Wings; Dec 27 vs. the Winnipeg Jets) and only five games have dropped below 14,000 people.
Unsurprisingly, the worst month was November—a period when the Avalanche went 4-9-1—at an average of only 14,622. (The Nov. 28th game against the Stars only brought in 12,015 fans.) The best month has been February with an average of 16,154 people. Only slightly behind that is December; again, there's no surprise there as it was the team's best month for winning.
So, besides winning, what draws the crowds? The Avalanche offers a number of deals to fans:
- Family Four Pack: 4 tickets, 4 meals - $99
- Arby's Face Off Pack: 4 tickets, 4 roast beef classic sandwiches, 4 small fries, 4 small Pepsis, $10 gift card - $99
- Guys Night Out: 2 tickets, 2 beers, 2 t-shirts - $59
- Puck Pack: 2 tickets, 2 Pepsis or beers, $10 gift card - $98.50
- Student Rush night: $15 tickets
By far, the Family Four Pack is the most popular deal. Attendance is significantly higher on the nights its offered when compared with other deals. Guys Night Out also seems to bring in folks (to which I can personally attest because of the crowds around one of my favorite beer spots on those nights).
Certain days of the week are better for attendance, as well. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays draw more people than Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays. (Tuesdays are all over the board.) Holidays make a difference, too. The first home games after both Thanksgiving and Christmas saw very big crowds. The night before Halloween was the polar opposite. Of course, certain teams consistently bring the people in. I don't think anyone attending the games needs to be given any numbers to know that the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks are hugely popular.
In reviewing unemployment rates for Colorado, it shows only a minor correlation to game attendance. Unemployment averaged at about 6% in 2002, dropped to an average of 4% between 2006-2008 (when attendance also began to drop), and raised to 9% in 2010. It currently sits at 7.9%.
All of this comes down to two basic things: attendance is improving significantly and winning is the most important factor for it. We have a young, exciting team with a core group of guys that are incredibly talented. With the addition of a few key pieces, winning will become the norm. The owner and the accountant both know that a serious investment in a star player or two will reap even bigger rewards at the box office, making the salaries involved a positive risk-reward scenario.
*Attendance ranks are based on percentage of capacity, rather than actual numbers, as arenas hold varying amounts of people.