The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has an interesting look at how the economy played a part in the Thrashers probably leaving Atlanta for Winnipeg.
Obviously, a team deciding to relocate is complex and there are going to be multiple variables, but reporter Mike Tierney spoke to some Atlanta fans who can no longer afford to go to games, NHL and otherwise. Those fans no longer going to games translated to a smaller gate which created an impetus for the team to leave Atlanta.
When you look at NHL attendance, it seems a lot of the teams with attendance issues are either a) really bad or b) in a non-traditional hockey market.
When fans in non-traditional hockey markets need to choose how to spend limited resources, they’re probably going to choose things other than hockey.
But what the NHL needs to remember is that buying a ticket is always a choice. As ticket prices increase and as the U.S. economy continues to rebound painfully slowly, more and more fans are going to choose to spend their money on other things, like rent and gas and tuition.
Fans, even fans in traditional hockey markets, won’t always choose to spend limited funds on hockey.
Look at Detroit. The Red Wings have been below 100% attendance at the Joe Louis Arena for quite a few seasons, something that at one time seemed almost impossible.
But a horrible Detroit economy made it possible.
But if fans can be priced out of tickets in a hockey-mad city like Detroit, then it can happen in any NHL city.
The NHL’s priority needs to be keeping arenas filled up, even if it means reducing certain ticket prices.
The only way to maintain live game attendance over the long term is to expose people to the experience of a live game. If someone’s never exposed to a live game, the odds are when that same person finally has some disposable income to spend on a non-essential, a live NHL game probably won’t make the list.
Affordable tickets will cost NHL teams in the short-term, but long-term will make sure fans continue to go to games.
You can’t help but wonder if the Thrashers would be moving so quickly if more Atlantans had been to able to attend live Thrasher games. Maybe affordable tickets could have helped the Thrashers grow a larger, more sustainable fan base.
But even NHL teams in traditional hockey markets should remember that while they might have a strong crop of passionate fans right now, if they’re not cultivating another generation of younger fans, eventually their fan base might disappear.