ILWT Audition: Rockin’ The Rock: A Look at the Devils Attendance at Prudential Center

This is what a sellout crowd looks like (to my left of my seat) at the Rock. How has the attendance looked in recent seasons? Writer C Matthew Ventolo has the analysis in this audition post. (Photo by me, John Fischer)

Over a week ago, I put out the call looking for new writers for In Lou We Trust to write about the New Jersey Devils. I've opened up the audition to the community at large in order to get a new perspectives and additional voices on the front page with regularity.  Since then, I've received seven entries and I thank each one of them - you know who you are - for stepping up and making an entry.

Throughout this week, I will post each one under an anonymous name so you can discuss and critique the post without regard to who actually wrote it.  I can ensure you that I did not change any of the content outside of formatting it in to the SBN platform and fixing spelling errors.  To that end, please note that I don't necessarily agree with what the posts actually say.  I'm just letting them stand on their own.  Please be constructive in any criticism and do offer your thoughts about whether you liked the post in addition to discussing it's content.

The third entrant comes from Writer C Matthew "njdNYG'cuse" Ventolo, who has an analytical post about the attendance of the New Jersey Devils. It's common point of criticism of the team by outsiders and us fans would sure love to know what's really going on.  It's a detailed piece with plenty of research behind it, so it's not a light read; but I can say it's worth the time to take it all in. Ventolo's piece follows after the jump.

One of the biggest off-ice issues surrounding the Devils' Organization for the past decade or so has been attendance. It seems throughout all the success the Devils have had on the ice, it doesn't necessarily fill the seats. Some have blamed their style of play that most presume they still play. Some have blamed playing in East Rutherford, NJ and their proximity to other hockey and major sports franchises. Some have blamed cost and transportation. Well, the Devils have been playing in the newest and most modern arena the NHL has in Newark, NJ for three seasons now. The Prudential Center, aka The Rock, is a state-of-the-art building for sports and entertainment, has multiple transportation options within walking distance, and still has a great product on the ice. So most of those excuses regarding attendance are futile now, right?

I feel now is a good time to go in depth at the attendance numbers at The Rock to see if A) attendance has gotten better since the franchise's move to Newark and B) an analysis of the three seasons to conclude any advantageous or problematic parameters the Devil's have had in their schedules. One can obtain only so much from the attendance of each game, thus other parameters I've included in this analysis are what day of the week did the Devils play, who was the opposition, and was there any special event or promotion that would ultimately attract more fans into the arena. This will help fans and others realize where issues in attendance and attendance related aspects exist, thus to further better the fan experience and even the season schedule when constructed.

This is about regular season attendance; 41 home games a season. Attendance at The Rock during the playoffs has been straight forward; 10 total games, all sold-out. For anyone who doesn't know, the capacity at Prudential Center is 17,625. The data for the three seasons at Prudential Center (Attendance, Date, Opposition), I obtained over the past three years from box scores on NHL.com. The promotional schedules were gathered recently. This past year's was easy thanks to John's post on promotional schedules. The 2008-2009 promotional schedule was available through the Devils' website. For the record, I've included the Hockey Fights Cancer game and the first home game, which was the inaugural Fan Fest, as promotions. I found the 2007-2008 promotional schedule on an old Devils' blog called Devils Daily. I did all the calculations done for the three seasons at The Rock, and double checked them at best.

Attendance Before and After the Move

To examine if attendance has increased between the IZOD Center (formally Continental Airlines Arena, Brendan Byrne Arena) and Prudential Center, I created a 20-season regular season average attendance graph. The averages from the 1989-1990 season to the 2006-2007 season are from Andrew's Stars Page.  I used my averages for the remaining three seasons.

Writer_c_chart_1

I completely omitted the 2004-2005 season due to the lockout, and also included the capacity line to give you a sense of a "percentage filled" in both arenas.

With a good look at the graph, I see four sections. The first of the sections was from the 1989-1990 to the 1993-1994 seasons. Each season had an average attendance below 15,000 and didn't even surpass 78% average capacity. The 1991-1992 was the lowest out of the 20 seasons with a 12,837 average attendance. The Devils were able to have decent seasons during this span, going around 0.500 each season and accumulating around 80 to 90 points. The 1994 playoff run to the Eastern Conference Finals and the emergence of Martin Brodeur during that run led to a 9.51% increase in attendance for the next season. This began the highest 5-season average from 1994-1995 to 1998-1999. Each season had an average attendance over 16,200 and 85% capacity, which is outstanding! Their highest season average was during this section at 17, 321 during the 1997-1998 season. The Devils managed to pass the 100 point mark three times, win three Atlantic Division titles, and win their first Stanley Cup in this duration.

Looking at the next section can only be described as frustrating. The average attendance decreased 9.79% in the 1999-2000 season. The Devils achieved over 100 points for each of the seven seasons, won four Atlantic Division titles, three Eastern Conference Championships, and two Stanley Cups, yet attendance struggled and relatively declined season after season. This is where I feel talk starting brewing about attendance issues.  Average attendance ranged from 14,000 to just below 16,000. Hockey being on vacation due to the lockout for a year certainly didn't help attendance in New Jersey, with the average attendance being 14,230 and 14,176 in 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 respectively. Luckily, the Devils moved into a brand- new arena the next season.

The average attendance increased 8.92% (second most in the 20-season span) to 15,564 in The Rock's Inaugural Season. During this last section, average attendance has been from 15,536 (2009-2010) to 15,790 (2008-2009), which is a very small range (1.64%). The percent-filled has been over 88% (due to the decrease in capacity) for each season. These three seasons each have had the highest average attendance since the 2001-2002 season (15,926). It's clear that attendance isn't at the 16,000+ average yet as it was in the mid to late 1990s, but since the lockout and even the millennium, the average attendance has improved and stayed consistent since the Devils' moved into Prudential Center.

Anyone who has been at a hockey game or event at both arenas can agree Prudential Center is 1000 times better than IZOD Center. It's newer, the sight lines are better, and the atmosphere is better. The most important changes have been the increase of existing transportation options in Newark and the suppression of the NJSEA operating Devils' games.

A big reason why Prudential Center was built where it was built was its adjacency to Newark Penn Station. The first paragraph of the Prudential Center Fan Guide pretty much sums it up (on page 2). New Jersey Transit initially made innovations to accommodate events at The Rock by increasing operations. The Devils also worked in hand with AEG to create Devils Arena Entertainment, LLC and share the operations at The Rock. Promotions, marketing, sponsorships, and operations of the arena are just as important for increasing attendance as putting and keeping a winning team on the ice, and the Devils have done that since being in Newark.  One of the biggest marketing tools the Devils have done is proudly representing their state, being Jersey's Team.

Attendance increased at a large rate even with average ticket prices increasing in the inaugural season of Prudential Center. This ISM Media report concluded the Devils had the 4th highest average ticket price for the 2007-2008 season, behind the Maple Leafs and Canadiens, and ahead of the Flames and Oilers (What do they all have in common?). That's how much better The Rock is than the IZOD Center. The only benefit I see the IZOD Center has on The Rock is that it holds more people, and that's it.

Attendance at the Rock

From the previous graph, it seems attendance hasn't really changed much during the three seasons at The Rock, yet I really wanted to go in depth to see any differences in that span. The season lasts just over seven months, a good number to divide 41 home games into, thus here is a monthly average attendance for the three seasons:

Writer_c_chart_2

Some similarities and some differences evolve from this graph. To quickly explain that lowly February 2010 month; there was a huge snow storm that night against the Flyers on Wednesday, February 10th with a whopping 5,580 attendees and there were only three home games that month due to the Olympic break. If you want to get a sense of where that point would be if the game had been around the average attendance at that point of the season (15,219), it would be 16,016 or exactly on top of the red square.

There were only three instances where average monthly attendance increased to the next month for all three seasons:   November to December, February to March, and March to April. On the contrary, there was only one instance that saw a decrease for all three seasons, which was October to November. It's good to see more seats are filled as the season comes to an end.  March and April 2010 had the highest monthly averages at 16,846 and 17,625 respectively. Yes, every game in April this year was sold out, minding it was only three games. Was this due to bringing in a veteran superstar in Ilya Kovalchuk? Was this due to Zach Parise's American heroics at the Olympics? Probably both, either way, it's a nice sign.

November has been the worst month of the year being the only month to average fewer than 15,000 each season. This makes some sense because it lies in between October, when hockey finally returns, and December, where ticket sales go up because of holidays and special ticket packages. Strangely though, the average attendance from November to December in 2009 only increased from 14,878 to 14,897. April is the best month, but the regular season ends two weeks in, thus March has the best full monthly average attendance ranging from 16,512 (2009) to 16,846 (2010). It's sufficed to say that as the season wears on, and the Devils near the playoffs, attendance goes up. 

There are many factors that can affect the monthly attendance and more so the entire season's numbers. I've been able to create some charts for each season at Prudential Center that breakdown how many games, sellouts and promotions were played on each day of the week. Here's the chart for all three seasons combined. If you would like to see each year's chart, they're here in this chart.

Writer_c_chart_3

For the 123 regular season games at Prudential Center, the average attendance for the first three seasons was 15,630, with 34 sellouts (27.64%). There is a 1,500 attendee difference between games played on weekdays and weekends.  Saturday has the highest average with 16,691, whereas Wednesday has the lowest average at 14,392. Friday sees the most games played and the most sellouts. Sunday has the highest percentage of games being a sellout at 45.5%.

Approximately 1 out of every 3 home games featured a promotion, and it aided in increasing attendance by 417 people a game to a 16,047 average. 30% of promotion games are sellouts, most occurring on the weekends. Promotions increase attendance during weekdays (548) at a better rate than weekends (122). Saturdays see the most promotions percentage wise, with an average attendance of over 17,000 and half of those games being sellouts, which is great. Strangely though, Thursday and Friday actually saw a decrease in attendance when promotions are going on.

Promotions did help attendance, yet not as much as I and probably some of you would of thought. Giveaways like caps and pucks had a higher attendance than some donation promotions (coat and food drives, Toys for Tots), which makes sense. What is a good sign is that promotional average attendance has increased each year (15,625; 16,177; 16,317). Hopefully the step the Devils took in putting an experienced person in charge of operations this season in Rich Krezwick will help in the upcoming years.

Another big parameter that could affect attendance is the visiting team. It's safe to assume that the Rangers or Flyers would attract more fans then say, the Lightning or the Predators. Well, this next chart breaks down attendance against the Atlantic Division and its respected teams, the rest of the Eastern Conference, and the Western Conference. It goes into more detail, specifying how many games were played on weekdays and weekends, if there was a promotion, and how many sellouts occurred. If you would like each season's breakdown, it's here in this chart.

Writer_c_chart_4

The regular season format changed after the 2007-2008 season, 16 divisional home games, 20 remaining Eastern Conference home games, and 5 Western Conference home games. Now the format is 12, 20, and 9 home games respectively.

It's no surprise that the Atlantic Division boasts the highest average attendance at 16,323, and the highest percentage of sellouts at 47.5% (19). Western Conference teams coming into Newark actually draw more fans than teams from the Southeast and Northeast combined, even with a higher percentage of games being held on a weekday, which is very interesting. What's even more shocking is that Western Conference teams have a higher average than Atlantic Division teams on weekends. In its defense, western teams do have the largest percentage of games with promotions. This past season had promotions to honor past Stanley Cup Championships against teams the Devils beat in the finals (Red Wings, Stars, and Ducks). Good job by the marketing team for realizing this and taking advantage of the schedule.

Specifically the Atlantic Division now, it should be no surprise the every Rangers game was a sellout. It doesn't matter what day of the week, and there's no need for a promotion. This will never change. The Devils second biggest rival, the Flyers, actually has the lowest average attendance at The Rock. Yes, that snow storm game did have some effect on the numbers, and it's shown on the weekday attendance (10,264). Yet, it boasts the lowest average among weekend division games at 16,537, and that's with have the largest percentage of games being on weekends. Games against the Flyers also have the lowest average out of divisional promotional games at 16,197.

The Devils did a good job of distributing promotions among the Atlantic, Southeast and Northeast, and Western Conference games evenly, all in the 30% to 40% range. Better promotions in the future will result in better increases, and using the schedule to your advantage is the best possible way.

Conclusions

There's no questioning that in the final years at the Devils old home in East Rutherford, attendance struggled. The move into Newark and a brand new building absolutely increased attendance at the second highest rate in the past 20 seasons. It wasn't just the upgrade in facilities either. The Devils departing from the state-owned NJSEA and creating their own entertainment agency, Devils Arena Entertainment had a positive effect, seeing an increase in marketing all around the state and internet. The Devils worked well with the New Jersey Transit Authority, making it easier to get to games with more and better transportation options. Recently though, they have announced a huge increase in fares. I hope this doesn't have a negative effect on the Devils next season.

Attendance at Prudential Center has stayed constant over the past three years, yet each season saw an increase as the season went on. This may be due to other popular sports concluding during the season, or the Devils getting closer to playoff hockey. There is a good amount of information to take from the charts as well. The Devils can't create their own schedule, but if they could, they would easily play certain divisions and teams on certain days to help bolster attendance. The Devils don't need weekend games against the Rangers, or even the Atlantic Division (Flyers excluded). The Devils can request certain dates to the NHL to host games, and in my opinion, they should request the maximum or as many they see fit and create a promotion that sees fit. Promotions did attract more fans, yet I would like to see a larger increase in the future. Even more promotions wouldn't be a bad idea. For example, I wouldn't mind seeing the throwback jerseys two or even three times season for Christmas and St. Patrick's Day.

The direction the organization is heading into and the economy eventually getting better will certainly give future attendance a lot of hope and expectations. More people are watching the Devils on television, which means the fan base is growing and getting more involved. This should ultimately mean more fans will check out games, buy season packages, and buy season tickets. Everything isn't perfect though going forward. The Devils still struggle against the rest of the league per ESPN, ranking 20th and 21st in average home attendance and percent-filled capacity respectively last season. There is also a dispute between the Devils and the Newark Housing Authority that's being resolved. Overall though, those things won't hurt nor help attendance in the future. It's up to the organization to keep marketing its product statewide, the fans being dedicated, and the team still winning year after year.

I would love to hear your opinions on this. Do you see something different on the graphs or charts? Are there other aspects that would affect attendance that I missed? Even some marketing ideas or problems you see in scheduling or promotions. Feel free to add whatever.  Thanks for reading.

Editor's Note: Fantastic work by Matthew Ventolo, if I do say so myself.  Well, what is your opinion of this post? Would you like to see more of this writing at ILWT? Please leave your thoughts in the comments and remember - be constructive, not destructive.
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