"Could you make it out to "Little Nicky" Kovy?" (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
It probably wasn't easy going to games in November and December...just as it probably wasn't hard going to games in February and March. Just like the Devils performance on the ice, the attendance at Prudential Center was like a two-part television show. In the first part, everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong; the hero was in a coma; and the world was being destroyed by telepathic mutant cannibal zombies. The next episode featured a guest appearance from an old hero from past seasons who came out of the woodwork to save humanity; the world was saved; the hero awoke to help regain stability; but sadly, he just didn't get the chick at the end (she turned into a zombie).
The New Jersey Devils saw the worst season in attendance since the move to Newark into Prudential Center. Honestly, when I first looked at the finals numbers, they weren't as bad as I thought they would be. With better play on the ice, an implementation of the new Supporters Section and some smart marketing ideas, ownership and management has to be somewhat satisfied given this is the first year the Devils aren't making the playoffs since 1996 (and thus not banking on additional ticket revenue).
After the jump is an in depth look on the attendance numbers for this past season. How did the Devils rank in the NHL? How did it compare with previous Devils' seasons? Did promotions, or certain teams have an influence on attendance?
First off. I usually got my numbers from NHL.com. The summary reports have the attendance at the top. Sometimes I use ESPN and other times I use sportsnetwork.com (which also has the previous year's numbers for comparison along with the total and running average). All the calculations outside of this were done by me (I'm compulsive about double/triple checking my work so they should be correct..I'll check them again). The Devils and Prudential Center saw 605,803 people for 41 home games - an average attendance of 14,776 for the 2010-2011 season. The capacity of Prudential Center is 17,625; the percentage capacity for the season was 83.83%.
According to ESPN.com, the Devils ranked 24th in average attendance and 23rd in percentage capacity. Granted if the Devils sold out every home game, they would have only been ranked 16th in average attendance. The Chicago Blackhawks led the NHL with a 21,423 (104.5%) average and the New York Islanders were dead last with an 11,059 (68.1%) average. Using ESPN.com's data, overall NHL attendance dropped from 17,067 in 2009-2010 to 16,927 in 2010-2011, which is that bad at all giving the current state of the world economy.
Speaking of previous seasons, how did the Devils fair compared to past seasons? As I said, this was worst season attendance wise (among other things) since moving to Newark. Here's a graph of the Devils average attendance for the past 21 years:
Just note that the capacity at the old Continental Airlines Arena (now Izod Center) was 19,040.
This season's average is the lowest since 2006-2007 (14,176). It's the largest percent decrease since coming back from the lockout in 2005-2006 (5.14% to 5.83%). The average attendance for three previous seasons were 15,564; 15,790, and 15,536. Numbers were steady since the move to the Rock and this season was certainly a step in the wrong direction. Just like the on ice product, I don't think this will become a trend. Like me, you're probably hoping the days when the Devils average over 16,000 like in the late 90s come back.
Going back to this season, how did attendance do month by month? There's usually between five and eight home games a month, and it's a good way to measure attendance as the season goes on. Here's the monthly average for this season along with the previous three seasons (all four seasons at the Rock):
Two things to note. Those three lowest points were hindered by games played on nights with terrible weather. Last season saw the Devils play the Flyers in the middle of a blizzard in a February month shortened by the Olympics. This season saw two of those games. I wasn't around for it (haha), but from what I've heard, the Northeast's winter was brutal this season - probably the worst since 1996. The day after Christmas against the Maple Leafs saw a mere 5,329 show up and on February 1st, only 7,218 came to see the Devils host the Senators during an ice storm. You can't control the weather, and there's no reason to risk going out against a blizzard or ice storm just to see a hockey game. These are unfortunate events, it hurts the numbers and revenue, but what can you do?
With that out of the way, a couple things surprised me from this graph. This season saw the best November at the Rock. After a horrible October (3-8-1; Parise injury, lowest October attendance at the Rock), attendance went up to average over 15,000. The Devils went 5-6-1 (which in hindsight isn't bad compared to October's and December's records). March and April at the Rock looked like any other season. More than half of the games in those months were sellouts. Still, this season saw the lowest attendance for four months (October, December, January, March).
The March and April numbers have to have been a result of the team's resurgence. The 180 degree turnaround that started in January no doubt helped attendance. The multi-game winning streaks, Ilya Kovalchuk playing in consistent beast mode (Copyright John Fischer 2011), the slight hope of actually making the playoffs, and the 23-3-2 record between January 9th and March 15th brought butts to the seats at the Rock. Here's another graph with the running average to just show you how influential "The Run" was:
Those two large drops around home game 17 and home game 25 were the weather games. Notice that on January 9th - home game 22, the running average began to rise. The Devils went 8-2-1 (to home game 26). That began the run, which then the Devils continued it with an eight game winning streak. With solid play and great results, Devils Army came to attention and supported their team. Even when the team slowed down and were eventually eliminated from the playoffs, they still showed up.
Next up is a chart breaking down the Devils home games by day, showing promotion numbers and where most of the sellouts came:
Almost 30% of the home games were sellouts, almost all of them on the weekends. The 12 sellouts were second most (15 last season) in a season at Prudential Center. Seven of them were from February 18th on. Half of the weekend games were sellouts, with an average attendance of 15,589. Weekday games didn't do so well. The Tuesday and Sunday attendance is hindered by the weather games. Saturday saw the best average attendance, with Friday close behind. Wednesday was the best weekday. Friday saw the most sellouts.
One big difference between this season and past seasons was the number of promotions, giveaways, and special events. I didn't include special ticket nights or food deals (College Night, Guys Night Out, $1 Hot Dogs). I did include the newly created Supporters Section, charity drives, and retro jersey night. I counted 21 promotions for this season, which is a 50% increase from last season. Despite the on ice problems, the marketing team at Prudential Center did not quit. They tried to get those seats occupied and with new giveaways like the ice scraper and silly bands, and special events like Black History Month/Willie O'Ree Appreciation and Kids Opening Day. They certainly opened the door to attracting families, hockey history, and people who desperately needed an ice scraper for the harsh winter.
Though the problem I initially saw was that the promotion attendance is actually lower than regular attendance. The problem was the two weather games (I keep bringing these up, but they really hurt the numbers ) were promotional nights. The other 19 games has an average of 15,223, an increase of 447 people. That increase is still fairly low. In fact, only Saturday promotions helped attendance. Also note that none of the promotions during the weekdays saw a sellout; they were all on the weekend.
The next chart is a breakdown of certain teams, divisions, and conferences the Devils play with their numbers:
Atlantic Division teams bring the crowds, especially on the weekends. All six games were sellouts. Every Ranger game was a sellout. Teams in the West drew a better crowd than teams in the Northeast or Southeast, yet looking at the weekday/weekend columns, the higher percentage of weekend games for the West helped those numbers.
Of the 21 promotions, only three were against the Atlantic division. That makes sense; Devils fans shouldn't need an additional reason to see a rivalry game. Over 50% of the intra-conference games (excluding Atlantic Division) and over 75% of Western Conference games were promotions. This a smart move. It didn't help as much against teams in the Northeast and Southeast as it did against teams in the West.
I have to say I was more concerned over the numbers before I did my calculations (should I check them again?) than now. Knowing that for more than half of the season the team was in the gutter playing horrible hockey, in a harsh winter where public transportation isn't as prepared or ready as it should be, I knew the numbers weren't going to be great. And they really aren't. But the organization made some incredible steps for the future gameday experience at Prudential Center.
A record number of promotions means ownership and marketing is willing to go that extra mile in giving fans some extra incentive to go to games. They are finding companies willing to advertise their product for giveaways. Even those promotions I didn't include for calculations sake (Ladies Night, Guys Night Out, College Night, Family Night, etc), they are reaching out to a bunch of different demographics and groups. Continuing the Retro Jersey Night should be a staple for years to come. They even attracted some 2,000 Quebec fans.
The simple motto's like "Jersey's Team" and "Devils Army" are being embraced across
the fanbase Devils Army. A new one was created (with the help of Jacques Lemaire and the players) during the Run - "One Game at a Time." It was embraced, and fans ran with it. It's simple, it's a cliche, but sometimes simple is the best way to go. I hope they are thinking of a new one for when next season starts - something to indicate getting back to the playoffs and the ultimate goal of raising Lord Stanley once again. Perhaps "Getting back to Status Quo"?
I attended one of the Jersey Tours over the summer and I remember all the different types of ticket packages for the season. Over the course of the season, there were holiday deals, pick'em deals, etc. This is another great idea. Giving people more of an option just means you're more likely to suit them for what they want. Already 1,300 new fans have signed up for season tickets for next season.
Lastly, the exposure Prudential Center received in 2010 was incredible. The Rock ranked 24th in the world and 11th in the US in ticket sales. The New Jersey Nets moved in this season, and the New York Liberty will be playing there games as the possibly-asbestos-filled-overrated Madison Square Garden is getting renovated. The UFC just had a fight filled evening there and the NCAA had it's Men's regional final there. Don't forget the concerts, kids shows, and other popular events the Rock holds yearly. More exposure by people who may not see a game, or were weary of going to Newark means they will come back - and the Devils are the long term tenant. Also, with Championship Plaza, more restaurants opening around the arena, a new hotel breaking ground not too long ago, along with Triangle Park still in development, the area around the Rock is becoming more fan friendly and will only help further development.
So what do you think about attendance this season? Did you see something in the charts/graphs that I didn't mention? What do you want to see at future Devils games? What did you like? What didn't you like? Discuss attendance, promotions, season tickets, and Prudential Center. Thanks for reading.