Hurricanes attendance rebound: the fundamentals are looking better

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  1. tarheelhockey

    tarheelhockey Highest Boss

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    By request, cross-posting this to FBOH from a main board thread

    Hurricanes attendance trend in a series of images:

    [​IMG]

    This is of course a global view, which shows the overall "bottom out and rebound" trend that goes along with having not played a playoff game since 2009.

    But the real action is here, in per-game attendance:

    [​IMG]

    Just a bunch of squiggly lines, but I wanted to be sure we could see the raw data. Note that the red line is this season, and the blues go from dark to light as you go farther back into the past.

    Here's a better way to look at it.

    [​IMG]

    That's the per-game rolling average over the same set of seasons. There are some pretty important things happening here:

    1) They started with higher attendance than any time in the past 5 years, which is something we'll come back to.
    2) The trend post-Christmas has generally been for attendance to flatline as it became evident that they were out of the playoff race. That trend has changed in the past two seasons.
    3) Note that the 2019 trendline is not just substantially higher than previous seasons, but it's continuing to rise -- which is nearly unique in this data set for this time of year. If you look back at the "squiggly line" graph, the reason for that is pretty obvious. Attendance is not cratering as it has during recent garbage-time seasons.

    Let's look at the data another way. Here's what it looks like if you rank the games highest-to-lowest by season.

    [​IMG]

    What's interesting here is what's missing in 2019 -- sellouts.

    As you can see in the "squiggly line" graph, there have historically been a number of games each season in which attendance spiked due to a marquee road opponent. Those games helped mask a very low average at the lower end of the chart.

    But Canes attendance is not rising because they're packing the building for single games. In fact, the upper end of the chart has barely moved at all. Yet attendance is substantially higher -- why?

    What you're seeing there is the erosion of the core ticket-buying fanbase between 2013 and 2019. During that period it became evident that there was no longer any benefit to having playoff priority, or even to buying tickets at a slight discount. As a result, the STH base plummeted to what appears to be around 7500 (based on games where virtually no walkups were sold) at the same time that the "regular" single-ticket buyers disappeared.

    The red line on this chart shows you that the STH base is beginning to build back up and single-game buyers are coming back. This is NOT about selling out a marquee game on the strength of outside fanbases. It's about the underlying health of the local fanbase, night after night. These numbers show a roughly 20% increase in the size of the "core" over the past year. Also remember that 1) the trendline is increasing per the rolling-average chart, and 2) this is happening WITHOUT having made it back to the playoffs yet.

    What does this all mean?

    1) All other things equal, the smallest markets should always have the lowest attendance. That is not a market problem per se... it's just an axiomatic assumption that the owners make any time they approve a market. However, there is a difference when attendance is depressed. That's how we get situations like NYI currently, or Chicago and Pittsburgh in the past. What we saw over the past ~5 years in Carolina was a depressed market, where the underlying numbers were not what they should have been in a vacuum. That is quite clear from the annual trends shown above, which stand in contrast to the current season.

    2) The numbers above show a market that is very rapidly coming out of that depression. Assuming everything stays on a reasonable course (e.g., not a Stanley Cup but at least a playoff appearance, not a Crosby-level superstar but maybe Aho/Svech competing for trophies) everything we see right now indicates that the market core is being restored to its norm. Once that happens, it's a reasonable assumption that Carolina will go back to being what everyone expects from a smaller market -- something like 16K/game average attendance, variable according to the team's trajectory.

    The fact that this is happening WITHOUT significant on-ice achievements very strongly suggests that the current ownership is running things the right way, and that they should ignore outsiders who say otherwise. The fact that they have been even more successful in doubling-down on things that get the most vicious criticism (the wild marketing success of the Bunch of Jerks campaign, successful Whalers tributes, pursuit of an outdoor game) appears to confirm that theory.

    The next logical assumption is that other franchises will observe this success and begin to imitate it, at which point the critics will reverse course and support their own organization's copycat efforts.
     
  2. blood gin

    blood gin Registered User

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    Canes fans have always been a loud fun bunch. And when they make the playoffs or have good teams the fans show up and it's a loud, raucous atmosphere. Believe me my team has been subject to it. Plus that area, sure it's the south but it's not "the south" in a traditional sense. Tons of northeast transplants in NC that love hockey
     
  3. the halleJOKEL

    the halleJOKEL strong as brickwall

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    one of the historical issues the team has had has been converting transplants into hurricanes fans. tons of people come out for the 1 or 2 games a season their former team plays and then slam the team for having bad attendance and being a joke the rest of the year. one of those "what could have been" things... guarantee there would have been more conversion there if they had been consistently competitive (read - a playoff team at least 50% of the time) over the past decade
     
  4. tarheelhockey

    tarheelhockey Highest Boss

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    Something I hadn't put my finger on until this tweet:



    Is that there will be a "lost generation" effect on the Canes fanbase in the long term. Fortunately sports is bandwagony and this can be offset with a few good seasons, but there is definitely going to be a cohort of locals who grew up knowing the Canes as an obscure joke franchise, as opposed to people 10 years older or 10 years younger who were dazzled by their popularity at a formative age.

    That's going to be even more pronounced among the children of Pens/Hawks/Rangers/Bruins fans, who grew up in households where their parents were in full-blown propaganda mode due to the success of those teams during the same time period.

    (also she calls Justin Faulk an "elder", he turned 27 last week)
     
  5. wpgallday1960

    wpgallday1960 Registered User

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    Good to see the market starting to turn around. Hopefully they can be a playoff contender for a while and strengthen the core fan base and be better able to handle dips in team performance.
     
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  6. the halleJOKEL

    the halleJOKEL strong as brickwall

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    i would argue that the last ten years went beyond a dip in performance. the fanbase weathered the dip... then the dip never stopped dipping
     
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  7. canuckfan75

    canuckfan75 Registered User

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    Congratulations from a Canucks fan. Very happy that things are going well in North Carolina. It is a beautiful state with great people:)
     
  8. tarheelhockey

    tarheelhockey Highest Boss

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    I tried to capture that idea with the term "depressed" above. The past 3 or 4 years in Carolina weren't normal "down" years, it was the climax of a whole decade of failure on and off the ice, with key players being run out of town while relocation rumors were swirling. We were at the stage where hardcore fans stopped engaging with the franchise, out of protest or despair. We started getting into extraordinary-circumstances territory, the sort of thing where even very solid traditional franchises start looking unstable (Isles, Sens currently).

    I think rock-bottom for a normal rebuild would have been closer to 13K, bookended by 14-15K seasons when things looked a little more hopeful. The difference between those numbers and what we actually saw (a season under 12K) is a pretty good way to measure core season-ticket sales erosion because of the instability of the franchise. The difference between last season and this season (will end up being a ~1K bounce) is a pretty good measure of that core group re-engaging. Next season will be interesting, because it's the first time since about 2013 that a season ticket package appears to have real value beyond "support us so we don't move away".
     
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  9. tarheelhockey

    tarheelhockey Highest Boss

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    WRT measuring the impact of the past few years on the STH base. Probably the best way to reveal the size of the STH base using public numbers, is to look at the lowest-attended game per season.

    Disclaimer: This is not an exact science, etc. When looking at these numbers, consider the following.
    • The lowest attended game for a non-bandwagoned team should be pretty close to a "bare bones" STH number. A slow night for a bad team results in next-to-zero walkup sales. You can subtract a small number if you want to be super-precise, but we're talking 100 or 200. Not 1000.
    • There will likely be some freebies and discounted tickets which qualify as "tickets distributed", and we know the Canes did that up until 2017 when they cut way back on the practice.
    • The lowest attended game for a bandwagoned team is likely NOT going to be a good way to reveal the STH number. Even on a slow night, there will still be a significant number of walk-up sales to people who are just really into the team at that time. So the hot years will have slightly inflated figures.
    • There were deep playoff runs in 2002, 2006, 2009. Those were major drivers of STH sales during that time period, because of the playoff priority benefit.
    • Don't forget that 2013 was a lockout season. The league came back in January on a very short schedule, with most teams going all-out with discounts and marketing to drive sales.
    • The All Star Game drove season ticket sales in 2011. That was actually the year I signed on because I didn't want to overpay for ASG tickets.
    • I didn't count the notorious 2010 "snow game" (attendance 6896, nowhere near that many actual attendees) because I don't know how that situation interacts with normal attendance figures. Were single-game tickets refunded? Did people with partial-season packages get a pass? Does this mean 6896 is a reflection of the whole STH base, or just full season packages, or neither? I don't know, so I decided to just leave it out rather than mess with irregular data.
    All that said, here are the lowest attended games per season:

    [​IMG]

    With all of those bullet points taken into consideration, I think this chart tells a pretty good story of what happened circa 2014-2018.

    When the playoff, ASG, and lockout vibes all wore off, there was still a core fanbase that would pull 11.5K on the extreme low end -- they averaged a little over 15K in that environment. Sure, the place was papered somewhat with discount tickets, but generally speaking attendance was not "off a cliff" even in spite of a 5-year playoff drought. Under normal conditions, that SHOULD have been near rock-bottom.

    Circa 2015, the core fanbase started to break under the pressure of 6 years without playoffs, the flameout of Kirk Muller as head coach, the firing of Jim Rutherford as GM, Haydn Fleury and Noah Hanifin as our "big exciting" draft picks, and what amounted to the beginning of a rebuild-within-a-rebuild.

    2017 was when the dam finally gave way. Eric Staal gave up on the org and was traded away, Jake Bean was the top draft pick, the prize UFA signing was Stempniak on a 2-year deal, Karmanos hit the rocks financially, and Waddell was brought in. The arena atmosphere became crypt-like and relocation rumors became a serious topic. You can see what happened to the STH base around that time.

    In that context, the current underlying number is promising. I think it supports a slight increase in the STH base and a slight bandwagon bump, corresponding to a roughly 20% increase in the "base" figure year-over-year. Assuming they make the playoffs this season and continue their current marketing momentum, I'd expect that number to pop up to around 11K-12K next season, which has been the historic norm for the franchise when it's not winning a Cup.

    With a 10K-12K base, it's reasonable to assume that a rock-bottom average is around 13K, a normal season is around 15K, and a good season is closer to 16K-17K. Those are normal figures for a small market, and what one would have expected from Carolina over the long term if one didn't know they were going to be driven into a ditch over the course of a decade.
     
  10. GuelphStormer

    GuelphStormer Registered User

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    Lots of work here, thanks!
     
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  11. tony d

    tony d HFBoards Sponsor Sponsor

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    Good for them, they have a good young team there in Carolina. Nice to see the fans coming back.
     
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  12. Crazydounut

    Crazydounut Registered User

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    As a college kid from Charlotte, NC. I always try to go to a few games a season on weekends. If I lived in Raleigh I would be going to 10-15 a season probably. I believe this is another reason why the Hurricanes have struggled the past few seasons in attendance. Its not just the Raleigh market they are set in. It is also the entirety of North and South Carolina. The biggest city in the state is a 3 hour drive away and a hardcore fan like myself isn't going to travel 10-15 times a season to go see a struggling team. Now that the Canes are good again more fans outside of Raleigh will start showing up
     
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  13. NCRanger

    NCRanger Bettman's Enemy

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    Pretty strong analysis, tarheelhockey. Great job!

    Granted we're in Charlotte, but my daughter fits that cohort. She's 10. She knows the Hurricanes as a really bad team and knows the Rangers (save for the last two seasons), as dad's team that wins more than it loses. Her favorite player is Henrik Lundqvist. This even with her aunt who works at PNC and has tried giving her Stormy items and NC State items (she is a State fan though.)

    I also know that any of her classmates that follow hockey don't root for the Hurricanes as their #1 team. Pretty much Penguins, Hawks, Rangers, or any team from where their parents are from.
     
  14. No Fun Shogun

    No Fun Shogun 34-38-61-10-13-15

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    They're a team that have long been suggested to be a step away from being a contender that's finally seemed to have taken a step back to being an actual playoff team. The fan depression for a long-underperforming team was only to be expected and a rebound in attendance was likewise to be expected.

    Good for Canes fans. Hope the team keeps it up and reinvigorates the fanbase resulting in a multi-year attendance boost. Actual expectations can do that.
     
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  15. patnyrnyg

    patnyrnyg Registered User

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    Yup. I (along with everyone else in the northeast) know a bunch of people that either currently live in the Raleigh-Durham area or did at one point as adults. All of them who are sports fans remained fans of their old teams.
     
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  16. zetajerk

    zetajerk Registered User

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    I'm a Coyotes fan originally from upstate NY. When I moved here, the Canes became my #1. They're the local team, this is my home, therefore they're my team.
     
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  17. Slashers98

    Slashers98 Registered User

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    What boost exactly? I watched Sunday's game against the Canadiens, which was a vital 4-point game and the official crowd was only 14,437 fans.

    The Canes are an exciting team and they cannot even sellout two weeks before the playoffs.
     
  18. tarheelhockey

    tarheelhockey Highest Boss

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    If there’s one thing to be taken away from the numbers above, it’s that you don’t just start selling out games overnight after depressing your STH base for years. The underlying numbers mean that they are trying to sell around 9,000 walkups a game, which is unrealistic for anything more than a one-off marquee event. Sellouts would be the result of moving the needle on the STH figure, long term.

    The Canes sold over 31,000 tickets for games less than 24 hours apart against Minnesota and Montreal, neither of which have a substantial road presence here. That’s massive progress over this time of year in prior seasons, when the number would have been more like 22,000.
     
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  19. DudeWhereIsMakar

    DudeWhereIsMakar Bergevin sent me an offer sheet

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    Now the Coyotes gotta do it if they want to fill in their empty seats. Atlanta should have done that too I guess...
     
  20. Fenway

    Fenway Administrator Sponsor

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    The game was also going against a Duke basketball game in the second round of March Madness and the UNC and NC State fans are going to watch hoping Duke loses.
     
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  21. TheLegend

    TheLegend Megathread Gadfly

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    I guess the Canadiens simply aren't that good of a draw in Carolina????? :dunno:
     
  22. Fenway

    Fenway Administrator Sponsor

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    Habs travel very well but Raleigh has always been an exception.

    The frustrating thing about Carolina is they never release local TV numbers. I have a friend in Greenville, SC and since the Thrashers moved she gets more Nashville games than Carolina but this year she has seen more Canes games show up.
     
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  23. TheLegend

    TheLegend Megathread Gadfly

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    That was sort of my point...

    btw... the last couple of years they haven't drawn/traveled well in/to Arizona, either. Some of that can be attributed to the team undergoing some roster changes and subpar performance (by their standards).
     
  24. NCRanger

    NCRanger Bettman's Enemy

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    Sunday has ALWAYS been a dead day for attendance in Raleigh. Regardless of the NCAA Tournament, opponent, or start time, Sundays are awful draws. Even when the 'Canes were good, Sundays were bad attendance days.

    It's gone on so long, I don't think it has anything to do with the team, but more with culture of the area, and changes in society in general.

    The Rangers, for example, used to play almost every other Sunday night at home. It was a tradition for generations from the late 1920's - early 2000's.

    About 10 years ago, fans started to hate the "traditional" Sunday night games. Now it's really only people over 40 that like that start time.
     
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  25. tarheelhockey

    tarheelhockey Highest Boss

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    It doesn’t help that NHL games have become much more of a family event. Sunday is a pretty bad day to ask people to disrupt their family schedule, particularly for a night game if there are kids involved.
     
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