Thursday, November 29, 2007

Distance And Dollars

With another pair of scintillating Southeast showdowns on tap for this weekend, I figured now's as good a time as any for a little fun with geography and economics. For example, did you know that there's not a single team in the former Patrick current Atlantic) Division whose home ice is further away from D.C. than the RBC Center in Raleigh, site of tomorrow night's game against Carolina? Sure enough - the Flyers (132.41 miles), Devils (216.13 miles), Rangers (226.76 miles), Penguins (246.03 miles) and Isles (250.02 miles) all play closer to the Verizon Center (used herein to include the MCI Center) than do the 'Canes (273.93 miles), the Caps' closest geographic rival in the Southeast Division. And there's only one Eastern Conference city further from Washington than Tampa... Miami, where the Caps will be Saturday night.

Think it doesn't matter? Think again. A pregame chat with Vogs the other night had me wondering about the revenues lost (or, perhaps more accurately, that the Caps have been screwed out of) by being taken from a division with their traditional rivals and thrown in with Gary Bettman's NASCAR set.

Mind you, I'm not talking about extra travel costs - let the Western Conference teams gripe (legitimately) about that. I'm talking about lost ticket revenues. In a minute, you'll see what I mean. Let's take a look at the Caps' average home attendance against the teams in their current division since the lockout:
  1. Carolina - 15,091 (and it's probably worth noting that two of the ten 'Canes games were home openers)
  2. Atlanta - 13,181
  3. Florida - 12,836
  4. Tampa Bay - 12,192
Now for the average home attendances against their former division rivals over the same time period:
  1. Pittsburgh - 16,800
  2. Philadelphia - 15,517
  3. N.Y. Rangers - 15,278
  4. New Jersey - 13,847
  5. N.Y. Islanders - 12,282
See what I'm getting at? There are three teams in the Atlantic Division that are bigger draws at Verizon Center than any Southeast Division team and, other than Carolina (whose fans actually do travel pretty well when the mules aren't otherwise in use plowing the tobacco fields), there's not a single team in the Southeast that outdraws any of the Atlantic teams at the VC other than the Isles. Bottom line: the Caps' average attendance for home games against Atlantic Division teams since the lockout is 14,761. Against Southeast Division teams? 13,329.

Take the numbers back a bit further and it's more of the same. Since the beginning of the 2000-01 season, Atlantic teams are averaging 15,970 fans per game at the VC - Southeast teams only 14,477. Only Detroit (in four visits) has been a better Verizon Center draw than the Pens and Flyers, and the Rangers are fifth on the list (St. Louis, surprisingly, is fourth, but in only three visits). The 'Canes are seventh. Atlanta, Florida and Tampa? 23rd, 25th and 27th (Minnesota is bringing up the rear). Here's the kicker - the average attendance at the Verizon Center since the beginning of the 2000-01 season for Rangers, Flyers and Pens games has been 16,781 and for Thrashers, Panthers and Lightning games, that number drops to 14,109.

I'm no math wiz, but this all means that attendance for the Caps against their old division rivals (all five of them) is - and has for some time been - more than 10% higher than it is against their current division "rivals" (all four of them). That's an awful lot of bodies, lost revenue, asshole Pens and Flyers fans and marketable match ups.

But instead, we get the Panthers four times a year. And we get 10,526 people. In fact, of all the games the Caps have hosted since the start of the 2005-06 season against the nine teams we're talking about, six of the seven worst-attended games were against either Tampa or Florida, and the only four sellouts came against the Pens (three times) and the Rangers. [Sidenote: Would you rather see the building half-full with 10,000 Caps fans in it or sold out with 10,000 Caps fans and 8,000 Pens fans? It might be a tough call for you, but probably not as much for Ted Leonsis and company - the dollars that come in from Pittsburgh are just as green as those from D.C. (and the more dollars there are coming in, the more dollars there are to be reinvested in the team).]

Obviously some of these numbers can be partially explained by the unbalanced schedule and the lack of demand caused by a relative lack of scarcity - I have little doubt that a fourth home Devils game of the year would draw about as much as a fourth Thrashers game. But more - much more - of the issue is the distance (and, of course, the lack of history) between the Caps and any of their Southeast Division foes. Hockey in D.C. is a tough sell, to be sure. But it certainly didn't get any help the day the rest of the Patrick Division moved on without the Caps.

Update (11/30, 6:37 AM): For more of Leonsis's thoughts on the matter (and other things), check out the interview he did with William F. Yurasko last year. Great stuff.


Anonymous said...

See, now you're just trying to ruin the BHL! The idea is to appease as many as possible, i.e., owners, while simultaneously appeasing none. Some would say that's impossible but Bettman proved them wrong.

Even if you hadn't posted these numbers it's crystal clear the fans stick to the old division rivalries. This realignment/renaming of divisions was supposed to help bring in those new teams and get new fans into the game by using generic regional descriptives (e.g., southest, central, etc.). It appears the Caps got shafted. Surprise.

There's so much we hockey fans can legitimately complain about the NHL. Bettman's at the center of it all but the owners seem to be cool with his tinkering. Sometimes I think it'll all just fade away one day.

But what do you expect from a guy brazenly declaring the NHL probably won't go to Russia in 2014 but allows teams to flounder here while San Jose management tries to build interest in China?

WFY said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WFY said...

Leonsis did not mince words about the SE division in my interview with him last year:

WFY: Getting back to the ticketing, how does the Southeast division impacted you ability to sell tickets?

Leonsis: The realignment was not good for us. We didn't have long-term rivalries with Tampa Bay or Florida or with Carolina. Ironically, the last two Stanley Cup winners have been Southeast division teams. We used to hear about how weak the division was, both Tampa Bay and Carolina won the Cup. Atlanta looks like it could the next great young team and I think we won't far behind. It probably emerged as the strongest division in hockey and yet because we have not had long playoff competition history with Pittsburgh or the Flyers or the Rangers, the fan base doesn't turn out in droves and secondly there is not the built in local fan base of the opposing teams. When we play the Flyers, or Detroit, or Boston or Chicago or Pittsburgh, we probably get 2,000 to 3,000 who grew up fans of that team that come. When we play Tampa, if you see five opposing fans in the arena wearing Tampa bay jerseys I'd be surprised. If I had my way we'd play Pittsburgh, and the Flyers and Detroit and Boston on a Friday or Saturday and sell out every game. That's not the cards that were dealt to us and now we are in a very tough division playing teams 8 times a year that don't draw that well. That has been one of our biggest challenges

Anonymous said...

From a business standpoint, getting out of the southeast would be the best thing for the Caps, but from this fans perspective playing a slew of games against Pittsburgh, Philly and Buffalo has no appeal to me. Listening to other fans drown out Caps fans is so irritating (and humiliating) that I've stopped going to those games. It's just not worth the aggravation.

Anonymous said...

Right on JP.

I have season tickes, and due to, you know, the existence of a life, I can't go to every game. Man, you cannot give away tickets to the SE opponents (with the possible exception of Carolina because they are the former Whalers).

Its a shame, too, because CAR and TB are legit teams with some talented stars.

But, this is DC. Many people here, and especially among the hockey-fan set, are not from here. They are from Pittsburgh or New York or wherever. Yes, they may want the Rangers to beat the Caps, but otherwise, they are Caps fans. (See, also, Detroit.)

Nobody of current season ticket holder age grew up in Florida or Atlanta where hockey was even there, let alone popular. Not a lot of current DC residents who came from Tampa are big fans.

And, right or wrong, there is a perception that the SE sucks by the casual hockey fan. "Hey, the Rangers, I've heard of them. The thrashers? What's a thraser?"

Anonymous said...

"asshole Pens and Flyers fans"

That hurts, JP.

Mark Bonatucci said...

Interesting thoughts all, another one to chew on - the current scheduling matrix is also a drag on attendance at own division rivals since ou have 4 chances to see them at home and 4 more away.

The new matrix is a start but I think a home and away (2 games against every team) and no more than 4 total games 2 games ea home & away against same division rivals would be a big help and keep attendance up. It would also allow/compell broader interest in ALL teams by fans of any one team; especially new fans which is what the NHL needs to grow. Guys like us who post on blogs like this will pay and go see most every game we can. LETS GO CAPS

Anonymous said...

This is why I was praying beyond all hope that the Pens would up and take off to Kansas City. The logical thing to do at that time would have been to move stick Kansas City in the West, move Nashville to the Southeast, and the Caps back into the Atlantic, which would be the old Patrick Division minus the Pens. Even though Pittsburgh was responsible for 75% of our sell-outs in the last three years, we still would have had better attendance as a member of the Atlantic Division, better rivalries, and better fans. But as it all comes down to money, Bettman couldn't let the Penguins go because they would have been less profiyable in Kansas City. And it's better to have the Caps lose money than the Pens, because, after all, Sydney Crosby did save the NHL, right?.