Would These Problems Affecting MLB Attendance Affect NHL Crowds?

New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

As someone who likes to keep their thumb on the pulse of all the latest sports business trends, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s recent article on decreased Milwaukee Brewers attendance seems pretty interesting.

Yes, it dealt with baseball and not hockey. Yes, it dealt with a media market without an NHL team. Still, there were a few ideas they talked about that might carry over from the diamond and onto the ice.

One potential reason they thought Brewers attendance decreased was a lack of group sales. A large portion of group sales are bought by companies organizing employees’ outings, and with the rise of remote work, an office trip to the ballpark has been an unfortunate casualty.

According to the article, the Brewers expect to sell around 200,000 fewer group tickets this season than in “normal” (non-pandemic disrupted) years past.

Could NHL attendance suffer for the same reasons as MLB attendance?

Can hockey expect a similar dip from a lack of group sales? Well, group sales seem to be much more important to baseball, because there are many more games and many more seats to fill.

Let’s use a ballpark estimate (pun incredibly intended) of 30,000 seats per MLB stadium. At 81 home games a year, that means the average MLB team would have 2.43 million (yes, million) tickets to sell).

For simplicity’s sake, let’s say the average NHL team arena has 15,000 seats (so basically ruling out the Coyotes college stadium embarrassment). At 41 home games, that means the average NHL team would have 615,000 seats to sell.

Much less inventory also means far fewer empty seats. You can laugh at the empty seats you saw in Arizona all you want, but on a bad night, maybe 10,000 seats were left unoccupied. If a baseball team only has 10,000 unoccupied seats, their stadium might still be 75% full.

Another interesting point the article brought up is the struggles of the Chicago Cubs. For those that don’t follow baseball, the Cubs are a major divisional rival of the Brewers and quite close in location.

So, when the Cubs come to town, that means Brewers fans can expect a sellout due to the influx of the Chicago faithful.

Well, in case you haven’t noticed, the Chicago Blackhawks seem like they’re going to have a pretty bad year.

As one of the NHL’s best teams over the past decade, they were not only the top team in NHL attendance in their Cup-winning years (2010, 2013, and 2015) but also lead the NHL in road attendance as well during those years.

Maybe with a Chicago team destined for a rebuild, fewer Blackhawks fans will be seen at Detroit Red Wings games and other close locations. Fewer fans might even be going to the United Center. Even less will show up if franchise icon Patrick Kane hits the trade block.

The Brewers-Cubs example is a much more regionally based argument than the Blackhawks-rest of the NHL argument. A much better comparison would be New Jersey Devils or New York Islanders against the New York Rangers.

Even when the Rangers struggle, fans still travel to those close arenas. Then again, Manhattan to New Jersey is a much shorter drive than Chicago to Milwaukee (well, depending on traffic).

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The economics between baseball and hockey are incredibly different. Then again, the economics of any sports business can be incredibly alike. Will fewer corporate groups be buying NHL tickets this season? Most likely, but don’t expect empty arenas.