The Avs had a record low attendance last night, 11,012 was the announced attendance, and like always it probably wasn't even that good. Since Denver's an American market, and people like jumping on the bandwagon to call Avs fans bandwagon fans, expect this story to get play throughout the year. Adrian Dater gets us started, and he's a lot more gentle and understanding than a lot of folks will be. But the fact that a Denver resident is writing it will allow people the excuse they need to pile on. It also doesn't help that Dater, the Avalanche beat writer, ripped the Predators attendance in his Vs column a couple weeks ago, which doesn't make people all that sympathetic to Denver.
So I'm going to go ahead and make my defense of the Denver market and Avs fans right now, because the criticism is predictable, and the stories are going to come. I can even predict the days they are going to come out: Today, Thursday Nov. 26th (Thanksgiving morning after a Weds game against the Preds), Thurs December 10th (Night after a Weds night game against hapless Wild), Thursday Jan 7th (Night after Weds night game against the hapless Islanders). Those games, along with last night, are going to be the days after the Avs have the worst attendance this season. The reason being because the Avs season tickets base has been completely decimated this season, and season tickets are what get the Avs, and other teams, through those less desirable games.
Again, after Dater ripped Nashville I talked about how attendance isn't really a good barometer to judge a fansbases interest level and support. I believe that today, and below are some of the factors that are eating into the Avs attendance numbers., and why that will be the case all season.
It's the economy stupid:
I won't go into too much detail here because the economy has struggled everywhere. I expect all NHL attendance to be pretty bad this season, but the economy hitting rock bottom at the same time as NHL teams are trying to sell season tickets only amplifies every single problem I list below.
This isn't a reason, so much as a defense of the Denver market. Last season, despite having a product that frankly wasn't worth watching, the Avs drew 9th best in terms of US local TV ratings last year, According to the Sports Business Journal (via Puck the Media). So when someone gets their kicks screaming "BANDWAGON" please let them kindly know that there's still plenty of interest in Avs games in Denver. You'll also notice that Denver was the only bad team in the top 14 there last year.
Critics are going to bring up the Fan Cost Index and note that the Avs have "below average ticket prices", some might even look through it's history and note that "Avs ticket prices haven't changed much since they arrived". They would also be dead wrong.
The Fact is, the Avs charge some of the most expensive ticket prices in the league. Look at their ticket page and compare the prices to other markets, like Philly, Chicago, and Boston. The Avs ticket prices are comparable. The reason the Avs ticket prices look so cheap are because the Avs list over 1/2 the tickets in the Pepsi center as "Premium" tickets. "Premium" tickets don't show up in the Fan Cost index, and every team does "Premium"differently, so over 1/2 the tickets in the Pepsi center don't show up in the average ticket price.
Personally I think this is the main reason. Avs fans are still clearly watching games on TV, as you can see with the ratings, but Avs fans can't afford to come out to a game right now.
Everyone knows the Avs were awful last season, and when families struggling in a bad economy looked at the product on the ice last year, combined with the cost of season tickets this year, with the economy on the brink of collapse, dropping $3,000 (minimum) - $12,500 for a set of 2 season tickets probably wasn't the wisest investment. It's not just that the Avs were bad, but that they really were bad, boring, and apathetic. that's a pretty bad taste to leave in fans'mouths and it's going to carry over
Population & Relative Competition
As I went through when Jes Golbez (may he rest in peace. Ok he's not dead, but he's no longer blogging) started the Avs fan bandwagon way back in January of '08, Denver is the smallest market with four major sports teams. And it's smaller than most of those markets by double or more. Anything that universally affects attendance (like lockouts, or the economy) is going affect Avalanche attendance more than most markets. Combined with three other major sports teams in the city the population simply isn't there to cover up the empty seats like it is in Philly, Boston, or Chicago.
This isn't a complaint, because it's good for the city, but The Avs aren't exactly competing with lemons either. This isn't like a decade, or 1/2 a decade, ago when the Nuggets and Rockies aspired to simply be mediocre. Denver is sporting four excellent teams right now. The Rockies made the playoffs, The Broncos are 6-1 and likely to win their division, and the Nuggets have started 5-0 and are coming off of a season in which they made a deep playoff run to the Western Conference Finals. Denver sports fans are guaranteed bang for their buck no matter where they go, and the Avs have the second most expensive tickets in the city, behind the Broncos who only play 8 home dates. Fans only have so much to spend on entertainment.
It's not just last season's awfulness, but the mediocrity of the Avs for the last few years has contributed steadily to the erosion of the season ticket base. The Avs, believe it or not, haven't won the Northwest since 2002-2003, and haven't gotten above 95 points in a season since 03-04. During those years the Avs have lost fan favorite players, and have signed journeymen and filler parts as replacements. The only fan favorites I can think of that's been signed or drafted since 02-03 (off the top of my head) was Ian Laperriere and Andrew Brunette (both of which have departed). Sure Sakic and Hejduk remained, but guys like Stastny, Wolski, Duchene, O'Reilly are just starting to turn into stars. But their names aren't bringing folks to the gates just yet. It's going to take a while (of winning) to build up those names.
The Avs improved in team marketing in the last two seasons. But they improved from the Stone Age to the Iron Age. This season is the first season I can remember them actually doing some good ticket specials, like "Guys night out", and a bargain Family Pack that's actually a bargain. But other than some decent ticket specials, they still have a long ways to go.
Their online presence (not independent bloggers, but actual franchise presence) has improved tremendously, but that took it from "comically abysmal" to "pathetically bad". Frankly, their marketing used to be "Let's throw 5 Hall of Famers on the ice, and they'll come". They continue with the same strategy, but not the players to pull it off.
Part of the reason the Avs young stars aren't drawing more fans, is because Avs marketing is doing nothing to get their names out there. I've seen some ads this season, but not one mentioning their hot start. And not one Avs ad even mentions a current player on the team, (or their current top of the Western Conference level of play). Frankly, the Ads are generic "Hockey is a team sport ad". Those are fine (ok not really, they are extremely lame), and the Avs really need to do some quality marketing. Advertising, when at it's best, brings in customers that are unaware of your quality product. The Avs are putting out a quality product, but failing in getting the word out. The Avs need to build this team up, and market the youth and enthusiasm with this team. Last season they had some great ads, like this one:
The problem was that this ad was only seen during Avs games last season. This is a solid Avs ad, why isn't it on local news during their sports segment? And why haven't the Avs put out print/billboard/TV ads with Duchene, O'Reilly, Stastny, Anderson and Quincey (among others like Hejduk and Foote) highlighted? They should have an ad in the Denver Post sports section congratulating Anderson on his #1 NHL star last month. For God's sake they have the overall #3 pick in the draft, the steal of the draft and the steal of free agency! Why in the hell am I not sick of seeing their faces around town? This is made even more egregious due to the fact that the Avs have some good looking guys on the team. Liles has long been a staple of swooning lady and non-traditional male Avs fans, but O'Reilly, Quincey and Wolski are all good looking men. (That's right, I'm secure enough to admit it. Ok actually the Jibblewife pointed it out). Sex sells, even to ladies (and non-traditional males), and ladies (+NTM) make up a large portion of the Avs fan base.
(Off topic, but in the ballpark. The Avs have "Guys night out" but no "Girls night out" promotion for tickets. I'd guess girls are ~40% of the Avs fan base, it seems unwise and a bit sexist to ignore them like that, no? At the very least, it's another case of piss-poor marketing)
The fact remains that the most effective Ads marketing to this date has been us, bloggers, newspapers and die-hards that are talking this team up. From Adrian Dater's twitter feed:
Honestly, I think the Denver Post does more to market the Avs than the Avs doThe Avs marketing department, which is critical when trying to sell tickets to a fanbase with memories of last season in their head, would get a solid D- this season, which is up from their normal F, but not going to cut it. Winning is the best advertisement, but people have to know about it.
The fact is that everything above has combined in a perfect storm to drive down the Avs attendance. Families simply have too many quality products to spend limited money on, and the Avs have done themselves no favors with high ticket prices, zero local visibility and an awful previous season. Combine that with an once-in-a-lifetime horrendous economy that hit rock bottom at the wrong time, a small population relative to other comparable markets, and names that most casual local fans don't recognize and it really shouldn't be a surprise that the Avs attendance is struggling this season.