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When it's about attendance and not competitiveness (or costs) in the sport of hockey

Sports is a business, the fan is a consumer, and mediocrity of a team doesn't earn high turnout (nor should it earn judgment of a market).

Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The National Hockey League is the only professional sports league I know of where attendance is at the forefront and market condemnation tied to it - in a highly selective fashion - is common. General market finances, economics, and the basic asset of team competitiveness be damned, an NHL arena needs to be at capacity or beyond* on every night of the season or the market itself is a failure (*unless it's the New York, New Jersey, Connecticut tri-state area).

What makes it worse is this model of capacity-or-doesn't-deserve-the-sport is furthered by the media who reinforce the stereotype berthed by closed-minds who don't see hockey as a sport or a business but instead as a possession of Canada and the north.

Monday night on Twitter provides us a great example of this by Twitter account for Rogers Sportsnet. For Americans who don't know, Rogers is the telecommunications giant of Canada akin to Comcast in the United States. Perhaps it's the stereotypes and perhaps it's breeding of nationalism but...

OK Sportsnet, let's take a quick look at the Carolina Hurricanes general overview stats that commonly affect attendance in every single sports market in the United States: Team Performance (before game play on 11/17/2015)..

  • Record: 6-10-2
  • Points: 14
  • Goal Differential: minus-18
  • Metro Division Standings: 7th place
  • Eastern Conference Standings: (tied) 14th
  • · General NHL standings: (tied) 26th
  • Previous Season: 30-41-11, 8th place Metro, 14th Eastern Conference, 26th overall in NHL

This is a professional sports franchise, unlike the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL who are highly competitive but amateurs; a club more comparable to a college sports team or a high school franchise than a pro sports club in that the cost to attend games is not huge.

You want proof?  Here's the seating chart and pricing for the Hurricanes at PNC Arena in Raleigh:

Carolina Hurricanes seating chart / prices

Courtesy Carolina Hurricanes official web site

Pretty and solid pro ticket rates. Sure you can get stuff cheaper on StubHub or Ticketsnow as it stands but we're looking at base numbers and not market rates.

Here's what the Remparts are charging for their home games:

Quebec Remparts seating chart

Courtesy Quebec Remparts official web site

Just a slight difference there on affordability, eh? Very generalized pricing by age group, cheap. Of course they got 13,000+ in the building. Heck, they're in 2nd place in the East Division as it stands in the Q, too!

Pro sports in America is a different beast than in Canada when it comes to hockey, and that beast applies with the other professional sports in the US too: the business aspect. Too often it is seen (especially with hockey) and gets a market sullied. "Bandwagon fans" are labeled on franchises that have fans that don't show up when things are down (which could be thrown at the Hurricanes for the above listed stats of the club). The thing is that it is consumerism. It's basic consumerism. Buyers aren't going to invest in a product if the product doesn't satisfy them. If the arena experience stinks, fans will stay away, if the experience is all right but the actual team they're supposed to be rooting for is performing poorly? Why not stay home instead of going to games and being frustrated? It's counter to what Edmonton Oilers fans in recent years have been doing - they show up regardless of how frustrated they are, they show anger and frustration by tossing jerseys onto the ice... But they keep going back despite it all.

In the case of Carolina, the club is motivated to find ways to improve their product and lure people back. The team is in rebuilding mode.  I don't know if they've been prompted to cut ticket costs to lure back fans for the sub-par product, but that also likely is employed.

The other typical stereotype that probably got thrown around in response to that attendance comparison by Sportsnet was typical non-traditional market revilement. It's an easy and shallow response that continues the anti-south bigotry that lives on in this sport for one reason or another which is just as ridiculous as the bandwagon fans complaint.

Canadian fans and Sportsnet can feel national pride with their clubs, they can keep rewarding mediocrity in markets like Edmonton and Toronto (who has long been rewarded for a bland product), but it's about time that segment grows up and stops making non-traditional markets a target. The sport is loved by a broader geographic segment than simply where it snows. That and the NHL is a business. You have to consistently have a worthy product to draw in fans/consumers. They don't have to reward mediocrity.