Sporting News went to a Florida Panthers game, and the Miami Marlins’ attendance broke out

The Sporting News has been publishing since 1886, but never let it be said they haven’t learned how to update their headlines to the way the kids today like them:

Oh boy, the Panthers’ arena is empty again (PHOTOS)

And here’s one of the promised PHOTOS:

It got a bit better once the game actually started, but still, it’s never a good thing to have the Sporting News writing: “Part of the reason for all this: the team ended its long-running practice of ‘giving away tickets for free just so the building will have people in it’ for this season.”

Panthers owner Vincent Viola still wants $80 million from Broward County to make it worth his while to keep the team in town — despite a lease that runs through 2028 and the fact that he still makes money on the arena operations despite nobody going to hockey games — but at this point you have to wonder what he’d do with it to get people interested, unless he just stands at the doors handing out twenties to anyone who agrees to watch this strange “hockey” thing.


30 comments on “Sporting News went to a Florida Panthers game, and the Miami Marlins’ attendance broke out

  1. One of the reasons for the attendance issue (in this case) is that new ownership has stopped giving out a ton of free tickets. They used to paper the house like make, now they aren’t. That doesn’t excuse them asking for money from the public for the team, just one of the reasons attendance was so bad. You know, on top of all the other Panthers reasons.

  2. Will:

    FYI, the Lightning have been in the top 10 teams for NHL attendance 9 times, including 5 instances where they were in the top 5. They’ve also averaged a ranking of 13th since they entered the league, and averaged over-capacity seasonal attendance multiple times, so they’re doing alright.

    Lightning attendance and rank since founding:

    1992-1993: 10,014 (24th; last)
    1993-1994: 19,398 (2nd)
    1994-1995: 19,932 (2nd)
    1995-1996: 18,880 (3rd)
    1996-1997: 17,442 (6th)
    1997-1998: 13,866 (23rd)
    1998-1999: 11,510 (25th)
    1999-2000: 13,600 (25th)
    2000-2001: 14,906 (25th)
    2001-2002: 15,722 (20th)
    2002-2003: 16,545 (16th)
    2003-2004: 17,820 (12th)
    2004-2005: lockout
    2005-2006: 20,509 (2nd; averaged over-capacity)
    2006-2007: 19,876 (3rd; averaged over-capacity)
    2007-2008: 18,692 (8th)
    2008-2009: 16,497 (21st)
    2009-2010: 15,497 (21st)
    2010-2011: 17,268 (18th)
    2011-2012: 18,468 (13th)
    2012-2013: 19,056 (8th)
    2013-2014: 18,626 (8th)

  3. In fact, in the past 20 NHL seasons, 23 different clubs have been in the bottom 5 in attendance at least once. And that’s 23 out of 33 (I’m counting the Whalers, Nordiques, and original Jets as separate teams), with 7 of the teams coming in as expansion/relocation clubs during that time and 3 of them ceasing to exist (the NHL had 26 teams in 1993-1994). In other words, only 23 of the 33 teams even existed for the full 20 seasons in question, and only 7 of those teams avoided the bottom 5 for 20 consecutive years.

    The worst performers (# of times in Bottom 5 in past 20 NHL seasons):
    NYI: 19
    AZ: 10
    ANA: 6
    ATL: 6 (only counts as ATL)
    NAS: 6
    CAR: 5
    CLB: 5
    FLA: 4
    HAR: 4 (only counts as HAR)
    OTT: 4
    CHI: 3
    COL: 3
    EDM: 3
    LA: 3
    TB: 3
    DAL: 2
    NJ: 2
    PIT: 2
    STL: 2
    BOS: 1
    BUF: 1

    Only Calgary, Detroit, the Minnesota Wild, Montreal, the Rangers, Philadelphia, Quebec (before they moved), Toronto, Vancouver, and the new Winnipeg Jets haven’t been in the Bottom 5 at least once.

    Notably, the Panthers had never been in the Bottom 3 until last year.

  4. Neil:

    That’s based on hockeydb.com, which uses these sources:

    “Data published on the ESPN website, presumably compiled from electronic game sheet data that ESPN has access to. This encompasses data from 1993-94 to present.
    -NHL attendance data compiled by David Stewart-Candy and published on the Hockey Research Association website (with a tip of the hat to Marc Foster, who put the archive together). David’s data is mostly from the post-expansion era, with some pre-expansion data found in NHL media guides. David lists these as his sources:
    -Team media guides for the post-expansion era.
    -NHL guides for pre-expansion data.
    -The Hockey News, to fill in gaps.
    -Hockey Summary Project (HSP) data. The HSP is a group of people who are researching and digitizing NHL game summaries. As part of this task, they have compiled NHL attendance data for many of the games they have entered.
    -Research compiled from various newspapers (NY Times, Toronto Star, Christian Science Monitor, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, etc.) by Carl T. Young Jr., who graciously sent Ralph Slate copies of his research
    -Additional research by Ralph Slate) using newspaper reports of games. This is done to fill in the HSP data, since often they did not compile the attendance for every single game in a season.”

    I have no idea what each of those uses in terms of ticket sales vs. turnstile count. Ultimately, I’m sure there’s a formula out there somewhere which can balance attendance with expenses and revenues to determine whether a team is actually successful or not in a given year.

  5. Dallas had also never even been in the Bottom 5 until 2012-2013. The NHL doesn’t necessarily have a Sun Belt problem. It has a problem wherein crappy franchises especially struggle in the South, though they struggle elsewhere as well. The only areas that really seem immune to win/loss struggles are Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal in Canada; and Detroit, New York (for the Rangers), and Philadelphia in the States.

  6. Here we go:

    “The NBA and NHL announce the number of tickets distributed, adding complimentary tickets — for players’ families, league officials, sponsors and such — to the number of tickets sold.”

    http://www.latimes.com/la-sp-attendance-082305-story.html#page=2

    And here’s confirmation from a 2014 article:

    http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/puck-daddy/nhl-selling-more-arenas-nba-225020461–nhl.html

    So, yeah, the Panthers aren’t doing notably worse than any other team in official attendance count. That doesn’t necessarily tell us anything either way about their actual attendance, though.

  7. Florida’s also only made the playoffs 4 times in 20 years, including only once in the past 13 seasons. Team success has a large part to do with a market’s viability.

    Again, I ultimately imagine there’s a formula somewhere which can balance attendance with expenses and revenues to determine whether a team is actually successful or not in a given year. Attendance alone is not an ideal indicator, as it fluctuates too closely to team success. In a league where over half of the teams make the playoffs every year, Florida only making the playoffs 4 times is pretty awful.

  8. I’m not going to argue that the Panthers are doing well, but I believe this photo is misleading. First of all, this looks like the end of practice. As I recall, it’s usually longer than 20 minutes between the end of practice and the start of the game.

    Secondly, fans don’t usually watch the opponents practice which is what we’re seeing here. You do see a bit of the Panther’s side of the ice and there are a few fans over there.

    I’m just saying the best photo would be at the start of the game, not during practice. (Or in the middle of the game as the photos of the 49’ers were two weekends ago.)

  9. OK. I take back my comment a bit. The link itself does show video during the game which shows some of the stands. It doesn’t look very good.

    I still maintain that photos of the crowd during practice means nothing. I attended Sharks games with my kid and we’d often go early to see the warmups. Few people were there at that time and we could usually go right up to the glass to watch.

  10. Also, one big problem with modern-day photos of empty seats is that there are so many other places to go in modern arenas. I’ve been to innumerable sporting events that were sold out, but the stands were half-empty up until game time because everyone was off buying pulled pork sandwiches or what have you.

    Recall the big hoohah over empty seats behind home plate at Game 1 of the 2009 World Series in the Bronx, and then it turned out as soon as the rain started, everyone went inside to watch on TV in the clubs.

    That said, no, it doesn’t look very good even during the game. Not necessarily “move ’em to Quebec” not good, but not good nonetheless.

  11. Ah – I missed San Jose because there have been 34 teams, not 33 – meaning I missed them trying to find the other 10. San Jose has not been in the bottom 5 in the past 20 years. They were, however, in the bottom 5 during their first two years in the NHL, when they were playing at the tiny Cow Palace (under 12,000 seats capacity).

  12. Here’s the # of seasons a team has made the playoffs in the past 20 years (and the number of seasons those teams were in the NHL). There’s some pretty obvious correlations in this data:

    Detroit: 20/20
    PHI: 17/20
    SJ: 17/20
    NJ: 16/20
    PIT: 16/20
    BOS: 15/20
    STL: 15/20
    OTT: 14/20
    COL: 13/18
    DAL: 13/20
    MTL: 13/20
    VAN: 13/20
    WAS: 13/20
    NYR: 12/20
    BUF: 11/20
    CHI: 11/20
    ANA: 10/20
    TOR: 10/20
    LA: 9/20
    AZ: 8/17
    CAL: 8/20
    EDM: 7/20
    NAS: 7/15
    TB: 7/20
    NYI: 6/20
    CAR: 5/16
    MIN: 5/13
    FLA: 4/20
    CLB: 2/13
    QUE: 1/2 [no longer exists]
    WIN (1): 1/3 [no longer exists]
    ATL: 1/11 [no longer exists]
    WIN (2): 0/3
    HAR: 0/4 [no longer exists]

  13. Whatever the actual number of tickets sold/given away, this issue illustrates a couple points.

    1. There is no civic or legal responsibility to support a professional (or amateur) sports team. People aren’t going to go if they don’t want to.

    2. From a public policy standpoint, not much makes sense in these arena subsidies. If the team were successful (a result primarily of team actions), then people would likely come. If people came, the team wouldn’t need subsidies. So Miami is spending money making events happen that not many people seem to care about. What’s the loss–people “spending money in restaurants” after the game? Lack of events in the arena? Does anyone seriously think Miami won’t be a “big league” city for business without this hockey team?

  14. GDub,

    I’m not advocating giving the Panthers any money. I’m just saying that nobody should be surprised that a team that sucks doesn’t have a lot of fans. Even ‘Original Six’ franchises like Chicago (3 times) and Boston (once) have been in the bottom 5 in the past 20 years when they haven’t performed well. Comparatively, of the teams who’ve been in the league for all 20 of the past 20 seasons, Florida’s been in the playoffs the least.

  15. I also noticed the Sharks were missing from the list. They’ve had excellent attendance over the years. Prior to the Niners moving to Santa Clara they were the only show in town, a town with a lot of Silicon Valley money. It was really annoying during the initial years when the fans were really ignorant. Some, not realizing how lucky they were to see the Great One play would yell out “Gretzky, you suck!”

  16. I like hockey but I really don’t see what’s at issue. (I also remember well the bad Boston attendance years, which were part from the strike and part from fan revolt against the Jacobs family ownership).

    Of course teams with long losing streaks are going to have trouble with getting fans. But from a public policy standpoint, the argument is circular: we should subsidize the team despite lack of support or interest, because a winning team will cause the team to have higher interest and support. Again, from the standpoint of governance, who cares?

    These sorts of civic pride arguments for sports never take into account giving an impact for a crappy team on civic pride. Dealing with adversity?

  17. Gdub,

    I repeat: I’m not advocating giving the Panthers any money.

    My notes were for Will’s original comment that “No pro teams should exist in Florida” and/or the impending “hockey doesn’t work in the Sun Belt” comments that usually come along with these articles.

  18. You forgot your “Minnesota” in places without attendance struggles list. The North Stars/Wild always had great attendance other than the North Stars last year or two (seasons where they had gone from great to terrible).

    Mostly the team left cause the owner had a sexual harassment lawsuit pending and his wife threatened to divorce him if he didn’t move the team south.

  19. GDub: In both Boston & Chicago’s cases, fans who still enjoyed hockey were staying away from the arena because they hated the owners. Jacobs appears to have redeemed himself in the eyes of the fans in Boston (winning does help), but fans wouldn’t come back to Blackhawks games until Bill Wirtz had died. John Mcdonogh and Rocky Wirtz have done a good job of trying to re-engage the audience in Chicago – I don’t want to trivialize their work. But people in Chicago truly hated Bill Wirtz. I suspect many still do.

  20. Erik:

    While having a winning record certainly does help attendance, the fact is that a sports market either supports it’s team or it doesn’t. When teams in good markets are terrible, fan support drops too. However, it does not cease to exist entirely.

    Using ‘failure to make the playoffs’ as an excuse for poor support is a loser’s game frankly. If fans in Florida or Glendale or Nashville want hockey, they need to buy tickets to games (and it would help if they paid for premium seats… a harder sell in the NHL’s most marginal markets than in many other sports).

    I agree with you on Tampa and Dallas: They have been and can continue to be decent markets for the NHL. Glendale, Miami (more or less) Nashville and a couple of others will always be unsustainable. The fan base just isn’t there. Most of these markets are not “new” to hockey either, so there is little reason to believe the current state of affairs will change in future.

    What troubles me is that fans in better NHL markets – who are effectively being taxed to support dog franchises in dead markets – don’t revolt… I think we can all understand revenue sharing being used to try and equalize richer markets with poorer ones (MLB’s NY/Boston and Pittsburgh/Oakland, as just two examples). That is a competitive balance issue. The NHL is taxing fans in it’s (relatively few) good markets in order to prop up unsustainable businesses in 4-6 others.

    That’s just not a sound practice IMO.

  21. As a Toronto Maple Leaf fan residing in South Florida, my grandchildren and I have a lot of fun @ the games, and we enjoy cheering for the Panthers!!!

    We would all be heartbroken if the Panthers leave South Florida.

    I have season tickets and I can believe that a lot of true hockey lovers would not want to see professional hockey down here in S. Florida!!

  22. I don’t personally like the idea that communities have to do anything with a financial commitment to “deserve” sports teams, like the nonsense you read about the Rays. People there seem to like baseball as much as people anywhere else. If they choose to watch on TV or listen on the radio, why is that a problem?

  23. GDub:

    I don’t think ‘deserve’ is a reasonable term to use, agreed. However, this is not a problem limited to sports either. If diners don’t support restaurants in their area, some of the restaurants will go away (either relocate or go out of business). That doesn’t mean the erstwhile patrons don’t ‘deserve’ food… but it is absolutely the case that they’ll be more likely to end up cooking it themselves. And maybe they are fine with that.

    If fans in Tampa would rather watch the Yankees or Tigers on TV, that’s absolutely fine. But their option to go to a live game at the Trop may be eliminated (lease conditions not withstanding) if support doesn’t meet certain levels.

    There is no logic to concluding that this means tax dollars should be used to bridge the gap “caused” by the disinterest of fans in any given market. Even Yogi Berra knew that if people don’t wanna come out to the ballpark, you can’t stop em. Strangely enough, that is exactly what using tax dollars to fund teams that fans don’t seem to care for is aiming to do.

  24. Would the Panthers have this crowd had the team stayed in Miami?

    Why the Panthers chose to go to Sunrise and build the arena there? Why not stay in Miami?

    Is the Panthers being marketed and promoted in the Sunrise/Fort Lauderdale area?

  25. Would the Panthers have this crowd had the team stayed in Miami?
    No idea.

    Why the Panthers chose to go to Sunrise and build the arena there? Why not stay in Miami?
    $ of course. Sunrise or I think the county actually, gave them $.

    Is the Panthers being marketed and promoted in the Sunrise/Fort Lauderdale area?
    Sure some. I have family there who has attended a few games.

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