The Phoenix Coyotes have stable ownership and a winning team, but they still don’t have a fan base capable of sustaining a National Hockey League franchise.
That’s the only conclusion that can be drawn after a mere 7,401 fans showed up at Jobing.com Arena to watch the Coyotes edge the Nashville Predators 5-4 in a shootout Thursday.
After selling out their home opener, the Coyotes have seen a steady decline in interest. The average attendance stands at 11,717, the lowest figure in the NHL.
Interest in hockey has never been strong in the desert, but the team averaged 14,875 fans in 2008-09, the year owner Jerry Moyes declared bankruptcy. Hockey was a hard sell in the four seasons the NHL owned the Coyotes, but commissioner Gary Bettman said he was committed to keeping the team in Phoenix. The dwindling crowds were usually blamed on the uncertainty over the team’s future.
A steady parade of would-be owners kicked the tires and then disappeared before Anthony LeBlanc and Calgary financier Geoge Gosbee put together a group that bought the team on an instalment plan. They made a $45 million down payment on the $170 million purchase price, borrowed another $40 million and promised the NHL it would pay the remaining $85 million over time.
LeBlanc and Gosbee have both said they are committed to keeping the team in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale, but there are still folks who are wary of their intentions because the lease agreement with the city of Glendale includes a five-year out clause if the team loses $50 million.
The Coyotes are certainly an attractive team. They have a 9-3-2 record and are one of the highest-scoring teams in the NHL. They have a first-rate management group led by general manager Dave Maloney and head coach Dave Tippett.
What they don’t have is fans.
The Coyotes aren’t the only franchise having trouble at the box office. The New York Islanders are averaging 12,787 fans, but there’s hope a move to Brooklyn in 2015 will boost interest. Also in the bottom five in average attendance are Columbus (14,206), Florida (14,287) and New Jersey (14,986), which is down nearly 2,000 fans a game.
Florida has come up with a way of boosting its attendance. It will be giving away tickets each time the team wins at home over the next month. So far, the Panthers have literally been unable to give tickets away because they have lost their last three home games
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