Since the NHL can’t showcase its popularity in traditional sports business terms like “TV ratings” and “merchandise sales,” the fallback is always game attendance. Ever since we got back from the Lockout, we’ve been getting stories about how attendance is better than ever. And generally speaking, that is probably true. Hockey is THE best live sport, and you’re stupid if you’re not taking any opportunity to see it in person. Plus, draught beer always tastes better when you just spend 7 dollars on it. Right?
No one knows this better than the fan base of the Buffalo Sabres. ESPN has the proof?
One of the little-known pages on the Four Letter’s webpage, buried deep within the NHL stats section, monitors the game attendance figures for all NHL teams. And generally speaking, business is good. 18 teams enjoy playing at 90%+ capacity, and 11 teams actually report a sold-out or better attendance. Some math hardliners would argue that an arena can’t be more than 100% full, but several teams that consistently sell-out also sell SRO tickets that aren’t counted towards capacity. That way, you can get a few extra hundred in the concourses and boxes for those premier match ups. But an extra 2,346 people??? That’s crazy talk.
And yet, ESPN claims it so.
Somehow the Sabres are operating 117% capacity, according to the webpage. They’re averaging 20,846 in the 18,590-seat HSBC Arena. And since HSBC was opened in the late nineties (ok, ’96), it’s probably fair to say that the viewing layout is more generous than the sardine can stadiums the NHL enjoyed in their earlier years. So where do all the people go, Buffalo? Some initial thoughts:
Both teams and coaching staffs are being counted as paying customers.
- Concession stand workers, too.
- They’re counting blue cars from nearby I-190 Thruway, Dishwalla style.
- Buffalo sucks at math.
In order to further investigate, I found game-by-game attendance figures on the The Sports Network. Sure enough, the lowly Sabres are still selling out despite their mediocrity. Other than an early tile with Toronto and a December date with Boston, it’s been 100% full of upstate New Yorkers. And then curiously, the Jan 1 game against Pittsburgh rockets the number up to 71,217???
Wait a minute.
It appears the geniuses at ESPN have managed to include the total attendance of the outdoor Winter Classic game, yet only account the HSBC’s capacity in the denominator. It has come to the attention of MYFO that this is called “cheating.” Shame on you, ESPN.
So Sabres fans, if you want to, you know, protest your management letting Brian Campbell walk at season’s end, feel free to not go to the last two games of the season. At all. Because ESPN’s fuzzy math will still earn you that NHL Perfect Attendance Ribbon.