The 2004-05 NHL lockout effect on attendance

Cam Charron
October 16 2012 02:29PM

Which NHL markets benefit, attendance-wise, from the lockout of 2004-05?

First team that comes to mind is Pittsburgh. There was more hype surrounding that team than any. They got Sidney Crosby, who was going to play with Mario Lemieux, a drastic turnaround from the bankrupt team that was entertaining relocation possibilities from before the lockout. 

It's obvious, in looking at NHL attendance data between 2001-2008 that the league as a whole did much, much better overall thanks to the lockout. I have to wonder if fans would be able to stomach a second season, however, the work stoppage did save a few markets.

In looking at this, I downloaded six years of data—three years before the lockout, and the three years after—using the ESPN attendance Report. It's not perfect, but it suits our purposes. I also split the league into five discernible groups:

Canada, southwestern United States (Los Angeles, Anaheim, Colorado, Phoenix, Dallas, San Jose), "traditional" northern American markets (Boston, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit), expansion northern American markets (Buffalo, Minnesota, New Jersey, NY Islanders, Washington, Columbus) and southeastern United States (Tampa Bay, Carolina, Atlanta, Nashville, Florida, St. Louis).

This was in an attempt to see different effects on geographical locations.

Here's the results from that test. From each location, I tallied up attendance between the 2005-06 and 2007-08 season and checked to see improvement over the three years prior to the lockout. I figure arena effects, if there was a new arena or added seating, just showcase the strength of the overall market.

  % Change 02-04 to 06-08
Canada 6.1%
Southeast USA 4.1%
Traditional USA 2.8%
Southwest USA 2.1%
Newer USA -2.1%

We'll split the teams in each group:

TEAM 02-04 Avg. 06-08 Avg. % Change
Calgary 16,179 19,289 19.22%
Ottawa 17,292 19,556 13.09%
Total 18,068 19,171 6.10%
Montreal 20,418 21,273 4.19%
Vancouver 18,246 18,630 2.10%
Toronto 19,298 19,443 0.75%
Edmonton 16,975 16,837 -0.82%

Canada well and away "won" that lockout. The biggest increases were Calgary (19.2% growth) but that was thanks in large part to a Stanley Cup appearance in 2004. Ottawa (13.1%) did much better thanks to the "pizza" line of Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley leading to a large amount of blowout home wins. The Canucks, Leafs, Oilers and Canadiens were strong before and after.

TEAM 02-04 Avg. 06-08 Avg. % Change
Tampa Bay 16,696 19,692 17.95%
Carolina 14,507 16,538 14.01%
Atlanta 14,088 15,874 12.67%
Nashville 13,724 14,866 8.32%
Total 15,588 16,227 4.10%
Florida 15,813 15,607 -1.30%
St. Louis 18,699 14,781 -20.95%

The NHL saw good growth in the Southeastern USA thanks to Cup wins from Carolina and Tampa Bay, but even Atlanta showcased some gains. Nashville of course improved as the team became a playoff staple. St. Louis comes out as the first major "loser" however, going from a very viable, successful team to a not-to-successful one at the gate coming out of the lockout. They would improve in attendance from the 2007-08 season.

TEAM 02-04 Avg. 06-08 Avg. % Change
Pittsburgh 14,092 16,435 16.62%
Total 16,898 17,253 2.10%
Boston 15,188 15,453 1.74%
NY Rangers 18,089 18,181 0.51%
Philadelphia 19,423 19,497 0.38%
Chicago 14,538 14,286 -1.73%
Detroit 20,061 19,667 -1.96%

Traditional American markets improved, but only slightly. Pittsburgh had 16.6% growth, Boston, NY Rangers, Philadelphia all saw modest gains. Detroit was stable until the American economy collapsed in 2008 and they stopped selling out games, but they still had higher attendance than most teams. Chicago was in a free fall from years 2002 through 2008 and only just started to recover after the selection of Patrick Kane and death of "Dollar Bill" Wirtz at the start of the 2007-08 season, so their figure is slightly misleading.

TEAM 02-04 Avg. 06-08 Avg. % Change
Anaheim 13,659 16,238 18.88%
Phoenix 13,954 15,130 8.43%
Total 16,395 16,851 2.78%
San Jose 16,869 17,221 2.09%
Los Angeles 17,405 17,101 -1.74%
Colorado 18,007 17,487 -2.89%
Dallas 18,473 17,927 -2.96%

There were some good overall gains in the Southwestern United States. Anaheim saw some success of course, but Phoenix and San Jose also benefit at the gate. The Los Angeles Kings curiously did not, although much of their drop in attendance was between 2006 and 2008, not 2004 to 2006. Dallas and Colorado, Western Conference staples in the free market era, saw fans lose interest with the fact they weren't allowed to see their own spend money it had to dominate the division. I can't say I blame them. The Stars have picked it up since then, but the Avalanche have really failed to re-create that pre-lockout magic.

TEAM 02-04 Avg. 06-08 Avg. % Change
Buffalo 15,424 18,509 20.00%
Minnesota 18,495 18,562 0.36%
Total 16,215 15,869 -2.13%
New Jersey 15,281 14,657 -4.08%
NY Islanders 14,390 13,045 -9.35%
Washington 15,949 14,435 -9.49%
Columbus 17,750 16,007 -9.82%

Buffalo had the biggest increase of any team coming out of the lockout, with a 20% growth in attendance. The Islanders and Capitals both went into the tank. The Capitals I don't really understand. They were a fairly good team between 2001 and 2004, and even Alex Ovechkin wasn't enough to drag them out. It wouldn't be until 2009 I believe that the Caps introduced "Rock the Red" and became a very viable market again. Columbus has had waning interest every year it seems, thanks to horrible management. Minnesota has been strong. The New Jersey Devils are sort of a wild card, and it looks like it took them a while to come back from the brink. 

Overall, I think it's clear Canadian markets benefit from the lockout, it seems they have a lot more money to throw around now, though that could be due to the dollar. The lockout also impacted a lot of places negatively: Colorado is still recovering, but the immediate impact was felt in Washington and St. Louis as well. I don't think it's a factor of geographical area.

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.