Bad Press

December 15, 2007

Columbus is getting noticed in Toronto, but not for good reasons.  From James Mirtle:

The Blue Jackets’ plummet in attendance, all the way down to 26th so far this season, hasn’t made many headlines — but it should be almost as big a story as Detroit’s similar fall. Columbus was seen to be a precarious market going into the 2000 round of expansion but managed plenty of sellouts early, and there seemed to be some early positive momentum there.

Now, they’re looking like another Nashville.

Read the rest here.

Nashville?   Have we fallen that far?

-Truth Serum



  1. I wouldn’t give a flip what a blogger in Canada says about any US team’s attendance … they didn’t give us any credit when we were selling the building out when we sucked so now they’re circling like they always do in hoping they can get another team in Canada … just read any message board on TSN if there’s any news good about Columbus, half the people writing in slam us because we’re not a hot bed for hockey … so now we’re on the list again … well woopty doo. These people are like vultures in a rent-controlled building, just waiting for a resident to die so they can get the apartment. I’m not gonna lose any sleep over anything they think.

  2. You obviously didn’t read what I wrote, Bob.

  3. X-posted what I posted at Mirtle’s site:

    I don’t think the attendance problems have one cause, so there’s not necessarily one easy solution.

    Obviously, the biggest reason attendance has fallen off is six straight years with no playoffs. That killed a lot of the early enthusiasm and goodwill the team had. And yeah, the team is better this season, but they really haven’t produced a real sustained winning streak of the sort that would make people take notice. They’re still winning one night, losing the next. The cumulative record is better, but I think a lot of casual fans see the “Jackets lose” headline in the paper one morning out of two and figure “same old Jackets.”

    There also seems to be a clique of people who are hockey fans but got so turned off during the Doug era that they’re now reflexively negative about the team, and probably will be until they win a few playoff series. See the comments on the Dispatch’s Puck-Rakers blog most any day for examples.

    Although the team’s poor performance over its history is probably the biggest reason for the declining attendance, I think there are others.

    First, the lockout really hurt. I can think of people I know personally who were season ticket holders and big fans before 2004-05 that just got so angry about the lost season that they never came back. For others, the year without hockey reintroduced them to other sports or hobbies to fill the time, and they just never got back into the sport.

    Second, and related, the low profile of the NHL in general, and the knocks it takes from ESPN et al hurt. Although it seems silly to me as a hockey fan for 21 years to not follow the sport because ESPN says “no one cares about hockey,” I think there are sports fans out there who are influenced by that. I post on the ColumbusUnderground.com boards, and every so often there will be a post there from someone talking about how they wish Columbus would get a major league team — “and the NHL doesn’t count.” I think if more casual sports fans saw the NHL as something worth paying attention to, more of them would be in the stands in Columbus.

    Third, as Truth Serum points out, local media coverage of the team is poor. The Dispatch does a decent job (even if it is for self-interested reasons), but the electronic media largely ignores the team. Which no doubt reinforces the notion that they’re not “major league” and not worth paying attention to.

    Fourth, as noted above, the economy is in no great shape right now. Columbus is better off than some other cities in Ohio because big employers like the state gov’t and OSU are (somewhat) recession proof, but the economy is still not great, there are problems with foreclosures in some areas, and a lot of people probably are cutting back on entertainment spending as a result.

    There are more reasons as well — OSU doing so well the past few years in football, last year’s OSU basketball team doing well, the newness factor of the arena and the Arena District wearing off.

    I’d also note that the numbers may be somewhat misleading. There’s a lot of suspicion that the previous regime engaged in a lot of papering of the bowl. Certainly, I can think of games I attended in 2005-06 and 2006-07 that had announced attendance of 15K, but looked as empty as some of the 11K games this season. So it’s quite possible attendance actually bottomed out last year and not this year. Hard to prove anything, though.

    I do still believe that if the team continues to be reasonably competitive, attendance will improve next month once OSU football is over. And a solid playoff run would help a lot, although it still might not get us back to the nightly sellouts of 2001-02, for the reasons listed above.

  4. I guess this last line Mr. Mirtle’s blog must mean something else.

    ” I wonder just how secure the NHL’s future in Columbus is”

    look, I really don’t care … it’s just funny to me to see this move a team from the U.S. attitude to (insert city and province here) like Hamilton, Guelph or Winnepeg on every message board … and I really don’t see too many ways to interpret what Mr. Mirtle said …

    anyway, owners can move or sell a team and there’s not much a fan can do about it even if they pack a place for every game … (ask an original Browns fan) they had 80,000 a game … and what did that do, not a thing.

    But jumping to a conclusion that one or two down years in attendance because we stopped drinking Doug MacLean’s Kool-Aid is signaling a death knell to the NHL in Columbus might be a little premature.. at least I hope it is. But you’re entitled to your opinion. Maybe we are doomed.

  5. The team is 26th in the league in attendance, and playing in the NHL’s second smallest American market. All I’m saying is that’s a precarious position for any team to be in, as no owner can afford to keep a team afloat in that situation forever.

    It has nothing to do with moving teams to Canada (if it did, I would have said so). It has to do with the economic health of the Blue Jackets, which is unfortunately on the decline after years of the team being a quiet success story. It’s worrisome — and it also means Columbus will be a bigger drag on revenue sharing than they’ve been in the past.

  6. The TSN comments can be aggravating for sure, but if you read them consistently on topics not related to Columbus, it becomes apparent that the posters there seem to be heavily drawn from the bottom 10% of the Canadian IQ bell curve. Don’t sweat it.

    I don’t think Mirtle’s blog was intended in the spirit of “Whoa! Move the Jackets to Smiths Falls!” though. The (recorded) attendance is way down this year compared to past seasons, and that hasn’t been getting much attention outside of Columbus. And it’s fair to ask how long the ownership can sustain low attendance before they do start seeking alternatives.

    I’ve heard rumors to the effect that the team expects to lose $10 million plus this season. That’s not infinitely sustainable, no matter how community minded the owner is. It also makes it harder to play on the UFA market next summer, even with the Foote and Fedorov contracts going off the books. So those people whining about how they won’t come back until Howson signs a big name FA may not ever come back.

    I don’t think the Jackets are in the death spiral just yet, but it is a matter of concern. The team’s performing on the ice about as well as I expected them to in preseason, which is to say a .500 team clinging to the playoff race. That’s better than any previous season, and I’d say that they’re more competitive night-to-night than any other edition of the Jackets. But right now it looks like .500 hockey is only good for 11-13K fans in the seats in Columbus. And that’s something worth pointing out and discussing.

  7. I doubt Canada will be seeing any new teams for a very long time. There’s more of a chance of CBJ/Preds going to KC/Vegas or for that matter Europe. Even then, Bettman knows if he starts bringing in teams to cities, without having a winning season and then moves them. It’s bad for the NHL.

    All these people who keep critizing the fans for not “supporting” the team, when its full of rookies/retirees; our doing my harm than good. Why should we change are minds when every article I read about the Jackets start of like this: The only team to NEVER reach the playoffs in the NHL… Do you really think 30games @ 500 is going to erase the past 6years.

    JUST MY OPINION, if you don’t like it; delete it.

  8. anytime I see articles or comments about US teams and their attendance woes it’s with the notion that the team is a candidate for moving to a more deserving (Canadian) city, even if they don’t come out and say it in black & white, they leave that to the letter writers to chime in and say it for them … our first years we were blowing the doors off about every other team in attendance figures but nary a mention of ragging on Boston or the Islanders or Chicago’s crummy attendance … those teams will never be mentioned or scrutinized … I think the fact attendance is down reflects on what has happened in the past and that a lot of PSL holders bailed (me included) .. it’s a little bit harder as a fan to just re-gear and start going to 40 games a year. no matter the on ice success, so there is a lag time involved that doesn’t reflect the standings … anyway … to not include the OSU football machine in the sports picture shows how little he knows about the city or Ohio, but I’ll give him more credit than most Canucks that he could find Ohio on a map.

  9. A couple of points:

    Mirtle never brought up relocation of the team.

    In the past, Mirtle has spoken very highly of the Blue Jackets and its fans. He has praised the fans for turning out in great numbers during the poorly-run Doug MacLean era.

    Mirtle has never been a MacLean fan.

    He did not mention OSU because he only considered professional sports. I am the one who mentioned OSU, but it was on his site, not this one.

  10. Bob, the team is not sustainable with attendance like this. End of story. It doesn’t matter if they’re going to be moved to Hawaii — that has little to do with anything here.

    Columbus’ attendance is close to 3,000 lower than last season, a drop that no other team has had (outside of perhaps Detroit). That deserves scrutiny, that deserves coverage.

    So far, in Canada, it hasn’t even had a mention. That’s where the Blue Jackets are on the hockey radar up here.

    FYI: I wrote about the Islanders attendance last month.

  11. One thing I’d ask: It’s been raised that in the DMGM era, “Attendance” was always reported as attendance + the remainder of season ticket/corporate suite tickets sold, regardless of if those tickets were used. If the new administration is only reporting actual tickets used, that would also account for the downswing without being quite as much of a financial black eye.

    I admit the finances probably aren’t great for the team, but I don’t think we’re in panic button territory yet. If the team does stay competitive, and perhaps if we do see them in the “P-Word” in April/May, I suspect sales for next season will improve. Look at the NHL draft attendance – there was quite a bit of local interest. I think the bodies are there – they just need to see that there’s a reason to put their butts in seats.

  12. I hope so. As I’ve said many times, Columbus is one of the few expansion success stories, and the fans there deserve better.

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