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The Coyotes’ fan attendance over the years

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Analyzing how the coronavirus halted a positive fan attendance trend for the Arizona Coyotes.

Washington Capitals v Arizona Coyotes Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

As the 2nd round of the playoffs continues, an increased number of fans are being let into buildings. Even Canadian teams are starting to let a small number of vaccinated healthcare workers attend games.

At T-Mobile Arena, the Vegas Golden Knights host 17,368 fans at their playoff games which is their capacity. Unfortunately, the Arizona Coyotes ended the season with an attendance cap of 7,900, 46.1% of their full capacity.

By analyzing how the fan attendance at Gila River Arena has changed over the years, conclusions can be drawn about how Coyotes fans have financially impacted the franchise.

2020-2021 Shortened NHL Season

Fan attendance is not only important for the atmosphere of games, but also the economics of the league. When the season started, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman mentioned in a press conference how ticket sales and in-game purchases account for 50 percent of annual revenue.

The Coyotes always finish towards the bottom of the league in fan attendance each year. However, because they faced fewer local government restrictions, they finished towards the top this season.

According to Hockey Reference, the Coyotes finished 3rd in fan attendance this year with an average of 3,185 fans per game. However, this is still only 18.6% of the capacity at Gila River Arena.

Coyotes’ Fan Attendance Season by Season

There are many reasons why the Coyotes have always struggled to fill the building. A major cause is the poor location of Gila River Arena in Glendale. Also, the lack of team success and unstable ownership has certainly not helped.

These causes have contributed to many baseless rumors about the Coyotes relocating within Arizona, or even outside of Arizona. Contrary to popular belief, the Coyotes’ fan attendance may not be as grim as it seems.

Stats via ESPN NHL Attendance Report

Although their fan attendance compared to the rest of the league has not changed much, their average fan attendance has increased through the years. The hockey scene in Arizona continues to grow, especially recently.

Graph by Sarah Bird with stats via ESPN and Hockey Reference

From the 2017-2018 season onwards, attendance has steadily increased. It hit an all-time high in 2019-2020, and the team had multiple sellouts that year. The growth may look small, but the average percent of the arena filled increased by 14.1% in just a decade.

The average percent of the arena filled this year was not included because the number of fans allowed to attend increased as the season progressed skewing the capacity number.

Graph by Sarah Bird with stats via ESPN and Hockey Reference

In this data, the average amount of fans each season is shown to plateau from the 2012-2013 season to the 2017-2018 season during a lengthy playoff drought. The most notable increase came in 2012-2013 after the successful 2011-2012 playoff run. There was also a major increase in 2018-2019 when despite missing the playoffs, the Coyotes finished 4th in the Pacific division for the first time in three seasons.

Over ten years, the average number of fans in attendance increased by 2,417. This excludes the 2020-2021 season where attendance was at an all-time low due to COVID-19 restrictions.

There seems to be a correlation between team success (playoff or regular season) and increased fan attendance. This makes sense, but the drop-off this season may linger in future years. As difficult as it is for management to control, a promising, young team would be a prime way to increase the number of Coyotes fans in Arizona.

Concluding Thoughts

The league has been open about how the pandemic negatively impacted the entire league. These effects were apparent in the new collective bargaining agreement which stated that the salary cap had to stay at $81.5 million for the 2020-2021 season.

In regards to the Coyotes, their majority owner, Alex Meruelo, suffered extreme financial losses as well. Despite being a billionaire, his value lies in his assets. The Meruelo Group owns a food manufacturer (Fuji Foods Projects), the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, Nevada, and the Sahara Las Vegas. All his assets likely experienced lower revenue due to the pandemic.

Many of the short-term and long-term effects of a worldwide shutdown are still unknown. However, the Coyotes and the league could recoup lost revenue by attempting to reinstate the positive trend in fan attendance as soon as possible.