(HockeyStL) -- The Blues recently ended their second five-game homestand of the young season. The Blues have played 19 games this season, 12 have been at Scottrade Center. The Note has been impressive on home ice, boasting a 9-1-2 record, but the attendance numbers haven’t been up to par with the Blues’ performance.
The Blues have always had issues filling Scottrade Center consistently but the attendance, or lack thereof, is a much larger issue this season than perhaps it was in past years.
Owner Tom Stillman has beefed up the club’s payroll by allowing general manager Doug Armstrong to bring in players such as Derek Roy and Jay Bouwmeester, as well as allowing Armstrong considerable funds to extend the team’s own players. The Blues have spent nearly $11 million more this season on players than they did a year ago, hoping their commitment to the franchise can make it prosperous.
St. Louis is currently just $400,000 shy of the National Hockey League’s $64.3 million salary cap limit, which is expected to rise in the coming years. The Blues hope to be able to raise their payroll with the cap and remain competitive, but that can’t happen if attendance numbers don’t improve considerably.
So far, the Blues are averaging just 16,547 fans per game at their home matchups, which is approximately 2,500 fans shy of the 19,150 required to bring Scottrade Center to sellout capacity. Through the first month and a half of the season, the Blues have sold out none of their first 12 home games, which have included marquee games against opponents like Chicago, Colorado, and San Jose.
The largest crowd to attend a Blues game this year was 18,851, for the team’s home and season opener. The have been crowds as small as 14,503 present at Scottrade Center in the early goings, an amount that leaves a noticeable number of empty seats around the rink.
The Blues’ attendance is ranked 20th out of all 30 NHL teams. Just seven teams have a lower attendance percentage than the Blues at this point.
The Blues have had a bit of bad scheduling luck in the first two months. Early-season attendance was hindered by the Cardinals’ postseason run in October, and an early home-heavy schedule hasn’t worked in the Blues’ favor. With the Cardinals’ season over, and their squad off to a hot start, the Blues brass is expecting things to turn around.
Still, the attendance numbers are concerning for a team that is valued at $130 million by Forbes, the lowest value of any NHL team. The concerns over the team’s economic situation have always been valid, but are even more so now with the team’s main source of revenue taking a hit.
Tickets sales are more important to the Blues than most other teams. Because the Blues are located in what is considered a small-to-medium market, they don’t have the luxury of big television contracts, or sponsorships. Winning will bring more supporters and sponsors on board, the team hopes, but to thrive, the hockey club needs ticket sales.
As even more of a hindrance to the team, financial dealings made by previous owner Dave Checketts are still hurting the team. One such dealing made by Checketts was signing away the concession rights at Scottrade Center for up-front cash. Because of that agreement, the Blues have one-less avenue for revenue than most professional teams. And typically, concessions are a big source of income.
“Tickets, suites and sponsorships are a must for us to make this work,” said Bruce Affleck, the Blues’ President of Business Operations at the beginning of the season.
The Blues franchise has been bought three times since 2006 and has been sold twice. Stillman wants to make sustainability in St. Louis possible, but he will need more support from fans than he has gotten to this point.
“It is all about ticket sales in the NHL, said Affleck. “ Small market teams also don't get the same revenues for sponsorships. Smaller markets make less on TV rights also.”
The Blues have done very well in terms of ratings on Fox Sports Midwest, breaking past rating records for the month of October. The team sees that as fan interest, but it doesn’t equal the same revenue as fans in seats at games.
Despite concerns, the Blues aren’t at risk of relocation or inoperability at this point. But it would be foolish to not believe that low attendance will not bode well for the Blues in St. Louis if it remains consistent. It’s a problem, but there is plenty of time to turn it around. The fans are largely in control of the Blues’ future. The support they show will determine the prosperity of the franchise for the years to come.