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Canadiens back at top of attendance charts as NHL crowds dip by two per cent


By Pete Wilson

20 April 2010

The NHL has followed the NFL in registering a season-on-season decline in crowds according to a sportingintelligence analysis of NHL attendances for the 2009-10 regular season. But just as the NFL’s drop in numbers was small given the severity of the recession (a one per cent drop), so the NHL’s fall was also fairly minor, a drop of 2.23 per cent.

This website has calculated the total number of paying spectators at the 1,230 games in the NHL’s 2009-10 regular season at 20,996,455, or 17,070 fans per game. That is down 2.23 per cent on the 21,475,223 fans (17,460 per game on average) from 2008-09. Those latter figures represented the NHL’s all-time high attendances. This 2009-10 regular season finished earlier this month and the play-offs are ongoing.

The NHL’s crowd numbers rallied in the second half of the current season; at Christmas they were on course for a five per cent drop, year on year. But the galvanising effect of a thrilling Winter Olympic Games hockey tournament – when Canada beat the USA in a last-gasp thriller – as well as a closely contested run-in for play-off places kept the crowds coming.

Given the global economic slump, a 2.23 per cent fall is not too bad, and certainly not as badly hit by the recession as Major League Baseball appeared to be in the 2009 season, when crowds fell 6.67 per cent from 2008 levels.

Our analysis shows that the Montreal Canadiens have moved back to the top of the pile in the NHL in attracting most fans to “home” games, but only just, and only because their sole serious rivals in the “most fans” race, the Chicago Blackhawks, actually had one of their 41 “home” games overseas.

The Blackhawks averaged 21,357 fans per 40 home games (or 854,267 fans in total) in the regular season on home ice, but attracted only 12,056 fans to their “home” game with Florida Panthers in Helsinki on 2 October as part of the “NHL Premiere 2009” season-opening games. That gave them 866,323 fans over 41 games or 21,130 per game.

The Canadiens, by contrast, played out all their 41 games “properly” at home, with their usual capacity crowd of 21,273 fans each time, for a total home tally of 872,193 fans.

The Canadiens and the Blackhawks were the only teams averaging more than 20,000 fans per game. All figures have been collated using official game-by-game stats at

As sportingintelligence reveals in our inaugural Annual Review of Global Sports Salaries (ARGSS), published earlier this month, the NHL is the fifth richest sports league in the world in terms of average salary per player, by weekly wage. To maintain such levels of pay, it needs to be a hit with TV audiences, and attract big numbers of fans to the rinks – and such a small dip in crowds in a recession suggests good health.

The ARGSS found the top five leagues by average pay per player per week were, in order, the NBA (basketball), the IPL (cricket), MLB (baseball), English Premier League (football / soccer) and the NHL, ahead of the NFL in sixth place.

Full details, team-by-team breakdowns and pay-versus-performance analysis can be found in the full report, as can a table of attendance data for major domestic sports leagues around the world. A regularly update version of that table can be found in the ‘Finance and Biz’ section of this site, in the ‘Business Intelligence’ sub-section.


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British ice hockey: more fans than you might think

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