Houston, we have a problem.
Here are the Winnipeg Jet attendance figures for the three seasons before “bubble” play in 2020-21, according to ESPN.com:
|Season||Average Attendance||NHL Rank|
Yes. We are a small market team. In fact, we have the smallest arena capacity in the entire league (soon to be the second smallest once the Coyotes play their first home game next September). The fact that we were not 31st in any of those seasons speaks to the passion that Jet fans have for their team. In 2019-20, we outsold the Devils, Panthers, and the Islanders. It has been this way since the team relocated here in 2011. And if we look at the percentage of capacity, the Jets finish near the top of the league.
|Season||% of Capacity||NHL Rank|
Now let’s look at this last season:
|Season||Average Attendance||NHL Rank||% of Capacity|
Ouch. Right? Remember the good old days (2011) when 13,000 season tickets sold out in 17 minutes? And another 8,000 people paid a non-refundable $50 just to have the privilege of being on a waiting list? Distant memory. No need for marketing back then. How much do this year’s numbers hurt? The average ticket price in Winnipeg is $95.50. Multiply that by the difference between our average attendance three years ago to today, and you get a whopping $12,051,909. Painful. And then add in 3000 fewer people buying hotdogs, beer, and merch each night, and you get a better picture of why the Jets suddenly need to employ a superhuman marketing department—also, 3000 fewer people parking vehicles downtown and visiting bars and restaurants for 41 nights a year.
So how did we get here? Well, there have been a few factors that likely led to a decline in attendance.
Jet fans have long understood that we have some of the highest ticket prices in the NHL. Size does matter, and we have a small rink, so the cost was justified early on. Concessions too. Beer and popcorn aren’t cheap in Winnipeg. Lower bowl tickets, parking, and concessions are an easy $500 evening for two people. We are beginning to see the start of what is likely a recession. Inflation, either due to the pandemic or the war in Ukraine, has driven the cost of everyday items through the ceiling. There is only so much cash to go around.
The Jet’s are not the hot ticket in town anymore. New and shiny got old and dull a few years ago. The Bombers just won back-to-back Grey Cups (Canadian Football League for you Americans). Unless we are winning (more on that in a bit), people have chosen to spend their disposable income elsewhere or just stay home. The pandemic also wreaked havoc with our schedule. Seasons started late. Games were cancelled and rescheduled. Are fans just tired?
I know—worldwide pandemic. I like the term Plague better. We couldn’t attend a Jets game two years ago. You think that absence would have made the heart grow fonder. With pandemic restrictions reduced this last season, we could finally watch games in person. When I initially saw our low average attendance issues, I assumed it was because of provincial restrictions placed on businesses during the wave in January and February. But that wasn’t the case. While games were rescheduled or delayed, attendance numbers were only diminished for four games. January 25 and 27 were limited to only 250 spectators, while February 8 and 14 were cut in half. Removing these four games from the total still left our average attendance at only 13,684. Did the ongoing mask rule affect sales? Probably. Anti-vaxxers weren’t happy. But in reality, ticket sales were beginning to drop before the Plague rolled into town.
On Ice Play?
The Jets sucked this year. Yup. I just said that. Jet fans deserved better. Ten years ago, an 89-point season was okay. Not now. And especially with how we looked on paper. This team should have been better. Not only that, but Winnipeg fans also expect, at minimum, hard work. At times this year, it was evident a 100% effort was lacking. We are the Green Bay Packers of the NHL. Lunchbucket, blue-collar people. If the puck isn’t going in the net and you aren’t winning games, you put your head down and skate harder. Backcheck. Hit. Fight. We didn’t see it.
In Winnipeg, there was a time when a sellout only happened if an original six team was visiting. Or Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux was in town. That hasn’t happened for a long time. The Jets sold out the downtown arena for seven straight seasons starting in 2011. This year, there is only a noticeable bump in attendance when a trendy team comes to town. Likewise for weekend games versus Tuesday night affairs. Not much difference.
Is Jet management nervous? I guarantee it. They could do as they please and charge what they want for ten years. Not anymore. All kinds of ticket options have been flooding email inboxes during the last year and continue towards next season: weekend packs, end-of-season packs, family packs, and theme packs. The list goes on and on. There have been reduced costs, at times, for concessions. I know that the Jets are reaching out to previously waitlisted customers and offering them discounts to purchase tickets regardless of their status.
So, a combination of poor performance, the pandemic, and unrealistic pricing have likely contributed to where we are now. As someone who lived through our team leaving in 1996, this makes me a little nervous. Do I think that is a risk again? Right now, no. But we are getting perilously close to troubled times in Winnipeg. Consider this, our average attendance during the 17 seasons of Winnipeg Jets 1.0 was 12,994. And we know what that got us.
Yes, Houston. We may have a problem. And Houston wants an NHL team…
Winnipeg Jets Attendance By Game 2021-22 (www.thescore.com)
|Tue||Nov 9||14004||St. Louis|
|Thu||Nov 11||14229||San Jose|
|Fri||Dec 3||13844||New Jersey|
|Sun||Dec 19||13524||St. Louis|