It’s approximately one month into the 2016-17 NHL regular season and the Florida Panthers are having a bit of trouble filling their arena. The Panthers (8-7-1) have played nine games inside the friendly confines of the BB&T Center and they’ve compiled a 6-3 record. Despite the good showing on home ice, they only average 13,933 people per game, good for just 27th best in the league. Even though their attendance numbers through last season’s first nine home games are very similar, the number is still down from last year’s overall average attendance, which finished at 15,384 per game.
There could be several reasons why this is the case, but the team’s overall home performance, style points not withstanding, wouldn’t seem to be one of them. At this time last year, the Panthers had gone a very similar 5-3-1 at home and were 8-7-2 overall. So if the performance hasn’t changed, why the regression in attendance from the second half of last season? Looking deeper at the schedule and the overall team performance reveals the answers.
During their first nine home games last season, four of them were played on a Friday or Saturday night, compared to just three of nine this season. Getting to a game in the middle of the week after you get off work, knowing that you have to get up early and go to work the next day, can be challenging and possibly not worth the effort (and the hit to the wallet) for a team that is barely managing to play .500 hockey overall.
Coming into the season, it’s unlikely the Panthers thought they would find themselves looking at lower attendance numbers to start the year. After last year’s 103-point season ended with a bitter first round playoff exit, Florida went to work, bringing in top-line talent in an effort to fix what ailed the team a year ago. Unfortunately, that hasn’t quite translated into the results the team was hoping for, as they were averaging 2.67 goals per game, good for just 14th best in the league, before getting four on the road against Montreal to boost those numbers. They have also been struggling on the power play, converting just 15.8 percent of the time, good for 20th in the league. The penalty kill has also been just average, ranking in the middle of the league in penalty kill percentage.
When fans come to a hockey game, regardless of how much they talk about how great a goalie is or how he is playing, they mainly want to see three things: scoring, a fight or two and a win. While the Panthers are giving home fans the wins, they aren’t giving them the goals. In need of some scoring punch, the lineup could be aided by the recent return of alternate captain, Jussi Jokinen, who led the team with 42 assists (to go along with 60 points) last season, and big Nick Bjugstad, who could finally be back in the lineup this weekend.
If that doesn’t do the trick, here’s a list of possible ways to increase attendance. If those ideas don’t work out, the Panthers could always try to fall back on the truest way to bring in the fans, start winning a lot of games (home and away) like they did last season, resulting in soaring attendance in the second half of the year. Of course, if all else fails, the Panthers might want to consider inviting Kevin Spacey to every home game. They set an attendance record last season at the one game he was at.