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Saturday, January 23, 2010

How low can the Steelers (attendance) go?

After watching Thursday nights game between the Sheffield Steelers and Edinburgh Capitals today, my heart is somewhat filled with sadness.  Over 15 years ago when I first went to a Steelers game, the arena was full of around 8500 fans and had a vibrant, colourful, noisy atmosphere.  Yet watching Thursdays game the arena seem deserted, the odd cluster of fans dotted here and there with little if any atmosphere.  Any slight cheer from a big hit or good bit of play seemed to echo around the the empty space like a tumbleweed in the desert.

steelersGiven the teams double winning efforts of last season you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a one off, but sadly declining crowds seem to have been a trend over a number of years despite the relative success of the team.  Exactly why this has happened is difficult to say.  Though many would like people to believe there is one main reason for this, different people will give you a different reason.  Some say its ticket prices, other quality of the on ice product, as few the off ice entertainment and some a lack of marketing to bring in new fans.  In reality it more likely a combination of all the above factors with a few more things thrown in.

The problem lies in how to fix it, not an easy thing for those tasked with just that.  Much of it can be compared to the chicken and the egg.  People don’t come because of the lack of atmosphere, but it is the lack of people coming that is mainly responsible for the lack of atmosphere.  If ticket prices are too high then lower the price, but that probably means lowering the quality of players, and if you want to improve the on ice product you need to bring in better players and they cost more so surely you have charge more.  But if prices drop, more will come according to some, though a bit of maths shows a significant increase is need to offset an appropriate drop in ticket prices.  And if people don’t know about it they won’t come, so the necessary increase doesn’t happen, the club looses money and has to get cheaper players plus has nothing left to promote the club so people actually do know about it, and so the vicious circle continues.

From a personal point of view, the main reason I attend fewer games is the lack of quality in the on ice product.  Today's league has too many average players who don’t stand out.  I don’t expect a team full of ex-NHL superstars, but the odd standout player would be nice.  Given the drop off in player quality from the heights of Superleague, the higher ticket pricing and lack of atmosphere are just other reasons to give a game a miss.

I don’t pretend to know what the answer is, it certainly isn’t a simple one and whatever the club does it won’t be what everyone wants and may even turn some away. But some of these issues need to be addressed or the fan exodus will continue with no one new to replace them.

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