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Calgary Flames Attendance Down in 2018-19

Attendance numbers are down compared to past seasons

Boston Bruins v Calgary Flames Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images

Watching the Calgary Flames at the Scotiabank Saddledome last year was painful, there’s no way around that. The Flames put up a 17-20-4 record at the Dome last year, which was good for 38 points at home. Only the lottery contending Buffalo Sabres (27) and Arizona Coyotes (36) had less.

So it’s understandable that there could be some expectation for an attendance drop-off, but Calgary fans have supported their team through thick-and-thin.

According to ESPN, the Flames are averaging an attendance of 18,109 at home this season which is still a very respectable 12th in the league. However compared to the 19,289 capacity of the Saddledome (5th largest in NHL), the Flames are only filling their arena to 93.9% full on average. That number is 22nd in the NHL.

It is worth noting, that 18,109 people would sell out nearly half the arenas in the NHL, so it’s not as if the Flames are in dire straits.

In 2017-18 the Flames averaged 18,905 people per game, good for a 98% capacity. Those numbers were 8th, and 19th respectively in the league.

It can be expected that some of this fallback has to do with just how abysmal the Flames were at home last season along with the economic climate of Calgary over the last 2-3 years.

While this drop shouldn’t be a cause for a huge cause for concern now, as numbers will be expected to rise as the team continues to play well this year, it will be worth watching over the long-term.

A bigger red flag in my opinion is that the Flames have only sold out 1 out of their 11 home games (9.1%) so far in 2018-19 (Nov 17 vs Edmonton). According to hockey-reference.com, the Flames had 15 sellouts in 41 games (36.6%) recorded in 2017-18, and 13/41 (31.7%) in 2016-17.

When you look at the eleven teams the Flames have hosted this year, these teams typically sell out the Dome, whether that be as a result of opposing fans (Jets, Habs) or people wanting to come out to see the game’s best (Crosby, Ovechkin). Even the home opener, traditionally a game that’s packed, wasn’t sold out.

Of the 11 home games this season, the Flames have had seven games with more than 1000 empty seats at the Saddledome. The season low was Colorado with a draw of 17,317 (89.8% capacity, 1972 empty seats) which is understandable considering the lack of Avs fans in Calgary, the lack of rivalry, and that the game was a weeknight.

The table below shows each opponent this year and the attendance, along with the average attendances vs that opponent in the last two seasons. In most cases it seems that the numbers have dropped with the exception of the Battle of Alberta, which is always sold out.

Flames Attendance 2018-19 vs Past 2 Years

Opponent 2018-19 Attendance 2017-18 Avg 2018-19 vs 2017-18 2016-17 Avg 2018-19 vs 2016-17
Opponent 2018-19 Attendance 2017-18 Avg 2018-19 vs 2017-18 2016-17 Avg 2018-19 vs 2016-17
VAN 18688 18356 1.80% 18763 -0.40%
BOS 17641 19289 -8.54% 18892 -6.62%
NSH 18725 18618 0.57% 18904 -0.94%
PIT 17834 18837 -5.32% 19289 -7.54%
WSH 17832 18327 -2.70% 18454 -3.37%
COL 17317 19201 -9.81% 18087 -4.26%
CHI 18143 19289 -5.94% 18691 -2.93%
MTL 18443 19289 -4.38% 19289 -4.39%
EDM 19289 19289 0 19289 0
VGK 17635 19289 -8.57% N/A N/A
WPG 17661 19289 -8.44% 18677 -5.44%
-4.67% -3.58%

Overall the numbers seem to be down across the board, with a 4.67% average dropoff from 2017-18 to 2018-19, and a 3.58% average dropoff from 2016-17 to 2018-19. 2016-17 was also a year that followed up a non-playoff year like this one.

It is worth considering that perhaps the Flames and the league has a whole has implemented stronger practices in providing accurate attendance counts. Typically attendance can be an easy number to fudge in terms of tickets sold vs actual bums in seats.

Could this be a conspiracy used in the new arena argument? Are the Flames suddenly more honest because they want to try and say a new arena will be filled more easily? Okay I’ll take off my tin foil hat now.

At the end of the day, it’s 1000 seats (5.2% of total seats) in one of the largest arenas in the league, with an economy that has been struggling, and a team that was horrendous at home last year. It’s not as if the Flames are only drawing 10-13,000 like some other teams who shall remain nameless (and getting subsequently bailed out by the NHL). The Flames are still one of the strongest draws in the league, but it is worth mentioning when the numbers start to trend down.

It will be a trend worth following as the season continues and the Flames head towards serious playoff contention. If they rise back up with team success, then any concern should be alleviated, however if they don’t really rise with success, a deeper dive may be in order.

Get your tickets now while there’s an apparent oversupply!