NLL: 2012 regular-season attendance numbers dip again, under 9,500 on average

Calgary was hot on the floor, but not in the stands in 2012, one of six NLL franchises to see a decrease in their attendance numbers compared to last season. (Photo: Calgary Roughnecks)
Calgary was hot on the floor, but not in the stands in 2012, one of six NLL franchises to see a decrease in their attendance numbers compared to last season. (Photo: Calgary Roughnecks)

The Buffalo Bandits and Colorado Mammoth again led the National Lacrosse League (NLL) in regular season attendance numbers. Under shared National Hockey League (NHL) ownership, the Bandits and Mammoth respectively averaged more than 15,900 and 15,200 fans per home game in 2012. That is a decrease, however, from the impressive 17K and 16K averages they respectively hit in 2011. Six of the nine NLL franchises in fact posted attendance decreases in 2012.

The Calgary Roughnecks, under new NHL ownership, surprisingly saw the league’s biggest drop in attendance, down nearly -20% from their numbers just a season ago. The league’s first-placed team finished fifth in regular season attendance numbers, never breaking the 10K mark, after averaging 10,384 fans last year.

The Rochester Knighthawks, conversely, saw the league’s biggest attendance jump, up nearly 15%. The Knighthawks, Minnesota Swarm and Toronto Rock were the only three clubs to enjoy attendance increases over last season.

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Overall, the league averaged nearly 9,500 fans per home game, down -3.7% from the previous year, excluding numbers from the now defunct Boston Blazers who averaged 8,712 fans per home game last season.

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2012 Regular Season Attendance

Team Games 2012 Avg 2011 Avg %Change
Buffalo 8 15,918 17,096 -6.9
Colorado 8 15,239 15,866 -4.0
Toronto 8 11,173 10,985 1.7
Minnesota 8 8,596 8,288 3.7
Calgary 8 8,313 10,384 -19.9
Philadelphia 8 8,212 8,662 -5.2
Edmonton 8 7,039 7,152 -1.6
Rochester 8 6,833 5,949 14.9
Washington 8 3,893 4,132 -5.8
Totals 72 9,468 9,835 -3.7

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Interestingly, four teams had their biggest attendance numbers in their home openers, while four others had their biggest crowds in their home finales. The league’s four worst drawing teams in Washington, Rochester, Edmonton and Philly all posted their biggest numbers of 2012 in their home openers, and none drew above 10K.

Buffalo, Toronto, Minnesota and Calgary all posted their biggest attendance numbers in their final home games of the regular season, with Buffalo enjoying a sell-out crowd of 18,960, and T.O. and Minnesota respectively pulling in 14,060 and 11,297 fans. Colorado’s biggest crowd, at over 17K, showed during their fifth game of the season.

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Despite the fact hosting NLL playoff games can be pricey, as the home team must cover all expenses including the opposing team’s salaries, the Rochester Knighthawks are giving away tickets to season ticket holders for their first-round playoff tilt, and pricing all other tickets at just $10.

“Everybody uses comps, I think, unless you’re fortunate enough to be completely sold-out – not too many sport teams can enjoy that,” says Dr. Bob Hathaway, the Knighthawks VP of Operations. “We use the comps when it’s in the best interest of the team and provides a good experience for everyone at the arena.”

“It’s really a thank you to the fans and also a way to maximize the opportunity for people to be in attendance Friday night,” says Hathaway of their unique promotion, that has already generated strong STH renewals.

“There’s a point where you have to decide whether you’re trying to build the sport of lacrosse, in particular the Knighthawks, or whether you’re just trying to make as much money as you can on this playoff game… Our long-term strategy is trying to build as many new lacrosse fans into the market as we can.”

“We want to try and make a difference in the sport, getting it accepted at a high level in terms of professional sports,” added Swarm owner John Arlotta in an earlier IL interview. “We’re all so passionate that we sometimes put our own personal financial considerations secondary to the passion that we have – but you can’t do that forever.”

The Calgary Roughecks are looking to build long-term as well, and league commissioner George Daniel says he’s not too concerned about their large attendance dip, suggesting the ‘Necks’ numbers are paid tickets.

“I don’t think by us (Flames) buying it that some magical thing was going to happen, where we’d go.. to 15,000 fans in the building,” added Mike Moore, Calgary’s new Director of Business Operations, in another IL exclusive. “Again, it’s going to be a slow steady increase. It’s going to take some time and effort to continue to reach out to new fans in our market.”

But can the NLL be so patient? Does the league need more aggressive marketing and ticketing targets?

The last time the league averaged over 10,000 fans per game during a regular season was three years ago in 2009 when there were 12 NLL teams including Boston, Orlando and Portland.

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5 Year NLL Attendance Trend

Year Regular Season Avg Number of Teams Folded Post Season
2012 9,468 9
2011 9,722 10 Boston
2010^^ 9,559 11 Orlando
2009^ 10,018 12 Portland
2008 10,475 12 Chicago

^ Boston joined the NLL as an expansion team.
^^ Titans moved from New York to Orlando.
^^ Stealth moved from San Jose to Everett, Washington.

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An All-America at Simon Fraser and a decorated Jr. A player for Coquitlam, Kojima began covering lacrosse in 2003 and started working for Inside Lacrosse in 2007. Email him at steve.kojima@nllinsider.com or go to www.laxfuj.com.

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