NHL Interactive: Putting a value on hockey loyalty

To woo fans back, some teams dug a lot deeper than others

Hover your cursor over each circle to read more about the giveaways:

In the days after the NHL lockout ended, teams rushed to offer special deals to fans to make amends. If the euphoria on display last week was any indication, much has been forgiven. But if teams truly want to satisfy fans after the protracted dispute, opening night giveaways won’t go far enough, says a sports marketer and former hockey executive. Cary Kaplan, the president of Cosmos Sports and a former executive with the Hamilton Bulldogs hockey team, says the flurry of discounts were an important gesture, but won’t provide the “sustained change” fans deserve after so many months of being deprived of the game.

Players should be front and centre in that effort, says Kaplan. They should call season-ticket holders to thank them for their loyalty, or do more for fans on game days. “Why doesn’t every player sign autographs after every game? Why isn’t that mandatory?” he asks. “Kids don’t want free popcorn. They want to meet Phil Kessel. That’s the power these players and leagues and teams have.”

Still, Kaplan admits the discounts didn’t hurt. Of the teams that reportedly offered freebies, Maclean’s looked at how much they were potentially willing to put on the line for their first home game, relative to their team salaries (see graphic, below). For instance, if every Carolina Hurricanes fan took advantage of the savings offered on opening night— half off tickets and merchandise, cheap food and drink—the team would have given up an estimated $2 million in revenue. That amounts to about three times what it paid its players for the night’s work. Five of the 10 most generous teams were in Canadian cities, while Winnipeg and Toronto were further down the list.

On the eve of the NHL’s shortened season, one in four Canadian hockey fans told a Harris-Decima poll they’d watch the pros less this year. It will take more than cheap hot dogs to win them all back.

Now that every team’s hosted a home game, we thought we’d take a look at how all the discounts paid off, assuming they played a role in filling seats in NHL cities. The first graph below looks at how full arenas were on each team’s opening night. The second graph looks at how opening night attendance compared to each team’s average attendance during the 2011-12 season.