The most recent edition of Sports Business Journal’s Turnstile Report for the NBA and NHL shows that the 30 teams in the NBA are playing to 90.4 percent of venue capacity while the NHL’s 30 clubs are at 94.5 percent, both slight improvements over last season. It’s a jump ball when it comes to which is pulling the most fans: In the NBA, total attendance sits at 18,323,820, while the NHL has seen 18,938,374 fans spin the turnstiles.
The report is a semi-regular compilation of team-by-team attendance figures for the two leagues, complete for games played through March 23. Both have 82-game seasons (41 home), so the total number of home games for teams in both the NBA and the NHL teams is 1,230. At this point, all 60 teams have played 35 home games, plus or minus 1. The NHL is averaging 17,423 per game, while the NBA is at a virtually identical 17,385.
According to the report, as compared to the same date in 2008 overall NBA attendance is up .6 of a percent. Half the teams are down some percentage – the greatest decline of 12.4 percent has been seen by the Sacramento Kings – while the other half are up, with two teams notably seeing double-digit percentage increases: the Indiana Pacers have pulled in 14.4 percent more and the New Orleans Hornets a buzzing 22.3 percent.
The NHL’s average team total is 631,279 – 20,000 more than the NBA so far this year. Only one team has seen less than 500,000 fans so far, the New York Islanders having tempted 476,522 through the gate, averaging the lowest per-game attendance (13,615) in the league.
In the NBA, six teams are at 100 percent or more of their venues’ capacity after 35 games: the Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks (the highest, at 104.3 percent), Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns, Portland Trailblazers and Utah Jazz. The Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers have so far just missed the 100 percent Holy Grail: the teams are at 99.0 and 99.7 percent, respectively. Four teams – the Charlotte Bobcats, Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves and Kings – are playing to less than 75 percent of their capacity, with the Grizzlies trailing the field at 69.9 percent.
In terms of gross spectator count, the Pistons are firing on all cylinders, having drawn 786,591 fans through 36 games (average attendance 21,850, the highest in the league) compared to the Kings’ not so princely sum of 419,723 through 34 events (average 12,345). The Grizzlies are the only other team to have drawn less than half-a-million fans so far (456,023).
Led by the aforementioned Pistons, the top five teams in average attendance all draw more than 20,000 fans. The Chicago Bulls are second at 21,260, followed by the Portland Trail Blazers (20,501), the Cavaliers (20,500) and the Mavericks (20,018).
Two of the league’s bedrock franchises – the Lakers and the Celtics – both have typically impressive numbers. L.A.’s average attendance is 18,997, which is 100 percent of capacity, and have drawn 683,892 folks through 36 games. Beantown’s ballers are also at 100 percent of cap, with 651,840 fans watching 35 games to average 18,624.
The NBA’s newest market, Oklahoma City, which brought the Seattle Super Sonics to town and named them the Thunder, has seen its Ford Center 97.4 percent full, drawing 671,188 fans to the stands through 36 games and averaging 18,644 per game.
Hitting the ice, 11 of the 30 NHL teams are filling their seats at 100 percent or more of their capacity after 36 of 41 games, led by the Chicago Blackhawks’s 105.9 percent. That number is skewed up a bit by the 40,818 that were at this past January’s outdoor ‘‘NHL Winter Classic’’ at Wrigley Field. (The first Winter Classic was during the 2007-2008 season, when 71,000 showed up at Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson stadium to see the Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Sabres.)
Second in terms of cap percentage are the Minnesota Wild, at 102.8, followed by the Toronto Maple Leafs (102.5) and the Penguins (100.6), with seven teams at 100 percent: Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, San Jose Sharks and the Vancouver Canucks. The Sabres and Ottawa Senators have both reached 99 percent.
The NHL has no teams with an average cap percentage of less than 75 percent. In fact, there’s just one team in the 70s – the Atlanta Thrashers are at 77.9 percent. Two-thirds of the franchises are seeing 90 percent or better,
Two teams average more than 20,000 per game, the Blackhawks (22,352) and the Canadiens (21,273).
Five clubs have already seen 700,000 or more in total attendance, the Blackhawks scoring the game winner so far at 759,965. (If you subtract the 41,818 that were at Wrigley and add 20,500, the capacity at the Chicago’s United Center, the Blackhawk’s arena, they’d still be at 739,647.) Second in total crowd are the Canadiens (744,555), followed by the Senators (718,186), the Flames (713,693) and the Flyers (703,014).