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The NHL’s Florida Panthers drew just 7,311 fans on Oct. 13 for the game against the Ottawa Senators — the smallest attendance figure in franchise history. It was also the fewest fans an NHL game has drawn in almost three years.
The Florida Panthers are on pace to set a record for futility in attendance.
Panthers president and CEO Rory Babich expressed his displeasure over the recent decrease of fans showing up at the BB&T Center. For the Panthers’ most recent home game, only 7,311 fans turned up for the game against the Ottawa Senators. Babich told ESPN’s Scott Burnside on Oct. 14 this is “not acceptable”:
“President and CEO Rory Babich admitted Tuesday that the vacant seats and the attendant Twitter derision directed at the team during Monday’s 1-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators was embarrassing.
“‘That’s not fun,’ he told ESPN.com. ‘And it’s not acceptable.’
“Babich is part of the new ownership/management structure that accompanied the sale of the team to Vincent Viola a year ago, Babich having come aboard less than a year ago to try to restore order to the team’s business operations.
“The team has redesigned its business model, and an offshoot of that is the team no longer papers the house with heavily discounted tickets or what are outright freebies.
“The Panthers have simplified their ticket pricing strategy (fewer complicated packages), and the price point is, the team believes, competitive with some season-ticket packages providing lower-bowl seats for $25 a game.
“But the reality is that folks who were used to dirt-cheap or free tickets to Panthers games are no longer getting those. That’s why you end up with an announced crowd of 7,311 for Monday’s game, the lowest announced crowd in franchise history (and the lowest in the NHL in three seasons), and a howl of protest from media and fans wonder why the franchise still exists in its current location.
“One league source familiar with the team’s situation said the move might mean short-term pain but had to be done.
“‘Viola is a really smart guy,’ the source said. ‘He had to rip the bandage off.’
“Part of the outrage over the team’s poor following is linked to the league’s overall health.
“The NHL has plugged a lot of holes in its organizational dyke in recent years, including finding ownership groups in troubled spots Long Island, Arizona, Dallas and Florida, where Viola and his investors insist they are committed to building a winner in South Florida, the operative words being ‘winner’ and ‘South Florida.’
“Still, the optics of crowds like Monday night’s simply fuel speculation that the idea of hockey in South Florida is simply past its best-before date, especially with new NHL-ready arenas being built in potential relocation markets Quebec City and Las Vegas.”
For his part, The Miami Herald’s Greg Cote was disappointed in the Panthers’ turnout for the home opener — just 11,419 — against the New Jersey Devils:
“Remember when anticipation of a home opener, the ‘occasion’ of it, made it a guaranteed tough ticket? Attendance might fall with the second game, but the home opener is different. Special. A sellout, for sure.
“I cannot call Saturday’s Panthers ‘crowd’ shocking because I’d been forewarned about the expected sharp drop in attendance this season. The club’s new ownership made a business decision to eliminate the freebies and discounts that had been curtained off, reducing capacity to begin with. But available seats were a sea of empty.
“They announced the crowd as 11,419, the smallest gate in the franchise’s 21-season history for a home opener. That’s bad for any night, embarrassing to start your season.
“‘I think it’s about what we expected,’ said new club president Rory Babich. ‘We’re taking the long-term view.’
“The short-term view, the combination of a lopsided loss in a half-empty house — especially the latter — made you wonder about the future of professional hockey in South Florida, even as the new owners trust in their new business model.”