I've written about this topic often enough that regular readers will know exactly what the above graphic indicates. But, for the uninitiated, we've got a nice report from Mr. Cristodero down in sunny Tampa:
Attendance figures provided by Hillsborough County — an average turnstile count of 10,576 through the first 12 games at the 22,000 capacity St. Pete Times Forum — indicate a difficult environment, especially considering ticket and concession sales are the lifeblood of NHL franchises.
Officially, Tampa Bay entered Wednesday with an average announced crowd of 14,470, 24th in the 30-team league, and it drew an announced 13,477 against the. But as is customary in the NHL, those numbers include tickets sold and distributed. The county's number is fans in the building.
As for the chart at the top there, well that's the month-by-month attendance from 2006-07 to now, based on those inflated, announced figures. If you look closely, you'll see the trend.
Back in 2005-06, the first year out of the lockout, the Lightning had the second-best attendance in the NHL, averaging more than 20,000 fans per game. Tampa Bay was the sunbelt success story in the league, the exception to the rule that Gary Bettman and friends could very well point to to refute their doubters.
Two years later, they finished last overall in the standings. And, more importantly when it comes to said trend, a few months after that, Oren Koules and Len Barrie bought a small chunk of the team and borrowed the rest.
A little more than 500 days later, it's dying on the vine.
This team is for sale on the cheap, but there have been few potential buyers. Barrie could be in legal trouble, and he's definitely in financial ruin. Koules has kept quiet, but at this rate may be headed for bankruptcy barring a few more Saw sequels.
I hear from fans in Tampa on this topic more than I'd like to, and you have to pity them. Sure, they got their Cup five years ago, but ugly doesn't begin to describe the current situation. How do you cheer for this? Many are throwing in the towel on this franchise, walking away until things change in ownership and the toxic stew that surrounds Vinny Lecavalier as a holdover from last year either goes away or their star is traded.
To me, it looks like things are going to get worse before they get better in Tampa, which will make for some very trying times in the near future. They've got to be losing an incredible amount of money, cash they don't have, given they've discounted tickets that still aren't selling, but when does it all finally fall apart?
And what happens then?
Questions for the governors next week in Pebble Beach, to be sure.