If you've caught any of their games on Center Ice since the turn of the new year, the sights and sounds are obvious -- there's life in them there stands. Some games are fuller than others, but it's a far, far cry from October when it looked like the attendance at a AHL practice rink.
There's no doubt that the early season attendance figure was mucked up a bit for PR purposes. We all know that attendance in pro sports is never accurate. Things get rounded, tickets are given away, and everything is spun to look better than it really is. If the Coyotes had an attendance figure of 7,000 on a weekday in October, the actual in-house number might have even been half of that.
Now? Not so much. Just from what I gauge on TV, I get the sense that the final attendance figure is far, far closer to the real thing. Let's look at the numbers since 2010 came around -- by then, the Coyotes had established themselves as a winning team, which is key to this whole thing.
Now, some other numbers for you:
Average January attendance (9 games): 12,194
Average February attendance (2 games): 15,078
Average March attendance (so far): 14,239
Average Saturday attendance: 15,304
Average Original 6 attendance: 17,115
Obviously, February's a bit difficult to judge with the Olympic break. However, you can see that there's a general upward progression, and that no weekday games in March dipped below the 10k mark. Also, Saturday attendance has been strong in the calendar year, with the only weak numbers against New Jersey and Minnesota.
Original 6 attendance is very strong, which signifies that there are definitely hockey fans in the area willing to go to games. I tuned into the March 20 game against Chicago, and it looked like at least 1/3 Hawks fans (kinda hard to tell, though, since the colors are somewhat similar in quick crowd shots).
This all provides the foundation to build upon, but growth is necessary for the franchise to be successful. The 15k-16k area is usually reserved for struggling teams that once had success (Carolina, Tampa Bay, Anaheim). Successful on-ice teams usually take in 17k or more. If the Coyotes can repeat their performance next year, one would hope attendance would bump into that latter level.
A good playoff run can do wonders, as can the stabilization of ownership. Can this market sustain a team? There are some signs of life. And if you're wondering why the NHL and the Board of Governors are trying to give the market a fair shot, it all comes down to dollars -- potential dollars, that is. Phoenix has a population of 1.5 million people and is the 12th largest market American metro area with 4.3 million people. If the Coyotes can be successful there, that comes with a pretty huge upside.