Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Variations in NHL Attendance: The Impact of Violence, Scoring, and Regional Rivalries. (Discrimination and the NHL)

Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Variations in NHL Attendance: The Impact of Violence, Scoring, and Regional Rivalries. (Discrimination and the NHL)

Article excerpt

I

Introduction

HOCKEY HAS ALWAYS BEEN A GAME of diverse attributes. At one moment, the sheer beauty of a player skating and scoring a goal will bring the fans to their feet. The next moment, a violent fight might extract an even louder ovation from the spectators. The combination of these attributes has made hockey a unique game that attracts fans to the stadium for a variety of reasons.

In recent years attendance at NHL games has been increasing at the league level. The focus of this paper is the determination of game-to-game variations in attendance at the team level. Teams set their ticket prices in the off-season and then adjust advertising and promotions to maximize revenues. The question to be examined in this research is: What factors determine the attendance for each individual game? Traditional factors that determine attendance for a sports franchise, such as income per capita and population of the city, the timing of the game, and team success, are included in the analysis. The main focus of this paper, however, is hockey-specific factors that include scoring, violence, and the recent emphasis on an unbalanced schedule with regional rivals.

Goal scoring and violence are the two main factors that fans associate with the game of professional hockey. Recently, the NHL office has attempted to deal with each factor in an opposite manner. For scoring, the NHL has tried to increase the number of goals-per-game through rule changes. Goal output has fallen drastically over time through the decade of the 1990s. After the explosion of scoring from the timeframe of the Edmonton Oilers' dynasty, stricter defensive schemes such as the neutral-zone trap and the left-wing lock along with the diffusion of talent over more teams has led to a decline in scoring. This has led the league to change the rules concerning space behind the net, an increase in calls of obstruction, and closer inspection of goalie equipment to try to increase goals-per-game.

The NHL has taken the opposite stance with another fan-favorite attribute, that of violence. Violence occurs in the normal course of a hockey game through bodychecks, slashes, and the most recognizable form, fighting. The league has attempted to decrease the amount of fighting through rules such as the instigator (a penalty to a player whom the official decides blatantly started the fight), which gives the opposing team a power play. Further, players who accumulate instigator penalties over the course of a season face suspensions. Other violent acts, such as an attempt to purposefully injure another player, now face various fines and suspensions as well. These changes have been made to change the image of the game and emphasize other elements of its play. Violence and fighting, in particular, have been shown to have a positive impact on attendance in the past. Even though the league has started to crack down on violence, 1999-2000 was still a particularly violent year that was brought to the general public's eye through the Marty McSorley slashing incident, suspension, and subsequent Canadian court case.

The empirical findings on scoring and violence were the exact opposite. When accounting for team success and other location-specific factors, increases in team scoring, as measured by the previous season's goal total and the current season's goal-per-game average, were actually found to decrease attendance. It appears that fans might not be as interested in scoring as they are with winning and with seeing violence. The violence aspect, using fighting as a proxy, was found to be highly significant and positively related to attendance. Teams that fight more often tend to attract more paying customers.

In terms of promoting more regional rivalries, the NHL has found success. In recent years, it has attempted to resolve some of the geographical issues that have plagued the league since the second expansion in 1967. At that time, the six expansion teams were placed in a new conference, regardless of geographical considerations, to let the winner of the original six teams face the winner of the new six teams for the Stanley Cup. …

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