As teams start to turn for the home stretch of the NHL season, the Dallas Stars still have plenty of work to do for the short-term. The inconsistent results, despite basically improved play, have left them in a fairly tenuous position with regards to the playoff race.
But from a long-term organizational health perspective, things are looking as bright as they have in half-a-decade for Dallas. Attendance is as high as it's been since the 2009-10 season, and all signs point to revenue being significantly up as well.
WIth 28 home games already played this season, the Stars are 18th in NHL attendance with an average of 17,065 fans per game, or 92.1 percent of the AAC's capacity. And unlike the other brief spike in attendance numbers in the last five years, this one isn't driven by giveaways, discounted tickets and a shorter schedule that avoids early-seasons conflicts.
For those who may not have been around for the long-haul, here's a brief synopsis of the Stars attendance history. When the team was an NHL power in the late 90s and early 00s, Dallas could not get enough. There was a 238-game sellout streak that spanned the Reunion Arena and American Airlines Center eras, and the Stars were one of the highest revenue teams in the NHL.
As the team's fortunes waned, attendance did a bit as well. High prices at the AAC alienated a small but significant chunk of the fanbase, and a series of disappointing regular season, playoff performances knocked the team into the mid-90s in terms of percent filled, and eventually the Tom Hicks bankrupcty era imploded both the team on the ice and the front office, torpedoing ticket sales in 2010 and beyond.
From hockeyattendance.com, here's the tallies of the last nine years of attendance numbers for the Stars, not including this season.
It's clear when Hicks' bankruptcy hit the Stars hard. What does jump out is the brief spike in 2012-13 following the NHL lockout. While the Stars did remarkably well that season from these numbers, the "attendance" that season is a bit of a red herring - with fewer home games and none in the harder-to-sell months of October, November and December, the Stars were able to distribute (though not necessarily sell) far more tickets than normal.
In that season and even the preceding 2-3 years, the Stars were offering severely discounted seats and giving away a large number of tickets that counted toward the attendance total but may or may not have been used. It made the attendance slightly more respectable (you can imaging how awful the numbers from 2010-12 would have looked without those) but served to alienate a season-ticket base that was already dwindling.
Coming out of the 2011-12 NHL lockout, the Stars season-ticket base was down to "less than 5,000," a far cry from the 15,000 they had in their heyday. The run-up to the season was too short in 2012 to make any significant changes, but the team overhauled pricing structure in the summer of 2013, doing away with many of the giveaways and discounts to protect the season-ticket holder while also introducing variable pricing.
That's why even though attendance technically dropped last season back into the 15,000 range, the Stars almost certainly generated far more revenue even before you consider the playoff gate. The numbers were real, with actual bodies in the seats that generally matched the announced count.
Given that entire history, it's certainly significant that the Stars are back up over 17,000 per game this season with an announced season ticket base of more than 10,000 full-season equivalents, a number that more than doubles the base they had coming out of the lockout.
It we're being honest, it's one of the reasons this season has been so frustrating. One of the best things to sell to a rejuvenated fanbase is winning, and while the Stars are certainly exciting this season and seem on the brink of breaking through (especially if you follow their rise on possession measures), the results haven't been there consistently.
The crowds have though for the first time in a long time. And perhaps more than anything that will be the best takeaway from this season. With the front office and ticket base back in order, the Stars are set for success on all fronts for the first time since the Tom Hicks business empire collapsed.