Saving Phoenix - one student at a time?

They keep the arena dark in Phoenix so as not to show all of the empty seats. via cdn.picapp.com

 

It's no secret that Phoenix struggles with attendance. It's no secret that those struggles are related to the location of the arena as the Phoenix hinterlands aren't an attractive destination for night life.  What's more disturbing is that the location of the arena may end up being the biggest liability for this franchise, one that even a savvy management team won't be able to overcome.

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Not only does Phoenix struggle at the gate, but they are one of the worst television markets in the league, evidenced by the chart below:


Tv_attend_medium

The Coyotes garnered a .5 rating last year, 15th of the 22 U.S.-based teams that reported television ratings for 2008-2009.  A deeper look into the market shows that a .5 rating meant that in the 22 games that were broadcast on Fox Sports Arizona, only 9,280 households were watching.  That puts Phoenix into 19th place out of 22 reporting teams, ahead of only Florida, Atlanta and Tampa Bay.  Combine the two numbers and Phoenix is the second-worst market in the U.S., ahead of only the Florida Panthers.

Phoenix management can't be faulted for lack of effort in improving things.  One of the driving factors in turning the attendance situation around in Pittsburgh was the Penguins student rush program.  The student rush program gave college students the opportunity to buy the best seat available on a first-come, first-serve basis for $20 at the gate.  The Pens had students lined up three hours before the game:

There usually aren't any provisions -- portable toilets, concessions, etc. -- for students in line for hours, but officials noticed piles of pizza boxes from those who used their cell phones to have deliveries made to Mario Lemieux Place.

That, and enthusiasm from players who have noticed the lines outside the arena and increased decibel level inside, sparked the idea for player appearances and pizza, said Penguins vice president of communications Tom McMillan.

The students were allowed access to the warm building about an hour earlier than the usual hour before game time.

The program has helped swell Penguins attendance. Going into last night, the team was averaging 94 percent capacity at home games. Last night, the Penguins enjoyed their 14th sell out in 23 dates.

Pittsburgh's program was a rousing success as there are 100,000 college students in Pittsburgh, and the majority of them were no more than a 15 minute bus ride away from the Arena.  Pittsburgh management pointed to the program as one of the driving factors behind the increase in season ticket sales -- college students graduated and immediately used their entertainment dollars on the team that gave them $20 tickets for years.

Phoenix has tried to implement the same program as seen below:

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Phoenix has gone as far as offering upper level seats for $10, an astonishing number to fans from Edmonton, Toronto, New York and Washington.  And although there are 55,000 students at Arizona State in nearby Tempe, the program has not been an overwhelming success as it was in Pittsburgh.  Why?  Well, for one, the arena is about a 30 minute drive from Arizona State, not something that is easy for a college student to pull off.  For reference purposes, it's about the same drive from Rexall Place to the Edmonton International Airport.  The Coyotes have tried a shuttle service with a pickup point on the Arizona State campus, but with mixed success.  There is still the issue with a 30 minute bus ride to get to a game followed by the 30 minute bus ride back home.  There is hope that the completion of light rail service to Glendale in 2011 will help fans get to the games.

The Coyotes have tried family pack tickets, they've tried all you can eat weekday tickets ($30 for upper deck all you can eat seats) and they continue to struggle at the gate.  The team has been in a playoff spot for the entire year and the arena still isn't filling.  Credit must be given to the Coyotes for creative marketing campaigns, but the fact remains that the arena is not in Phoenix, but literally in another city.

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