Thursday, February 12, 2009

Playing Below Capacity: Carolina Hurricanes

I really don't know why I like that picture so much...

Anyways, welcome to the sixth edition of Playing Below Capacity, a series here that looks at teams (as of December) that are playing below 85% capacity to see what (if anything) is wrong. The first five editions can all be found on this page here. Today we will take a look at what is going on in Raleigh, where the 2006 Stanley Cup Champions are fighting hard for their first playoff spot since that memorable run. The Hurricanes are ranked 27th in attendance in terms of capacity, filling 82.4% of the RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina. To their credit, only them and the Devils average over 15,000 a night while playing below (or around, in New Jersey's case now) 85%. With all that said, let's jump in.*

*Note: Please remember that I'm a young college kid who thinks he knows what he's talking about. Any "problems" that I suggest the Hurricanes have are my opinion and are most likely not 100% accurate (but close to it, if I do say so myself). Any information I used can easily be found on the Internet as well. With that said, enjoy.

Here are the ideas I came up with that could be problems with getting people to go to Hurricanes game on a regular basis...
  • Arena Location/Age
  • High Ticket Prices/Poor Promotional Events
  • Metro Population
  • On Ice Product
  • Location/History of Franchise
  • Other
To get us started, some basic facts of the Carolina Hurricanes (wikipedia):
  • The Canes were founded in 1972 as the New England Whalers of the WHL based in Hartford, Connecticut. They joined the NHL in the 1979 merger and became the Hartford Whalers. In 1997, owner Peter Karmanos Jr. packed up the Whalers and moved them to Raleigh, North Carolina to become the Carolina Hurricanes.
  • In their 10 completed seasons in Raleigh, the Hurricanes have made the playoffs four times and have made it to the Stanley Cup Finals twice. They were the Stanley Cup Champions in 2005-2006, the franchises only Stanley Cup (since their formation in 1972).
  • Upon moving to Raleigh, the Canes had to play their first two seasons ('97-'98 and '98-'99) in the Greensboro Coliseum, which was 90 minutes away from Raleigh. Once the RBC Center was finished, the Hurricanes moved to their current home for the 1999-2000 season.
  • The capacity for Ice Hockey is said to be 18,680 at the RBC Center
- Arena Location/Age

The RBC Center opened in late October, 1999, which means the building is just under a decade old. It was ranked 24th in NHL venues by the sportsroadtrip guys about 8 years ago when this building was only two years old. And although that was 8 years ago, the building hasn't changed and they got a very "fieldhouse" feel to it. According to the RBC Center wikipedia page, it was intended to be just that, as the Hurricanes only other tenant is the NC State ACC Division I basketball team.

The location is generally good. It is located 5 to 7 miles west of Raleigh and is very much in the middle of the infamous Research Triangle in North Carolina. Take a look
(click to enlarge):

The "A" arrow represents downtown Raleigh while the "B" arrow represents the RBC Center. To give you a better perspective as to where it is in the Research Triangle, take a look at this:

Although the team relates itself mostly to Raleigh, I'm not sure it could survive with just Raleigh and its suburbs. As much as North Carolina is college crazy sports-wise, the team must get help from the good sized surrounding areas. The arena is definitely a commute one where you have to drive to get there. This may affect attendance, but not by much as there is just a lot of open space (as you can tell by the google map above) around the area.

- High Ticket Prices/Poor Promotional Events

The Hurricanes raised their ticket prices by 10% this past off-seson. But, according to, they have one of the lowest average ticket prices at $38.38, $11 less than the NHL average of $49.66. They also have the lowest average premium ticket price at $75.98; almost $40 below the NHL average of $113.44. Finally, the Canes are second to last in the Fan Cost Index, coming in at $219.52 (up 6.8% from '07-'08), about $70 below the NHL average of $288.23. The Fan Cost Index:
comprises the prices of four (4) average-price tickets, two (2) small draft beers, four (4) small soft drinks, four (4) regular-size hot dogs, parking for one (1) car, two (2) game programs and two (2) least-expensive, adult-size adjustable caps.
High ticket prices are not the problem in Raleigh, that's for sure. The Canes also have a great list of ticket specials on their website. Although it is mostly the typical family and college night offers, they are great nonetheless. Do I think they could be doing more? Maybe, but at the same time the ticket prices really speak for themselves.

- Metro Population

The city of Raleigh comes in at just over 370,000, but the combined metro population of the Research Triangle comes in at just over 1.3 million. has the metro population around Raleigh at just under a million, which would be the smallest in the NHL. There is no doubt this is a generally small market, but the fact that the Canes are growing in value is always a good sign. I honestly think that the size of this market has an affect on the attendance at games. Imagine if Phoenix was in a market this size? They'd be halfway to Hamilton by now.

- On-Ice Product

Carolina has been on a roller-coaster ride since arriving in Raleigh. One thing that I think is certain is that there are Hurricanes fans littered around the area, half of them might be dormant just remembering the memories of 2006. Take a look (click to enlarge/clarify):

As you can kinda tell, North Carolina hockey fans love a winner. Their average attendance peaked after their Stanley Cup season, and has been on a slide with no playoffs for a playoff-hungry market. Things are definitely looking up for the Canes, though, starting with this season.

They have a good mix of young talent and veteran leadership at the moment. 15 of the 23 man roster is 28 years old or below, led by star forward and assistant captain (I think) Eric Staal. I don't know if they will make the playoffs this season, but one good thing is that fans will benefit from a great playoff race down the stretch in the East. The Southeast is now dominated by the Capitals, but behind them are the Panthers and Hurricanes, separated by a point which makes the difference between a playoff spot, at the moment.

- Location/History of Franchise

The Hurricanes are sometimes plagued by there former identity as the Hartford Whalers, as the team and logo were somewhat of a hockey cult icon. But, in terms of business, North Carolina has a been a better move. On the ice, the franchise really benefited in terms of fan base and establishing themselves with the cup run in 2006. John Buccigross of says the team is identified by 2006 Cup-leaders Ron Francis (whose #10 is retired) and Rod Brind'Amour, along with youngster Eric Staal.

Off the ice, owner Peter Karmanos, Jr. faces an interesting market. I have already stated that I think it is somewhat small, but at the same time my gut says hockey works here. There major sport competition is NCAA basketball and NASCAR (to an extent). The best way (as shown by the chart before) to keep the RBC Center filled when the ice is down is to put a winning team on it. Although thats easier said than done, I believe it is a major key. At the same time, the organization has done a good job as of recently to keep the average attendance from really plummeting despite some poor teams the past two seasons. Bottomline: the Canes are obviously staying in Raleigh, and with a couple more real good playoff runs in the next decade, there could be an impressive die-hard fan-base, much like the one in Buffalo.

- Other

There are not many hidden surprises in the Carolina market. Like I mentioned before, the club is growing (up 8% last year), but are also operating at a loss. I think this seasons financial results will be interesting as the team is again down the middle in terms of the standings. If they can continue to grow with an average team, imagine what they could do once they get the on-ice issues sorted out.

- Conclusion

Not that there are any indications, but the Hurricanes are not leaving Raleigh anytime soon. Yes there market is somewhat small, yes there attendance sways with the standings, and yes the team is operating at a financial loss, but for some reason I don't see a whole lot of bad in this market. Maybe if the market was bigger and the RBC Center was in downtown Raleigh the Canes might see a slight attendance boost, but I do not know that for sure. Hockey has defiantly grown in the state, with at least 24 recorded rinks at

And that about wraps up this edition of Playing Below Capacity. Up next are the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are in the middle of a tight Western Conference playoff race. Please feel free to comment and point out any mistakes I made.

Also, on a self-promotion note, please do check back in about an hour or two, as I have a cool (well I think it is) piece on a topic I like to call the Second Half Attendance Boost. Everyone says it happens, but how much does it really happen? We will find out...

1 comment:

  1. No changes in attendance for 2009. It is only going to get worse as the team stinks. Maybe ponytail can move the team to San Juan