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Hockey attendance was down (very slightly) at the Saddledome during 2023-24’s regular seasons

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Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
1 month ago
The 2023-24 campaign was the second hockey season where the Scotiabank Saddledome juggled hosting three different high-end clubs from three different leagues. The ‘Dome held home games for the National Hockey League’s Calgary Flames, American Hockey League’s Calgary Wranglers and the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen.
For seemingly the umpteenth season in a row, over a million fans bought tickets to watch one of those three teams live. And despite some unique challenges in the local market, collective hockey attendance dropped by a minuscule 1.7% overall – from 1.037 million in 2022-23 to 1.019 million in 2023-24.
In a few ways, there’s a perfect storm of factors impacting demand for hockey at the ‘Dome.
  • A lot of fan viewing habits and routines were disrupted during the pandemic, and we’ve heard from a lot of fans that have gotten used to watching games at home instead of going to the arena. (We’ve also heard from a lot of fans that are expecting to reconsider this position when the new arena opens, though.)
  • There’s been a lot of construction in the Stampede Park area over the last while – between the 17th Avenue extension, the Victoria Park LRT renovation, the BMO Centre expansion and utility work for the Green Line LRT expansion – and a lot of fans feel like it’s a pain to get to games right now.
  • The Flames are entering a retooling period (and missed the playoffs last season), the Hitmen missed the playoffs (and haven’t been strong in a few seasons), and the Wranglers lost a lot of players to the Flames and weren’t as strong as they were last season. If you were on the fence about going to a game, you might prefer to wait until the team(s) are hot again.
  • The biggest thing may be Calgary’s economy. The unemployment rate spiked coming out of the pandemic and after that normalized, Alberta’s seen inflation well above the national average. When prices spike and wages stay flat, households tend to prioritize paying for food and housing and trim back on leisure spending like trips and hockey tickets.
In this context, a 1.7% attendance dip across the three teams seems pretty understandable. With this in mind, let’s delve into each team’s details.

The Flames

The Saddledome hosted 41 Flames games in the regular season. Average attendance was 17,501, down 455 from 2022-23.
There were three sell-outs: both Battles of Alberta (Jan. 20 and Apr. 6), and the Miikka Kiprusoff jersey retirement game against Pittsburgh on Mar. 2. They also had two games that broke the 19,000 mark: Dec. 2 against Vancouver and Mar. 16 against Montreal. (The Flames’ game against the Maple Leafs was on a Thursday night in January, and they just missed being at sell-out at 18,714.)
We noted this last year, but Flames attendance really seems to be opponent-driven. However, the Christmas holiday week games against Seattle (18,881) and Philadelphia (18,723) both did great numbers despite neither of the Kraken or Flyers being traditional draws.

The Wranglers

The Saddledome hosted 36 Wranglers games in the regular season. Average attendance was 4,101, up 177 from 2022-23.
In contrast with the Flames, the Wranglers’ attendance seems to be driven by the day of the week. Weekend games averaged 4,951 fans, while the remaining games averaged 3,251. There was a general upward trend during the season across the board, with some of the biggest crowds the Wranglers drew happening in the last six weeks of the season.
Considering it’s the second season in the market for the Wranglers and they kept losing their stars to the Flames, the overall attendance trend for the club seems pretty positive. (To nobody’s surprise, weekend games that coincided with Flames road games didn’t draw well. Even in a down year for the Flames, they siphoned fans away from their farm club.)

The Hitmen

The Saddledome hosted 34 Hitmen games in the regular season. Average attendance was 4,529, down 980 from 2022-23.
The Hitmen had two games draw more than 10,000 spectators: the Teddy Bear Toss on Dec. 3 (16,769) and the annual Be Brave anti-bullying game on Feb. 28 (12,943). 29 of the Hitmen’s 34 home games were on the weekend. The Hitmen lacked high-end NHL-drafted prospects on their roster this season, and there was no Connor Bedard to draw in casual junior hockey fans, so between that and the club being on the playoff bubble for most of the season attendance was a bit soft compared to prior years.
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