Despite a last-place roster, the Blackhawks have climbed back into the NHL’s elite tier of teams in one area this season: attendance.
Through 24 home games, the Hawks rank fourth in the league with an average attendance of 18,799, trailing only the Canadiens, Lightning and Red Wings.
The big crowds at the United Center in October were far from surprising, considering the intrigue surrounding rookie Connor Bedard’s first few weeks in the NHL. And the Hawks sold so many new season-ticket plans last spring — when they won the draft lottery and when they officially drafted him — that they knew their seasonlong sales would be solid.
Internally, however, the team wondered whether the ‘‘Bedard effect’’ eventually would wear off, causing a drop in sales and an even bigger drop in scan rate — the percentage of tickets sold that actually are used (or ‘‘scanned’’ into the arena).
Even with Bedard injured, however, there hasn’t been a dramatic change. And if his absence hasn’t burst the bubble, it doesn’t seem as though anything will — at least not this season.
The Hawks have drawn a few slightly smaller crowds in recent weeks, including a season-low 16,401 on Jan. 16 against the Sharks and 17,230 on Wednesday against the Wild (which still exceeded their algorithm’s projection by several thousand). But they bounced back to a sellout of 19,995 on Friday against the Rangers.
The abundance of home games this month — with eight more on the docket before March 3 — could oversaturate the market somewhat. But Feb. 25 against the Red Wings will draw an enormous crowd, thanks to the Chris Chelios and Patrick Kane storylines, as will Bedard’s yet-to-be-determined first game back.
The Hawks should cruise to a final attendance average well above the mark of 17,167 from last season, which was impressive in its own right.
So why, exactly, have the crowds been so sizable for an on-ice product so dismal? The Hawks think their efforts to diversify their fan base across several demographics — something hockey teams across the country historically haven’t done well — have paid off.
According to data shared by the team this week, the Hawks have boosted their female fan base by 27% since April 2020 and now boast the largest female fan base in the league.
They also have increased their non-white fan base by 45% since April 2020, making it the third-largest in the league. And their Gen Z fan base, which has grown exponentially in recent years, is the second-largest in the NHL.
Although some longer-tenured, harder-core fans have been frustrated by the constant losing and tie-cutting with old legends (Kane, Eddie Olczyk, etc.), the Hawks have managed to expand the pool of Chicagoans from which they draw — including casual fans attending games as more of a night out than an intense hockey-viewing experience — more than enough to make up for it.
With the team on Thursday sending out the first round of season-ticket renewal offers, the focus will begin to shift toward 2024-25 ticket sales, even though 17 home dates remain on the schedule this season.
The Hawks think their upward attendance trend will continue in 2024-25. They anticipate potentially even hitting their caps on season-ticket plans in some high-demand sections this summer.
On the other hand, it’s conceivable the Bedard effect — or at least the novelty of it — finally will wear off to some extent in 2024-25. He will be more of a known commodity, the team still will be bad and ticket prices will be more expensive, which might lead to a short-term attendance dip within the long-term upward trend.
The Hawks said season-ticket prices increased by an average of 6%, but some fans in the 300 level reported increases greater than 20%.