Before I make any other points moving forward, I want to make one thing clear: the Columbus Blue Jackets ARE NOT leaving the city anytime soon. The Arena deal that was reached in 2009 ensured that we have another 26 years of CBJ hockey, like it or not. Yes, I know that there is a ballot to try and overturn the arena deal which could put the franchise at risk. It’s just not something that will be overturned and I have no evidence to support that other then my hunch. There would be way too much for this city to lose in the long run if something like that were to happen. It wouldn’t become Detroit or Youngstown, but it would be a crippling blow to the downtown economy.
The first 2 years the team was in existence they had 58 consecutive sellouts. The arena district was the place to be on a week night or a weekend. If you went to Nationwide Arena on any given night and the place was rocking, even though the team teetered around the bottom of the league standings. As with everything new in life, it was a novelty and something to be taken in by the casual fan and the hardcore fan. For a short period of time, a Blue Jackets hockey ticket was nearly as hard to come by as an Ohio State football ticket. There was a genuine sense of pride in what we had in Columbus and the Blue Jackets were going to put us over the top.
It’s now 2014. The novelty has long worn off, the team has been a monumental failure with the product and there is a general sense of apathy that still lingers. Woody Hayes once said “when you see apathy run like the devil from it as it has never done one damn thing for civilization”. To me, apathy is exactly what has devoured the fan base and has driven the casual fan away from the team. I always compare the CBJ to the Nashville Predators because they came in the league around the same time. They also play in a city that is a non-traditional hockey market and have had success. What they have done is had enough success to lure the casual fan to spend money on their team, but also satisfied the hardcore base.
The attendance figures at Nationwide have been abysmal for a team that is starting to hit their stride and made a great run at the end of last year. To be fair, I understand why the casual fan has disappeared and the apathy has taken over. I hate it because I think there is something special beginning to form with this team and the direction they’re headed. There is SOOO much to be excited for right now and in the future. In the lockout shortened season, the Jackets averaged 14,565/night in 24 home games. The 3 biggest crowds was opening night against Detroit, the season finale against Nashville and the Chicago game on January 26. The season opener and finale are always sold out. The Hawks game probably had a large contingent of Chicago fans, but I truthfully don’t remember the game. In 23 games this year, they’ve averaged 13,755/night. There have been 3 games where they’ve drawn more than 18,000 and 2 of those were games against Pittsburgh. There were probably more Pittsburgh fans in attendance each time. It’s going to take time and some healing, but the casual fan will need to be slowly brought back with some deft marketing and a playoff appearance. I honestly believe that is the only way the disturbing trend with the attendance figures will be resolved.
Photo Image Credit: bluejackets.nhl.com