Kings, Ducks lose fans when they lose games - not when they cancel them

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Now that the NHL players have ratified the new collective bargaining agreement their union reps worked out with team owners last Sunday, we know the whens and wheres of the league's lockout-shortened 48-game season.

The Stanley Cup champion Kings will open the season next Saturday at Staples Center in a nationally-televised game against the Chicago Blackhawks, followed by a week on the road in Denver, Edmonton and Phoenix.

The Anaheim Ducks also open next Saturday, but on the road in Vancouver against the Canucks followed by a Monday night game in Calgary. The Ducks' home opener is next Friday against Vancouver, with another home game the next night against Nashville.

And it’s a pretty good bet that a fan boycott – bandied about in Boston, muttered about in Montreal, fumed over in Philadelphia – won’t happen at all in either L.A. or Anaheim, and probably in no NHL city.

Not a twitter on Twitter

The NHL Fan Boycott Twitter account (@NHLFanBoycott) that was so active in September and October when the lockout took hold has been silent for almost a week. Same for (@RealFanStrike).

The Angry NHL Fans (@AngryNHLFans) Twitter account has stayed away from boycott talk. It’s been busy instead with updates about the NHL Players Association vote to ratify the new collective bargaining agreement.

It’s also calling for the league to offer an “ultimate Stanley Cup experience” that would include selecting a fan to hand out the Stanley Cup at the final playoff game.

As for hockey in Southern California, fan anger over labor disputes has had little effect on attendance.

Here, you lose fans when you lose games, not when you cancel them.

Kings reign over box office when they win

Remember when the NHL erased an entire season because the owners locked out the players?

That was 2004-05. The year before, the Kings drew an average of 17,889 fans per home game. After missing the next season to the lockout, there was no fan boycott - at least, nothing you’d notice: The 2005-06 Kings lost only 50 fans off their per-game average attendance.

And with the afterglow of a Stanley Cup title keeping them warm during a chilly January, it’s unlikely Kings fans will stay away from Staples Center now that this latest lockout is over.

Last season’s average attendance was 17,920 fans per game. That’s also 100 percent capacity for Staples Center, although the Kings sometimes have found a few nooks and crannies in the downtown arena to squeeze in more people. They’ll only have to find enough space this season for 184 more fans per game to break the team-high of 18,083 set in 2010-11.

Two factors have had the greatest effect on attendance during the Kings’ 44 seasons in the NHL.  

The first was the gigantic trade for superstar Wayne Gretsky in the summer of 1988.

The year before Gretsky laced up skates in Los Angeles, the Kings drew a per-game average of 11,667 fans to the Forum in Inglewood. The year after, it jumped to 14,875 – a 27 percent increase.

The second boost to Kings attendance was the move in 1999 from the Forum to Staples Center.

The team’s per-game average had fallen sharply after Gretsky left 1996. But the move to Downtown LA to a newer, bigger arena meant a huge boost at the turnstiles - 29 percent (12,795 in 1998-99 to 16,518 in 1999-2000).

When the Ducks win, fans show up in Anaheim

For the Anaheim Ducks, winning and losing – not labor issues – have been the key to how many fans show up at the Honda Center.

In their second season (1994-95), the Ducks drew 17,174 fans per game. That was good for 9th best in the NHL (and 11 percent better than the Kings that year), even though a lockout had cut the schedule from 82 games down to 48.

But soon after, a stretch of three straight seasons without a playoff appearance pushed the Ducks’ average attendance a team-low 12,002 in 2001-02 – a 30 percent drop from the team high of seven years earlier.

The Ducks’ exciting 2002-03 playoff run that ended with a seven-game Stanley Cup Finals loss to New Jersey started a climb in attendance that pushed right through the canceled 2004-05 season. The year after the Ducks’ Stanley Cup victory over Ottawa in 2006-07, per game attendance in Anaheim had reached a new team high of 17,193 – 102.6 percent capacity at the Honda Center.

But attendance in Anaheim has been dwindling ever since.

Last season’s per game average of 14,760 is down 11 percent from that 2007-08 team high. You can blame a recession and two playoff wins in three seasons.

But don’t blame fans angry that the hockey players and hockey team owners can’t get along.

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