It's only a handful of games into the new campaign, but a somewhat strange trend is emerging in Toronto as fans flock their way back to Scotiabank Arena to watch their hockey team in slightly smaller droves than before.
Through three contests this season — the first games in Toronto with fans allowed in the building since March 2020 — the Maple Leafs welcomed a less-than-packed barn in each of them. Not even the highly-anticipated home opener against the Montreal Canadiens following last year's playoff gag-job was filled to the brim.
With crowd capacities of 98.3 percent, 96.8% and 96.2% for its last three home games against the Canadiens, Senators and Rangers, respectively, Toronto has seen a slight decline in attendance game-over-game, even after the province of Ontario controversially gave the green light for Scotiabank Arena and other sporting and concert venues to operate at 100 percent capacity while restaurants, bars, gyms and other indoor services currently remain at 50 percent.
The Maple Leafs finished the shortened 2019-20 season with an average capacity of 102.6 percent.
As many American-based squads welcome back bigger-than usual crowds so far, less-than-capacity arenas have been the norm through the early part of the season for some other Canadian franchises.
The Oilers have seen a slight drop in attendance numbers, and the struggling Canadiens had a plethora of seats available for Tuesday's home game versus the Sharks. But the situation is looking particular dire, at least early on, with the upstart Ottawa Senators, as the team has put up mid-2010s Florida Panthers numbers so far — just barely cracking the 8,000-mark for their game versus the Dallas Stars on Sunday.
A Sunday-nighter against an outer-conference team from Texas obviously isn't the biggest draw, but this is still quite concerning if your name is Eugene Melnyk's Wallet.
Only 8,067 fans in Ottawa last night. https://t.co/HyI6UAVvrz
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) October 18, 2021
There's a plethora of factors at play here, of course. Though numbers have been steadily declining, the COVID-19 pandemic is still going strong in many parts of Ontario and it's not a stretch or speculation to presume there's still a large chunk of the population weary about venturing out to fill up an arena after barely being able to leave their houses for 18 months.
The notoriously egregious ticket prices and in-arena gauging for which Toronto is internationally renowned is potentially playing a factor here as well — hopefully, anyways — as median household incomes declined during the course of the pandemic and have yet to fully re-stabilize. Alas, there are only so many millionaires to fill those seats, and it's likely a lot of them are even more hesitant than ever to drop a bag on a pair of Leafs tickets.
As Leafs Nation's Michael Mazzei pointed out, the absolute cheapest seat available, which was located in the very back row of Scotiabank Arena's 300 section, was listed on Ticketmaster at $132 CDN, which is just straight up robbery, honestly.
The third and probably least likely reason for the Leafs' slight dip in attendance has been the squad's recent (perpetual?) lack of success in the postseason, as dudes like Greg here are happy to point out for us noobs.
I had no idea the Leafs were having an attendance issue but this guy graciously gave me an explanation as to why it's happening pic.twitter.com/nWU4IidqRQ
No one's crying for MLSE or Eugene Melnyk or anyone else here, but the trend is worth monitoring as the season rolls on — if for no other reason than The Discourse.
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