Anaheim – The trip to the Honda Center last season was virtually effortless, with highways wide open at all times, undoubtedly the only positive development for the coronavirus pandemic shutdown in Southern California. Once the ducks arrived in their yard, the experience was even more lonely.
Inside the building at the corner of Katilla and Douglas, ducks were toiling in front of an ocean of empty seats, with fans banned all but a few games late in the season, and with those numbers limited to just 1,174 of a total capacity of 17,174. Advertising covers covered the seats closest to the ice.
Noise music rang out from the sound system as usual, and announcements of public speech by Phil Howlett spread over the empty seats. But there were no fans in attendance, which created an unhappy experience for a team that struggled in scoring goals and winning matches.
The fake crowd noise filled the moments of calm, but it was more of a distraction than a help.
There was no energy. As a result, the ducks finished the season 17-30-9, including 6-18-4 at home.
This season, with small but boisterous crowds returning to the building, the ducks are 13-8-3, including a 9-4-1 at home in Friday’s game against the Calgary Flames. There is a lot of energy.
“In the past year, many veteran players have talked about the struggles they face in games without fans,” Dallas coach Dallas Aikins said that day. “I put our entire record on our fans. Our fans are incredible. Loud. I think they’ve had a really positive impact on our team.
“With that positive impact comes a good home record.”
Attendance (part 2)
Although all is well on the Honda Center ice, not all is so good at the box office. The average attendance at the ducks’ first 14 home runs was just 12,803, or 74.6% of capacity, which ranks 28th in the 32-team NHL. The largest crowd was of 16,260 ducks, nearly 1,000 shy of sell-outs, on opening night.
Attendance in Tuesday’s 6-5 Ducks win over the Vegas Golden Knights was only 11,902. Proof of complete vaccination or negative testing is required for all fans entering the Honda Center this season, which is said to be the biggest reason some fans are reluctant to return to the arena.
Ducks aren’t the only ones struggling to attract fans during the pandemic.
Only six teams in the NHL are averaging 100% capacity to start the season, including the expanding Seattle Kraken, who are selling for obvious reasons related to the return of hockey to the city, and the New York Islands, who are playing in a new arena in Elmont, New York.
The drop in attendance is particularly steep among California teams, despite records to win the Ducks, Kings (9-8-4) and San Jose Sharks (12-9-1) in Thursday’s games. Kings are at number 27 with an average of 14.064 (77.1% of capacity) and sharks are at number 29 (12,498, 71.2% of capacity).
By contrast, in 2018-19, last season without any impact of any kind from COVID-19, the Ducks ranked 18th in the league in terms of attendance (averaging 16,814 or 97.9% of capacity), and the Kings were ranked 12 (18000, 98.7%) and sharks ranked 14 (17266, 98.3%).
Calgary in the duck
when: 7 pm on Friday
where: Honda Center
TV: Bali Sports West