Why Canucks-Leafs wasn't a sellout for the first time in 19 years

Dec 11 2019, 12:10 pm

It was an unusual meeting between the Vancouver Canucks and the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night, and not just because the game started at 7 pm.

The game featured a near-record 50/50 jackpot that hit $1.39 million. It also included a wild third period, with the Canucks hitting two posts and failing to score on three breakaways.

But that’s not what I’m talking about.

For the first time in a long time, the Leafs’ annual stop in Vancouver wasn’t met with a sellout crowd, though it was close. The official attendance for the game was 18,290 — which is only 665 people shy of the Canucks’ attendance at Rogers Arena on opening night.

You have to go all the way back to the shadows of the Messier era (October 16, 2000) to find the last time Vancouver didn’t sell out a Canucks-Leafs game.

Given the excitement surrounding the Canucks this season, this was surprising to many.

So what gives?

This shouldn’t be seen as an indication that fan support is on the decline in Vancouver, because it’s not. The Canucks currently rank sixth in the NHL in average attendance, pulling in 18,575 fans (98.2% capacity) per game.

nhl attendance

The Canucks currently rank 6th in average attendance (ESPN)

But unlike most Leafs visits in the past two decades, this one wasn’t scheduled on a Saturday, which hurts demand.

One season ticket holder Daily Hive spoke to said demand was down for last year’s game (played on a Wednesday) as well. This fan usually sells his Leafs game ticket and makes a killing. But without a profit to be made on the secondary market, he has attended Toronto’s last two visits.

Another contributing factor has to do with the way the Canucks price their tickets, because not every game costs the same.

Games are categorized in four tiers: regular, regular-plus, premium, and marquee. This year’s Leafs game is the first of four marquee games, which are priced the highest.

The other marquee games on the schedule are:

  • Saturday, December 21 vs Pittsburgh
  • Wednesday, February 12 vs Chicago (Sedin jersey retirement night)
  • Saturday, February 22 vs Boston

Conversely, Thursday’s game against Carolina is priced in the lowest tier — one of 16 “regular” games on the schedule this season.

You can understand why tiered pricing makes sense for the Canucks. Instead of pricing all games the same and leaving the ticket resellers to make all the profit, they collect the money themselves, which is fair. You can bet that if the Leafs game was priced in the lowest tier, the game would have been sold out and ticket resellers would have made a killing.

Perhaps the Canucks will have to rethink the value of the Leafs game on the calendar going forward if it’s not going to be played on a Saturday.

Also at play is the schedule. The Canucks have 10 home games in December, featuring numerous high-profile teams competing for fans’ wallets — including Montreal (December 17) and Pittsburgh (December 21).

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Too many #Leafs fans here tonight

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While Leafs fans came out in full force, the price may have been too high for some Canucks fans. Because while Toronto has a talented team and only visits once a year, surely fans in Vancouver get force-fed enough Leafs highlights on a daily basis to last them until next year.