By the Numbers: COVID-19 and NHL Attendance
If you’re into the business side of hockey or you’re just an inquisitive hockey fan, you might have wondered: How much have teams’ COVID policies impacted game attendance? It’s definitely something we were wondering here at Pregame Skate.
While the season is still young — and thus the data is too — we nonetheless decided to look into this question. First, we gathered average home game attendance as a percentage of capacity for the most recent “normal” season (2018-19) and did the same for this season. Next, we attached values from 1-7 to each team based on the team’s COVID-19-related attendance requirements. For your reference, the categories were defined as follows:
1. No mandatory COVID requirements (i.e. disregarding “recommendations”)
2. All are required to wear a mask
3. Proof of vaccination or required to wear a mask
4. Proof of vaccination or negative COVID test and required to wear a mask
5. Proof of vaccination or negative COVID test and all are required to wear a mask (regardless of vaccination status)
6. Proof of vaccination
7. Proof of vaccination and required to wear a mask
Then, we calculated by what percentage the attendance changed from before (2018-19) to now and checked to see if there was a correlation between that change and the COVID-19-related attendance requirements. As a sort of control — to see if it was merely performance-based — we also compared the change in points percentage between the two seasons to the attendance change.
Although you probably already guessed it, yes, there was a correlation between average attendance change and COVID policies. At a correlation of -0.30, it’s significant enough to say that maybe COVID policies have had an impact on attendance up to this point in the season. And regarding the control, at a correlation of 0.00, performance change had no correlation with attendance change.
The Bigger Picture
To start, we should shout out SportsTravel magazine for offering an easy-to-reference list on team COVID policies. While it is now dated, it offered a great starting point to research and verify each team’s policies.
Otherwise, it’s important to caution that the data set is pretty small. Also, some COVID policies have changed between the start of the season and the current date; in other words, the data is not perfectly consistent across all teams. Nonetheless, the results are strong enough to indicate that something relevant happened.
Does this mean that hockey fans are more likely to attend games if a team has less stringent COVID policies? Maybe not. For example, maybe COVID policies are a proxy for the economic impact of COVID-related politics; in other words, maybe fans in regions with more stringent COVID policies have faced a greater negative impact on their financial situation and thus cannot afford to attend games, regardless of the team’s policies. With so many variables involved, it’s hard to say what the exact causes are.
So, do COVID-19 policies mean less attendance? It looks like it’s quite possibly a contributor.
Editor’s Note: This study was produced by Pregame Skate contributor Thomas Pepin.