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Floundering Flyers on the verge of making the wrong kind of history in terms of attendance

With the team on pace for its worst average attendance in 49 years, Dave Caldwell took in a recent game from the cheap seats and shared his experience.

There have been lots of empty seats at the Wells Fargo Center of late, as the last-place Flyers play out the string of a disappointing season.
There have been lots of empty seats at the Wells Fargo Center of late, as the last-place Flyers play out the string of a disappointing season.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

Just $14.40 buys a last-minute Flyers ticket these days — to be specific, Section 220, Row 15, Seat 21 for Tuesday’s 2-1 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights. There was lots of room to stretch out and to clearly see Flyers goalie Carter Hart make a career-high 47 saves below.

The price at SeatGeek, the official ticket exchange of the Flyers, included the service fee. The total represented a sweet 81% savings over the $74.25 ($66 face value plus $8.25 fee) that it would have cost to buy a similar ticket from the Flyers at full price.

» READ MORE: Marcus Hayes: The Flyers have never been worse than they are in 2021-22

The paid attendance was reported to the NHL (though not announced in house) at 14,482, but the arena with a hockey capacity of 19,306 was only about half full. There is a perfectly valid explanation: The Flyers’ season has been a dud.With the team in last place and riddled by injuries, fans have simply tuned out.

But this year is an exception for a proud franchise that always drew well even during previous downturns. Excluding last season, in which they played to limited crowds because of COVID-19, the Flyers’ average announced home attendance this season, 16,505, is the lowest for the team in 49 years, or since the 1972-73 team averaged 16,063 fans.

The Flyers still appear to be playing hard, and there is actually a bonus to watching a game at a half-filled barn: A fan can hear everything, from the players hollering on the ice (“Right here, Lenny!”) to a small group of fans singing “Happy Birthday” three sections over.

The game sounds as if it is being played at a banquet hall, over the mumbling of pleasant conversations instead of the roar of a rabid crowd. Voices carry the other way, like when a fan jeered veteran defenseman Keith Yandle from Section 220, then added: “I know you hear me!”

The lines at the concession stands (which still carry the same prices) are shorter. A kid in a Gritty wig has a better chance of being shown on the big screen above center ice. The line to pay the $22 parking fee is short, and a fan can escape the sports complex in 10 minutes.

Loyal fans still wear their old Flyers’ sweaters, covering a long era from John LeClair to Eric Lindros to Mike Knuble(!) to Danny Brière to Shayne Gostisbehere, with only a few wearing the sweaters of current Flyers. Captain Claude Giroux, who may be traded soon, is still adored.

But home attendance is down by 10% compared with the 2019-20 regular season, which was trimmed to 69 games because of COVID, and by 17% compared with the 2013-14 season, in which the Flyers had 41 sellouts and averaged 19,839.

The Flyers have sold out just two home games this year: the season opener against Vancouver on Oct. 15 and a loss on Nov. 20 to Boston. They threaten a dubious record. The first Flyers’ team in 1967-68, which had to play its last seven home games in Quebec because the Spectrum’s roof blew off, established a franchise low by selling out only three of 30 home games.

The Flyers had the worst overall record in the NHL in 2006-07 and missed the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, but they still sold out 10 games and averaged 19,283 per home game, seventh in the NHL. This year’s team ranks 16th in the 32-team NHL.

Their spot in these standings is noteworthy because, during a 18-season stretch between 2000-01 and 2018-19, the Flyers were out of the top five just twice, in 2006-07 and again in 2016-17, when they were sixth. The Flyers sold out all 280 games during seven seasons that included two Stanley Cups. The attendance figure, 17,077, became symbolic.

During a news conference in late January, Flyers president Dave Scott acknowledged that the team’s poor performance was affecting home attendance, but he also said that stringent Covid protocols at the arena had made an impact. That may be true, in the Flyers’ case.

But the 76ers encountered the same protocols, and they are second in the NBA in average home attendance, playing to 101.5% of capacity. The Flyers are playing to 84% capacity, 19th in the NHL. Fans just don’t want to spend good money on a bad team.

With a less than 1% chance of making the playoffs, they are playing out the string. Since the Flyers made the Stanley Cup Final 12 years ago, they have won only three playoff series and have missed the playoffs five times, soon to be six. They also have had six different head coaches.

Only one of the eight games in a home stand that closed Tuesday drew more than that old 17,077 benchmark: Saturday’s 4-3 victory over Chicago, which was Marvel Super Hero Day. But at least the season-low attendance — 13,243 for a Feb. 9 loss to Detroit — stayed the same.

A few Flyers’ fans have posted recently on social media that they are happy to see smaller crowds, because management will get the message that it needs to do something to fix the team. A few others promise to cancel season tickets.

The night before the Flyers played Vegas, the Sixers drew 20,381 for a victory over Chicago — but Philadelphia is understandably excited about the Sixers, who are legitimate title contenders. Flyers fans generally are supportive, except during a bumbling Flyers’ power play.

“What are you doing?” a frustrated fan implored the Flyers at one point.

They just don’t whip up a lot of sound, like Flyers fans did during the Cup years. Gritty, the team’s mascot, used a drum to rouse a “Let’s Go Flyers” chant twice during the game, but the sound died out, and play went on. At least no one was wearing paper bags over their heads.

The Flyers have 10 home games left, plenty of time to take advantage of hockey at a deep discount.