The Blues are never going to get a Winter Classic. Sure, they could be in one, as the foe to the Blackhawks or something like that. We'll all enjoy watching 24/7 with its cast of colorful characters - the Hawks'd be a lot more entertaining than the Wings've been - and we'll all pat ourselves on the back for being in one and being "noticed" by the NHL, whatever the hell that means.
But St. Louis is not hosting one for the foreseeable future.
The home attendance this season has been atrocious after a pretty hopeful 2013. Bouncing back from the lockout, the Blues averaged 17,901 a game, or a little over 93%. So far this season? In four fewer home games played than the truncated previous season, the Blues've averaged 16,695, or 87.2%. This six percentage point difference is a pretty big deal. Not only are they not buying tickets, they're not in the arena to buy other things, like merchandise and concessions. They're also not in the arena looking at the sponsors' ads.
Obviously the Blues' issues with getting local sponsorship aren't going to be fixed if fewer people walk through the turnstiles.
The Blues' highest drawing game was Saturday night's 6-5 victory against the Blackhawks. The "Keep the Red Out" policies failed terribly, which is probably for the better as far as the bottom line is concerned. Not only did Hawks fans give the Blues (as well as surrounding businesses and hotels) their money, they were also treated to a Blues win. The only thing missing was them getting ticked off at Barret Jackman about something.
There's a problem when you become that team that starts relying on games against marquee opponents to draw in fans. Sure, everyone likes the boost from the Penguins or Red Wings visiting. It's money in the coffers. But you shouldn't be circling those dates on your calendar when you have the fourth best record in the NHL. The Blues, for all of their hard work, are 19th in attendance.
It's not because the owners don't care that fans are staying away. There can't be more proof than they do care than going all out on signing the team's best players and making smart free agent acquisitions. They want to do right by the franchise, which in turn does right by the fans. I mentioned after the Blues' first round exit against the Los Angeles Kings that there needs to be a culture shift. The Cardinals, as much as some Blues have contempt for the local baseball team, is an excellent model to follow, and the Blues' owners seem to be picking up the slack with that.
Joe Strauss speculated a few weeks ago that the fans are staying away because they don't have high expectations beyond the regular season. Sure, part of the attendance problems came from the overlap with the Cardinals' postseason, and part came from some unpleasant weather. And, as Bruce Affleck points out in his interview with Strauss, second-half income usually goes up. More than likely this is due to the fact that the Blues are the only show in town from January to April (spring training notwithstanding). Part of this is also building anticipation that a team so good will carry on past the first few rounds of the playoffs. When they don't, the fanbase is deflated, and the cycle starts again.
It puts everyone involved in an unfair situation. The ownership group looks to the team as their source of income - the TV, concession, and parking deals bring in next to nothing thanks to Dave Checketts' business acumen. The fans want success but also want it before they shell out the money to go to games. Saying a team is 85% of the way there isn't good enough. While it's a shame that fans won't buy tickets based on a team's promise and how much the owners care, they just won't buy on that.
There's no reason why the Blues shouldn't be playing to capacity based on how they've played this season. Hiccups have been left in the rear-view mirror. They can put on a hell of a show. But until they show the fans that they have made the jump to at least the Conference Finals, the attendance problems will continue. No amount of ads highlighting a Brett Hull quote will guilt trip fans into getting their butts into Scottrade's seats. Tom Stillman can give as many painfully honest interviews as he wants, but truth be told, the average Blues fan isn't going to see them. In today's economic climate, no one wants to cut sports teams any slack.
It's hard. Owners can fret, fans can stay away, and folks who look at NHL ticket prices can marvel at the affordability of the Blues relative to the show happening on the ice. The Central Division banner from a few seasons ago was nice, but there is a good chance that attendance won't return to real, actual sellouts until the team gets at least a Western Conference champions banner to match.
EDIT: Here's the ad that I was referencing a few paragraphs above this one. Tell me what you think in the comments.