The St. Louis Blues dug deep once again when they signed Alexander Steen to a new three-year, $17.4 million extension. After years of being closer to the salary floor than the salary cap, the Blues currently own one of the largest payrolls in the NHL and are primed to repeat this feat again in 2014-15.
Steen's new deal came at a surprising time. Aside from the fact he stated he wasn't interested in negotiating during the season, the team went and paid big money to ensure their forward wouldn't test the open market at a time where attendance is struggling.
As of December 20th, the Blues have played 19 games at home. They're averaging 16,517 fans per home game, a number which represents 86.3% capacity. The team's average attendance of 16,517 ranks 19th in the NHL while their capacity ranks 23rd. The Blues haven't posted a sellout despite the fact they've been one of the best teams in the league all season long.
The attendance situation is an area of big concern for the Blues. In an outstanding interview with St. Louis Magazine, Tom Stillman outlined the situation and mentioned how the current TV deal (expires in 2020) and concession deal (expires in 2028) aren't major sources of revenue for the team. That means that ticket sales are critical and the team needs to attract corporate partners.
Stillman has two goals for the Blues:
1. Win the Stanley Cup.
2. Make the Blues sustainable in St. Louis for years and years to come.
Stillman believes that if the team is able to achieve the first goal of winning a Cup, the second goal of sustainability will come soon after. He's probably right, but he's taking a big and expensive gamble.
Blues fans need to recognize the commitment Stillman and his group have made to this team. Based on pure attendance, the season has been a pretty big disappointment financially. Despite an extremely successful 2013-14 to date, fans have stayed away for one reason or another and have balked at slightly higher ticket prices which are still one of the best values in the NHL.
Attendance could and should rebound as the season progresses. It's already starting to show signs of improvement, but the Blues need to start posting some full capacity crowds in order to make up for some of the dismal showings earlier in the year.
It's time for fans and casual observers to support this team. Stillman and his group have paid big money to keep the St. Louis core in place. At this time, tickets are not expensive. You can find some extremely affordable seats on StubHub for nearly every game which doesn't involve the Chicago Blackhawks. If fans want the Blues to stay competitive and (more importantly) remain a St. Louis fixture, they need to start supporting their team.