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Becher Not Concerned About Record-Low Attendance at Sharks Games: “The dominant reason is COVID.”



Credit: AP Photo/Josie Lepe

Jonathan Becher isn’t concerned about diminishing attendance at SAP Center this season.

Since the last time that the San Jose Sharks made the playoffs in 2018-19, the Sharks have suffered an almost 30 percent drop in tickets distributed at home, per ESPN:

SharksAvg. AttendanceCapacity %

This is the lowest average capacity since the 2003-04 Sharks netted 90% at home.

Of course, the world has changed a lot since 2019. So why aren’t as many Sharks fans coming to SAP Center anymore?

“The dominant reason is COVID. Some people are not comfortable coming back to mega-events. Frankly, some people are comfortable, but they don’t want to deal with vax, boosters, masks, etc,” the Sharks president said, citing internal research, in a far-reaching media availability yesterday. “Here in Silicon Valley, remote work is a huge deal. And there are a lot of companies that won’t let their employees come to big events, they can’t host customers, etc., which is a big part of our fan base historically.

“People have moved away, at least temporarily, from the Bay Area.

“But by far the biggest issue affecting attendance is the mandates. NHL, county, city. Feels like we have more mandates than any other venue in the United States.

“Of course team performance is going to be a little bit of a factor as well, but it’s always way down on the survey after COVID.”

Becher is confident that most of the fans will come back once there’s less concern about COVID.

“It’s hard for me to say we’re in a post-Omicron world, although it’s starting to feel that way,” Becher said. “And Saturday’s game, when I looked earlier this morning was nearing 15,000 people in attendance. My sense is we will break 15,000 for the first time since the first couple of games in the year. So that’s evidence that people will come back as restrictions ease and as they feel safer.”

Becher is referring to this Saturday’s tilt against the Boston Bruins. The Bruins do usually draw well and there’s also a shirsey giveaway that night.

Something else to monitor, per Becher: “What I don’t know is what the no-show rate will be. We varied between 10% no-shows on the low end to 20 to 25%, which was quite normal during the height of Omicron. One game, I think it was two weeks ago, we had 35% no-show.”

Up the 101, however, the Golden State Warriors are selling out Chase Center. But according to Becher, it’s not just the Warriors’ 42-17 record, as opposed to the Sharks’ exactly .500 mark, that’s drawing them in.

“Even before the recent lifting of restrictions, we had more severe restrictions than they did,” Becher offered. “It’s complicated. We tried to make it simpler, but we had Santa Clara County mandates and City of San Jose mandates. And those are different.

“And because of the way this works, we have to take the most restricted from each of them. So for example, we didn’t have a testing option [that would allowed unvaccinated fans in if they provide a negative COVID test]. Until recently, they’ve had a testing option all along, which gets another group of people in.”

Chase Center is located in San Francisco County.

For what it’s worth, even though both are indoor, comparing the interest in basketball and hockey in the Bay Area is probably not fair to begin with. Basketball is a mainstream sport here — hockey is not.

So what about just hockey?

“I look at all the NHL reports, all three California teams are seeing a year-over-year decrease somewhere between 20 and 25%,” the San Jose Sharks president noted. “They’re actually quite a few teams outside of California that’s seeing a 10% decrease. And there’s one team that’s seeing a 40% decrease.”

And indeed, the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks have seen a steep decline in attendance this season, though not as sharp as San Jose’s.

KingsAvg. AttendanceCapacity %
DucksAvg. AttendanceCapacity %

Both the Kings and the Ducks are fairly well ahead of the Sharks in the standings.

Anyway, Becher’s premise is about to be put to the test: Santa Clara County is about to drop its indoor mask mandate on Mar. 2. They’re the only Bay Area county that still has an indoor mask rule at the moment.

Also, San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo announced a proposal today to drop the COVID vaccine booster mandate for entry into city-owned facilites, such as SAP Center.

Will that mean an attendance spike at SAP Center? There will be a lot of eyes watching, including San Jose Sharks owner Hasso Plattner’s.

“He’d like more fans in the building as well. But he definitely understands this is primarily COVID-related. Hasso is really good at differentiating between one-time effects and systemic ones — when it’s one time and they’re mostly out of our control — and he’s quite understanding,” Becher shared. “If it’s self-inflicted, then he’s less understanding.”

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