By: Will Burchfield
While the Red Wings rank third in the NHL in attendance, their inaugural season at Little Caesars Arena has been marked by scores of empty red seats.
A street-style concourse full of bars, restaurants and other attractions has drawn the fans away from the action. Jeff Blashill knows how to lure them back.
“One thing you do is win. The more you win, the more fans are apt to treat it as a sporting event rather than a social night,” Blashill told 97.1 The Ticket. “You have to win, and I understand that.”
Where Joe Louis Arena was solely a place to watch a hockey game, the Red Wings’ new home is so much more. For better or worse, that’s the direction of modern sporting venues.
“When you have club seating and club opportunities — you see this in lots of venues throughout the league, especially at the beginning of periods — people go into the clubs, they get their food, they get their drinks and it takes them a little longer to get out and it doesn’t look good,” said Blashill. “The optics aren’t good on TV, but that’s just reality sometimes.”
The Red Wings have sold plenty of tickets. They’ve filled far fewer seats. All the shine of a new arena can’t hide the fact that Detroit is coming off a season in which it missed the playoffs for the first time in 25 years and had a losing record at home.
Through six games at LCA, the Wings have won just twice. They’ll have an opportunity to improve that record in the coming weeks. Saturday night’s shootout loss to the Blue Jackets marked the start of a stretch in which the team plays 13 of its next 15 games at home.
How important is it for the Wings to start establishing a home-ice advantage?
“Critical, critical,” said Blashill, twice for good measure. “There’s no denying it. We let it slip last year and didn’t do a good enough job during this stretch.”
The Red Wings are 8-8-2 through 18 games, 12 of which have come on the road. They’re 6-6 away from LCA.
“We’ve managed to keep our heads above water, which is somewhat your goal on the road,” Blashill said. “I think if you go .500 on the road and about .700 on the road, you’re a playoff team. Well, we need to make sure we care of that .700, so this stretch is critical.”
It continues Wednesday night versus the Flames, who dealt Detroit a 6-3 loss last Thursday.
“We have to have urgency every night we show up here. We have to makes sure that this is a place we win lots of games at,” said Blashill. “I thought the atmosphere in the third and into overtime was unreal (Saturday) night. We have to give the fan lots to cheer for and take care of our business here at home.”
The more they do that, the fewer empty seats they’ll see in the crowd.