The Pittsburgh Penguins’ sellout streak of 633 consecutive games came to an end Tuesday night with the team’s home contest against the Dallas Stars.
Attendance for the game was listed as 16,440. Full capacity for hockey at PPG Paints Arena is 18,187.
The streak began and ended with the Chicago Blackhawks.
On Feb. 14, 2007 — Valentine’s Day — the Penguins defeated the Blackhawks, 5-4, in a shootout at Mellon Arena thanks in part to the talents of a 19-year-old Sidney Crosby and 20-year-old rookie Evgeni Malkin.
The last game of the streak was a 5-2 win against the Blackhawks on Saturday in the current venue, PPG Paints Arena. Crosby, 34, and Malkin, 35, took the game in as spectators while recovering from offseason surgeries.
The streak comes to an end in the face of a lingering pandemic. With covid-19 still a harsh reality, selling tickets to just about any entertainment venue is a challenge.
“It’s kind of the elephant in the room,” Penguins CEO and president David Morehouse said during an interview with local reporters during the first intermission of Tuesday’s game.
“I could do research and come up with a couple of different cross tabs, but the pandemic is what happened to all of us. Baseball, attendance is down 30%. We still haven’t come out of it. It’s pretty easy to say it’s pandemic-related. It’s a shame, but it’s two years of our lives, two seasons. It’s going to take a little while for people to recover from it physically, emotionally, mentally, economically.
“There’s a lot of different levels that it’s going to take before people come back 100% from a two-year pandemic.”
Unlike several teams in the NHL, the Penguins do not have requirements for vaccination or masks for entry into PPG Paints Arena. Masks are “recommended.”
“We told people up front, if they’re not vaccinated, wear a mask,” Morehouse said. “And if you don’t feel safe, wear a mask. We’ve given the fans the option. It’s worked for concerts. It’s worked for most other teams. So, no, I don’t think it’s a reluctance. It’s a behavior change. For two years, people haven’t been getting out of their house and going to places like this. Now, all of a sudden, they’re open.
“The good news is a lot of people — because we were sold out for 14 years — they didn’t know that we still had tickets on game day, that we held tickets back. Now, people know that we have tickets to sell.
“We have mini-plans. We have different games that will be open, and you can actually attend. A lot of fans for over a decade now thought they couldn’t come into a game.” Now, you can.”
The Penguins, like all NHL teams, weathered a difficult 2020-21 season in which most games were at no or limited capacity. Despite such an obvious loss in terms of ticket sales — a form of revenue that is far more important to NHL teams than other professional sports franchises — Morehouse suggested the team’s operating budget — on the ice, at least — will not be affected negatively.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve never had a discussion about not spending to the cap,” Morehouse. “And we still haven’t.”
Like any business dealing with covid-19, the Morehouse isn’t sure what’s next. But he expressed resolute optimism as to Pittsburgh’s devotion to the sport.
“If you would have told me 14 years ago, you would do 14 years of sellouts, I would have said, no, I think you’re crazy,” Morehouse said. “But I think our fanbase proved that Pittsburgh is a hockey town. They came out and they continue to come out. If not for a pandemic, we would not even be talking (about the streak ending). It just shows the strength of the region, the strength of the support of the sports teams. And in particular, Pittsburgh has become a hockey town.”
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .