Most sports fans will admit to some degree of fascination with attendance at games. Who doesn't like being at a sold-out event? There's a certain amount of status at having a ticket to a game in which not everyone who wants to attend can attend. There's also a matter of "See? Everyone else wants to be here too, so I must be pretty cool to be in the group" line of thinking.
Which brings us to "minor sports" in general, and the National Lacrosse League in particular for these purposes.
The NLL is trying to build a fan base, and its teams obviously have a stake in its sale of tickets. (You can say this about any struggling team or sport, of course.) But the number of dollars passing through the windows isn't the only important part of the equation. The teams want to create a situation where its tickets are perceived to have value. It's not as if anyone else has access to the actual attendance numbers, so teams can issue any numbers they like. As a Sabre executive I used to know once said, "You can never have a sellout when you print your own tickets." (This is where we get into the tickets distributed/people in the seats discussion, since the two hardly match).
Friday night in Toronto, the Rock and the Buffalo Bandits played in a building (Air Canada Centre) that seats at least 18,000. Maybe -- maybe -- some of the middle sections in the lower part of the arena were more than half full. Otherwise, the fans were rather scattered. Upstairs, there were acres of empty seats in the corners. It's tough in a relatively new building to me to guess the attendance, but I'd say 7,000 to 8,000 people might have been in the ACC.
Friday's announced attendance: 12,844.
Even assuming there were some no-shows in that count, that's a large gap between the given figure and reality. Journalistically, it causes some problems. We're supposedly to report the attendance as a measuring stick of popularity, but we're also trying to give the facts as well. And the facts really aren't available.
Telling the difference between announced and actual can be quite easy at an April minor-league baseball game, when there are obviously 500 or so people in the ballpark and the announced crowd is more than 6,000. Season-ticket holders make up the difference. It's tougher in other sports.
So should reporters give the announced figure and/or their best estimate? More to the point, does anyone really care besides the team what number is used in the media?
Journalism -- a tricky business some times.