ALLEN, TX – With the ECHL Christmas break coming to an end and the Allen Americans returning to town for a 6:30 pm practice tonight I thought it would be a good day to take a look at attendance around the league. Not an exciting topic but certainly an interesting one if you are looking at the health of your favorite team and the entire ECHL. What you find when you look at average attendance over time is the ECHL is on pace to have the lowest average attendance in the last ten years and has been trending downward since 2013-14.

The information below is taken from the ECHL website and includes average league-wide attendance for the last ten years and a comparison of attendance from last year to this year for each ECHL team.

The figures for this season are obviously based on just the first part of the season as 374 of 972 (38.5%) games have been played this far. Attendance traditionally picks up after Christmas when football is over, weather changes, etc. so the average for this season will definitely improve. The question is, will it exceed last year’s average attendance and reverse the downward trend?

Here is the average ECHL attendance over the last ten years:

3930 – 2016-17 (after 374 of 972 games)
4385 – 2015-16
4598 – 2014-15
4706 – 2013-14
4695 – 2012-13
4282 – 2011-12
4339 – 2010-11
4485 – 2009-10
4258 – 2008-09
4174 – 2007-08

If you look at the figures above some of the variation can be explained by teams coming and going from the league. However, the trend over the last three years is certainly downward and as it currently stands, the average ECHL attendance is 776 less per game than just three years ago. When you figure most ECHL teams get an estimated 70% – 80% of their revenue from ticket sales that is significant.

The next step was to look at the individual teams to compare average attendance from last season to this season to see who has lost attendance and who has gained attendance. The list below goes from the teams that have gained the most in attendance from 2015-16 to 2016-17 to those that have lost the most. This compares the number of games the team has played this season to the same number of games last season.

The number in parenthesis is the average attendance for this season:

+640   Wichita (4768)
+388  Brampton (3144)
+319  Adirondack (2664)
+309   Kalamazoo (2211)
+302   South Carolina (3150)
+117   Greenville (3352)
+107   Florida (4896)
+49    Fort Wayne (7327)
+43    Reading (3766)
+26   Utah (4643)
+24   Toledo (7047)
+22    Alaska (3649)
+13    Idaho (3960)
-62    Colorado (4787)
-79    Tulsa (5298)
-178   Wheeling (2454)
-278   Missouri (4650)
-396   Rapid City (3391)
-423   Atlanta (4394)
-566  Elmira (2332)
-605    Quad City (3454)
-641  Allen (4047)
-646   Indy (3084)
-827    Cincinnati (3688)
-919   Norfolk (2366)
-1190   Orlando (4865)
-1258  Manchester (2964)

CONCLUSIONS

– There are 13 teams with increased attendance over last season and 14 with decreases but the decreases are much larger than the increases. If you add it all together the ECHL average attendance (3930) is down 221 per game league wide. This is a 5.5% decline in attendance when you compare the 374 games played thus far this season to the first 374 games last season. Almost all teams will increase their average attendance as the season progresses, however, the question is by how much?

– Results don’t always tie to attendance increases but it is worthy to note the three teams with the biggest increases (Wichita, Brampton & Adirondack) all have higher winning percentages than last season.

– At the other end of the spectrum is Orlando who is tied for the South Divison lead but their average attendance is down 1190 per game. The Solar Bears missed the playoffs last season and changed coaches in November. For a team who has averaged 6055. 6056, 5660 and 6816 over the last four years, the 4865 average attendance thus far this season has to be a source of concern. Even with the big decline to 4,865, the Solar Bears are still ranked #5 in the ECHL in average attendance.

– Another red flag when looking at the attendance chart above relates to Manchester (-1258) and Norfolk (-919). Both of these teams (along with Adirondack) are former AHL cities who joined the ECHL last season after losing their AHL franchises. To have such big decreases in attendance in the second year of operation has to be concerning. Adirondack is averaging 2664 per game and Norfolk is averaging 2366. While a few franchises have survived averaging less than 3000 (Wheeling, Elmira, Kalamazoo) they are the exception, not the rule.

– It always appears the future of the Kalamazoo franchise is in question even though their attendance is up (+309 per game) if compared to this time last year. They were the worst drawing team in the ECHL last season averaging 2298 per game. Their average thus far this year is even lower at 2211. I know the owner of the team also owns the facility so that would drastically change the financial dynamics. The team hasn’t averaged over 3000 per game since 2013-14.

– It will be almost impossible for the seven teams that are averaging more than 600 fewer fans per game to make up the ground to pass last year’s attendance.

– If you look at the percentage of increase or decrease you get a little different picture than just looking at raw numbers.

Here are the five teams with the biggest average attendance increases and decreases compared to last season (same number of games). I have included each team’s winning percentage which shows there is more to sales and marketing success than on ice results. Kalamazoo has the biggest percentage gain in attendance and is ranked #22 in winning percentage. Manchester has the biggest percentage decrease in attendance but is ranked #3 in winning percentage.

+16.3% – Kalamazoo – .431
+15.5% – Wichita – .500
+14.1% – Brampton – .661
+13.6% – Adirondack – .648
+10.6% – South Carolina – .538
-18.3% – Cincinnati – .500
-19.5% – Elmira – .327
-19.6% – Orlando  – .638
-28.0% – Norfolk – .286
-30.0% – Manchester – .690

OTHER COMMENTS

– The Allen Americans players will be returning today from wherever they spent the Christmas break. While some stayed in town many headed elsewhere to be with friends and family. Whether by trains, planes or automobiles the plan is for everyone to meet up for a 6:30 pm practice tonight at Valley Ranch. Assistant coach Lucas Reid will conduct the practice as coach Steve Martinson will meet the team in Wichita tomorrow. He was in Minnesota over the break with his family visiting relatives. The team will leave tomorrow morning on Big Red for the 365 mile trip to Wichita. Allen will play the Thunder tomorrow (Wednesday) night and again Friday night. Not sure why there is a day off between games as according to my Team Sin Bin sources there is no scheduling conflict with Intrust Bank Arena.

– Allen doesn’t return to action until tomorrow night but there are six ECHL games on tap tonight including Florida at Orlando in a battle for first place in the South Division. Closer to home Missouri is in Tulsa to take on the Oilers.

– The return of professional hockey to Portland, Maine has been rumored ever since they lost their AHL team last season. There was hope an ECHL franchise would be operating for the 2017-18 season but that fell through. Now according to reports there may be a new group interested in an ECHL franchise that would start play in 2018-19. Here is a link to the story: http://www.wcsh6.com/sports/pro-hockey-returning-to-portland-in-2018-19/377636930

DID YOU KNOW: Last season Allen had the best average attendance in franchise history (4571). Comparing attendance after 14 home games last season to 14 games this season the Allen Americans average attendance is 641 less per game. In order to equal last year’s attendance, Allen will have to average 4907 per game for the 22 remaining home games. That will be a tall task. Here is Allen’s average attendance by season. For a four-time champion with back to back Kelly Cups the attendance figures thus far this season are disappointing.

2016-17:  4047 (after 14 home games)
2015-16:  4571
2014-15:  4096
2013-14:  4216
2012-13:  4157
2011-12:  4336
2010-11:  3986
2009-10:  3810

1 COMMENT

  1. I think that it would be interesting to compare the winning percentages at this point in the season for those ten teams to see if there’s a marked change in their winning percentage rather than just looking at current winning percentage. Cincinnati, for instance, is usually closer to .600, but is sitting at just .500 at the time of your analysis. Cincinnati also tends to skew numbers quite a bit with the final home game drawing nearly 2.5-3 times as much as the season average to that point.

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