ORLANDO, FL – As the start of hockey draws ever closer, the Orlando Solar Bears have finalized their schedule for the upcoming 2017-18 season. Such an announcement is usually minor news for most ECHL teams, but it is always a nail biting time for the Solar Bears. During the summer, the Solar Bears’ schedule is subject to significant change. 

The team’s home arena, the prestigious Amway Center, also hosts the Orlando Magic, headline concerts, and other events which have priority over the Solar Bears.  When comparing the original schedule to the new, revised schedule, it is noticeable that many of their games (especially Friday and Saturday games) were moved to different days of the week.

One thing that the Solar Bears knew would not change is that their season will start out differently than past years, as the team’s opener will be played on the road in Jacksonville. After Jacksonville, the Solar Bears travel to Allen to take on the Americans in a couple of games before finally heading back to Orlando for their home opener against their arch rivals the Everblades.

Here are the adjustments which the Solar Bears announced last week:

Sunday, Oct. 29 vs. Atlanta – 1:30 p.m.

Wednesday, Nov. 1 vs. Florida – 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Nov. 7 vs. Greenville – 7 p.m.
Thursday, Nov. 9 vs. Greenville – Time TBA
Wednesday, Dec. 20 vs. Norfolk – 7 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 30 at Florida – 7 p.m.
Wednesday, Feb. 7 vs. Florida – 7 p.m.
Monday, Feb. 12 vs. Wheeling – 7 p.m.
Wednesday, Feb. 21 vs. Florida – 7 p.m.
Thursday, March 1 vs. Reading – 7 p.m.
Wednesday, March 21 vs. South Carolina – 7 p.m.

One item to note off the bat is that only one game involves a shift to a Saturday—and that is the away game at Florida on Dec. 30. Not surprisingly, there is not a single home game change for the Solar Bears that involves a move to the prime Friday or Saturday slots.

What follows is a chart comparison of the schedule adjustments.

Originally Announced Schedule:
Games by Day of Week

Monday 0
Tuesday 3 (1 home, 2 away)
Wednesday 5 (1 home, 4 away)
Thursday 6 (4 home, 2 away)
Friday 18 (8 home, 10 away)
Saturday 24 (13 home, 11 away)
Sunday 16 (9 home, 7 away)

 

Revised Schedule:
Games by Day of Week

Monday 1 (home)
Tuesday 4 (2 home, 2 Away)
Wednesday 9 (6 home, 3 away)
Thursday 8 (6 home, 2 away)
Friday 14 (4 home, 10 away)
Saturday 20 (8 home, 12 away)
Sunday 16 (9 home, 7 away)

 

A total of 11 changes occurred, and 10 of these 11 involved home games. As shown by the chart comparison, five of their prime Saturday home games have been moved to different days of the week. In addition, the team has also lost four Friday games as well, dropping from eight to four. The end result is that when the Solar Bears lace up the skates on a Friday or Saturday night, it is almost twice as likely they will be playing away than at the Amway Center.

Of course, contending with the scheduling constraints of the Amway Center is hardly new for the Solar Bears, and for perspective, one might look at last year’s game breakdown.

2016-17 season schedule
Games by day of week

Monday 2 (both home)
Tuesday 8 (3 home, 5 away)
Wednesday 6 (2 home, 4 away)
Thursday 12 (9 home, 3 away)
Friday 17 (7 home, 10 away)
Saturday 16 (8 home, 8 away)
Sunday 11 (5 home, 6 away)

 

When compared to last year’s schedule, this year’s schedule has had certain days with significant drops and gains. One of the most surprising drops is Friday, going from seven games to four. Meanwhile, the most significant gains go to Sunday and Wednesday—Sunday going from five games to nine games and Wednesday going from two games to six games. While attendance is certainly not the weakest on Sunday and Wednesday games, it definitely isn’t the strongest either. Last year, Sunday and Wednesday were third and fourth in average attendance respectively.

While there are some differences, other things have remained unchanged—for example, the fact that the majority of their home games still remain on the weekends (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday). Since the majority of the organization’s revenue comes from ticket sales, it would make logical sense to have most games on days when attendance would be at its highest.

How does all this pan out for the bottom line on attendance?

If you multiply the number of games lost on a given day of the week by last year’s average attendance on that day, you get a rough idea of the overall expected decrease resulting from giving up those games. On the flip side, if you multiply the number of games gained on a given day of the week by last year’s average attendance on that day, you get an idea of the overall expected increase resulting from acquiring those games.

This crude calculation (which is based on last year’s average attendance figures) suggests that the Solar Bears will give up 40,847 seats for those lost games on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, but this will be offset by gaining 44,236 seats for those added games on Sunday and Wednesday. So, the team actually comes out marginally ahead by 3,389. Moreover, there are signs that the Solar Bears are gearing up for even greater gains this year.

One thing to note is that head coach Drake Berehowsky has settled in with the franchise, and has begun building up a team that has some serious potential. Last year, Berehowsky was thrown into the breach mid-season, and he is clearly taking advantage of the off-season this year to capitalize on some key trades. With an emphasis on defense, Berehowsky’s Solar Bears are definitely looking to stress a more physical and grinding style of play. While some familiar faces like Chris Crane, Austin Block, and Joe Perry are returning, there is going to be a new look and emphasis on the blueline.

In addition, the Solar Bears’ purchase by the DeVos family, which was announced last May, will open up some added opportunities advertising in conjunction with the Orlando Magic, and the team is hoping to leverage this into ticket sales.

Finally, the 2017-18 season is home game heavy in the second half, with 17 of the Solar Bears’ last 25 games occurring at the Amway Center. Should the Solar Bears be in the playoff hunt, this will most certainly translate into a more packed and boisterous house. The city of Orlando is hungry for a winning professional team, and the Solar Bears have a prime opportunity this year to pump up the fan frenzy as it heads into the final playoff push.

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