ALLEN, Texas – The ECHL will officially pass the halfway point of the season (486 games) tomorrow night, so it is a good time to look at attendance around the league. This is 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 reversed a long downward trend in attendance last season finishing with an average attendance of 4424 which was an increase of +173 per game. The question is whether the league can keep the positive trend going this season? At the halfway point the average ECHL attendance is 4177.
The figures for this season are obviously based on just the first half of the season. Attendance traditionally picks up after the new year 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 of 4424?
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.
Here is the average ECHL attendance over the last ten years:
4177 – 2018-19 (476 of 972 games played)
4424 – 2017-18
4251 – 2016-17
4385 – 2015-16
4598 – 2014-15
4706 – 2013-14
4695 – 2012-13
4282 – 2011-12
4339 – 2010-11
4485 – 2009-10
If you look at the figures above some of the variation can be explained by teams coming and going from the league. However, with the exception of last season the trend since 2013-14 is certainly downward and as it currently stands, the average ECHL attendance is 529 less per game than just six years ago. When you figure most ECHL teams get an estimated 60% – 70% of their revenue from ticket sales that is significant.
The next step is 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 average attendance from 2017-18 to 2018-19 to those that have lost the most. This compares average attendance this season to the team’s average attendance for the entire season last year. Remember, average attendance for this season will increase for most teams as the season progresses. The number in parenthesis is the average attendance for this season:
+643 Norfolk (3245)
+409 Wichita (5481)
+323 Cincinnati (5287)
+139 Fort Wayne (7923)
+44 South Carolina (3965)
+23 Adirondack (3214)
+16 Toledo (7616)
+15 Greenville (4040)
+5 Orlando (5466)
000 Maine (3058) – first year
000 Newfoundland (3784) – first year
-13 Kansas City (4877)
-152 Atlanta (4063)
-246 Florida (5239)
-293 Indy (3620)
-298 Idaho (4250)
-302 Wheeling (2088)
-303 Jacksonville (5425)
-326 Manchester (2467)
-359 Allen (3723)
-363 Kalamazoo (2362)
-387 Worcester (4006)
-487 Brampton (2532)
-515 Rapid City (2538)
-661 Tulsa (5370)
-665 Reading (2766)
-713 Utah (4953)
– It is hard to show up on any improvement list when you consistently draw big crowds. A special acknowledgement to Fort Wayne, who is averaging 7923 in attendance and Toledo who is averaging 7616. They are far and away the league leaders in attendance, over 2000 more per game than any other team in the league. These two teams are so successful they would rank in the top ten in attendance in the AHL. Toledo and Fort Wayne both have improved attendance over last season.
– One cause for concern is the number of teams averaging fewer than 3000 per game. There are six teams averaging less than 3000 per game but last year at this point there were nine. Some of the six teams will improve their average to above 3000 by the end of the season. Here is the list:
2766 – Reading
2538 – Rapid City
2532 – Brampton
2467 – Manchester
2362 – Kalamazoo
2088 – Wheeling
– If you look at the six teams on the list above some are of more concern than others. Wheeling and Kalamazoo survive even though they almost always average less than 3000. Unless you have deep pocket owners or very low expenses, it is difficult to survive averaging less than 3000 in attendance.
Manchester who averaged 4622 their first year in the league (2015-16) has been in decline to 2467 this season.
Rapid City has experienced declining attendance since joining the ECHL in 2014-15 when the Rush averaged 3856. Since then attendance has dropped each season and now stands at 2538.
Reading’s attendance has declined from 3910 on 2016-17 to 2766 this season.
These six teams have the deadly combination of the lowest attendance in the league combined with the biggest decreases from last season to this season. They are all averaging between 326 and 665 less per game than last season. Based on past history you have to believe a couple of these teams may not survive.
– There are some good news stories as well. Congrats to the Norfolk Admirals who is the one team that was at the bottom of the attendance list last season (#26 with average attendance of 2602) that has seen a big improvement this season. Norfolk tops the list with an average attendance increase of 643 per game. Another good story is Greenville, the Swamp Rabbits have one of the worst records in the ECHL, but are also one of only nine ECHL teams with increased attendance over last season.
– Probably the biggest surprise on the list above is who is at the bottom. Utah’s average attendance is 713 less than last season. This for the fourth best team in the league by winning percentage.
– A team’s record doesn’t always correlate to attendance. Of the nine teams with increased attendance over last season, five have a better record than last season and four have a worse record than last season.
– The five teams that have average attendance more than 400 per game less than last season (Brampton, Rapid City, Tulsa, Reading, Utah) have something in common. They all have a better record this season than last season. Three of the teams (Utah, Tulsa, Reading) have records that rank in the top ten in the ECHL.
– There are nine teams with increased attendance over last season, 16 with decreases and two new teams. Most all teams will increase their average attendance as the season progresses, however, the question is by how much?
– It will be almost impossible for the five teams (Brampton, Rapid City, Tulsa, Reading, Utah) that are averaging at least 400 fewer fans per game to make up the ground to pass last season’s attendance. Utah, for example, will have to average 6380 per game over their last 18 home games to equal last seasons attendance.
Did You Know?
As good as Fort Wayne and Toledo are in average attendance they don’t make the top 10 all-time. The 1990s were the heyday for ECHL attendance. If you look at the top 10 in regular season average attendance in the history of the ECHL the same team holds the top four spots. Here is the list:
11433 – Louisiana IceGators (1996-97)
11196 – Louisiana IceGators (1997-98)
9857 – Louisiana IceGators (1998-99)
9776 – Louisiana IceGators (1995-96)
9473 – Cincinnati Cyclones (1991-92)
9269 – Greenville Grrrowl (1998-99)
9151 – South Carolina Stingrays (1993-94)
8589 – South Carolina Stingrays (1994-95)
8158 – Ontario Reign (2013-14)
8130 – Charlotte Checkers (1993-94)
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