ALLEN, TX – With the ECHL Christmas break coming to an end it is time for the annual early 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 but there is some good news in the numbers.

The figures for this season are obviously based on just the first part of the season as 382 of 972 (39.3%) games have been played thus 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? Last season between Christmas, when the average was 3930, and the end of the season the average attendance, increased by 321 from 3930 to 4251. This season at the Christmas break average attendance is 4041. If the average increases as much the rest of the year as was the case last season (+321) the ECHL will reverse the downward trend in attendance.

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:

4041 – 2017-18 (382 of 972 games played)
4251 – 2016-17
4385 – 2015-16
4598 – 2014-15
4706 – 2013-14
4695 – 2012-13
4282 – 2011-12
4339 – 2010-11
4485 – 2009-10
4258 – 2008-09

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 four years is certainly downward and as it currently stands, the average ECHL attendance is 665 less per game than just four 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 2016-17 to 2017-18 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:

+1003 Tulsa (6158)
+713   Cincinnati (4429)
+638   Orlando (5298)
+512   Kalamazoo (2692)
+425   South Carolina (3548)
+366   Idaho (4271)
+268  Toledo (7435)
+260   Colorado (4997)
+249   Fort Wayne (7474)
+187   Florida (4083)
+178  Adirondack (2898)
+103   Greenville (3491)
+46    Utah (4718)
000   Jacksonville (5463) – first year
000   Worcester (4574) – first year
-20     Wheeling (2551)
-87     Indy (3144)
-89     Brampton (2978)
-183   Norfolk (2160)
-299   Allen (3814)
-417   Wichita (4351)
-467   Quad City (3183)
-493    Rapid City (2758)
-496    Kansas City (4376)
-546    Manchester (2712)
-981   Reading (2744)
-1464  Atlanta (2930)

– 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 points percentage which shows there is more to sales and marketing success than on-ice results. Orlando is on the percentage increase list with a .450 points percentage while Manchester is on the percentage decrease list with the best points percentage in the North Division (.667).

Five largest percentage increases:
+23.5% – Kalamazoo – .580
+19.5% – Tulsa – .536
+19.2% – Cincinnati – .611
+13.7% – Orlando  – .450
+13.6% – South Carolina – .714

Five largest percentage decreases:
-33.3% – Atlanta – .467
-26.3% – Reading – .517
-16.8% – Manchester – .667
-15.1% – Rapid City – .286
-12.8% – Quad City – .333

CONCLUSIONS 

– It is hard to show up on any improvement list when you consistently draw big crowds. A special acknowledgment to Fort Wayne who is averaging 7474 in attendance and Toledo who is averaging 7435. They are far and away the league leaders in attendance. These two teams are so successful they would rank #6 and #7 in the AHL in attendance.

– The ECHL average is better this season (4041) than last season (3930) at the Christmas break partially because of two teams dropping out (Elmira & Alaska) and two new teams starting up (Jacksonville & Worcester). Elmira (2300) and Alaska (3623) had a combined average for all of last season of 5923. They have been replaced by Jacksonville (5463) and Worcester (4574) with a combined average of 10,037.

– One cause for concern is the number of teams averaging fewer than 3000 per game. That number is at nine compared to Christmas break the last two seasons when the number was four. Certainly, some of the nine teams will improve their average to above 3000 by the end of the season but at this point, there are more teams averaging less than 3000 than in the past. Here is the list.

2978 – Brampton
2930 – Atlanta
2898 – Adirondack
2758 – Rapid City
2744 – Reading
2712 – Manchester
2692 – Kalamazoo
2551 – Wheeling
2160 – Norfolk

– If you look at the nine 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. Kalamazoo has actually led the league in percentage increase year over year both this season and last season. The biggest concern just looking at the numbers is Manchester who averaged 4622 their first year in the league (2015-16), 3580 last season and is averaging 2712 this season. Rapid City has experienced declining attendance since joining the ECHL in 2014-15 when the Rush averaged 3856. Since then the attendance has dropped to 3717 (2015-16), 3321 (2016-17) and now stands at 2758. Noteworthy because of the huge drop in attendance from last season are Atlanta (-1464) and Reading (-981).

– There are some good news stories as well. Congrats to the Tulsa Oilers who rode an opening night crowd of 12,845 to an average attendance increase of 1003 per game. A year ago Orlando was at the bottom of the list averaging 1190 fewer than the year before. This season the Solar Bears are close to the top of the list averaging 638 more per game than last season. Cincinnati is another big mover going from -827 last Christmas to +713 this season. A swing of over 1500 per game is impressive.

– There are 13 teams with increased attendance over last season, 12 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 seven teams (Wichita, Quad City, Rapid City, Kansas City, Manchester, Reading, Atlanta) that are averaging at least 400 fewer fans per game to make up the ground to pass last season’s attendance.

DID YOU KNOW: In 2015-16 Allen had the best average attendance in franchise history (4571). It has been downhill since then. In order to equal last season’s average attendance (4340) the Americans will have to average 4715 per game over the final 21 home games. Here is Allen’s average attendance by season. The asterisks indicate the seasons Allen won the championship.

2017-18:    3814 (after 15 home games)
2016-17:    4340
*2015-16:  4571
*2014-15:  4096
*2013-14:  4216
*2012-13:  4157
2011-12:    4336
2010-11:    3986
2009-10:    3810

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