Orlando, FL – The Orlando Solar Bears will open the 2017-18 season on Oct. 14 by traveling down the road to visit the new kid on the ECHL block—the Jacksonville IceMen. Given the short distance, one would expect many Orlando fans to make that trip.

The first home game will occur against the Atlanta Gladiators on Saturday, Oct. 28, and the Halloween season will no doubt make for a memorable and atmospheric home opener. The Solar Bears will also be looking to avoid the nightmare Halloween series that occurred against Atlanta last year.

Here is a breakdown of how the year’s schedule currently looks. Fans should note that the NBA schedule still has to be finalized, and the Orlando Magic take priority over the Solar Bears when it comes to dates in the Amway Center. This means that one should expect a number of adjustments to occur over the summer. It is also typical for the booking of additional large concerts at the Amway Center to involve further schedule shuffling.

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)

This initial schedule is terrific in terms of loading up on weekend games at home. How important is this factor? If you compare last year’s weekend (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) attendance numbers with weekday (Monday-Thursday) figures, you find that the weekdays yield 30% fewer fans. In raw numbers, that is roughly 1882 fans per game.

Games by Month

October 4 (1 home, 3 away)
November   14 (9 home, 5 away)
December 15 (6 home, 9 away)
January 11 (3 home, 8 away)
February    12 (8 home, 4 away)
March 14 (9 home,  5 away)
April        2 (both away)

The Solar Bears will have a long 10-game road trip starting on Nov. 28. This journey will involve a swing through Cincinnati, Kalamazoo, and Fort Wayne. Ironically, the Solar Bears didn’t play the Cincinnati Cyclones once in 2016-17 despite the fact that they were a South Division team. This year, they will play two games against this opponent, but the signs are that Cincinnati will be moved to the Central Division.

The season is front-loaded with away games. Out of the first 47 games of the season, only 19 will be played at the Amway Center. That means 17 out of the last 25 games of the seasons will be in the home den. That could work in Orlando’s favor if it finds itself in the playoff hunt heading into the final stretch. If played right with advertising, the late home schedule might also yield an attendance boost if the Solar Bears can get the city feeling that playoff fever.

Games by Opponent

Florida      14 (9 home, 5 away)
South Carolina    11 (5 home, 6 Away)
Greenville 9 (3 home 6 away)
Jacksonville 9 (4 home, 5 away)
Atlanta 8 (2 home, 6 away)
Norfolk 7 (5 home, 2 away)
Wheeling 3 (all home)
Worcester 3 (all home)
Reading    2 (both home)
Cincinnati 2 (both away)
Allen 2 (both away)
Kalamazoo 1 (away)
Fort Wayne 1 (away)

With the addition of the Jacksonville Icemen to Florida, the Wawa Sunshine Cup (which designates the best ECHL team in the state) will have an additional contestant. The Solar Bears and Icemen play each other nine times, and the Everblades play Orlando and Jacksonville 14 games each. With this unequal number of games among the instate rivals, the Sunshine Cup rules will have to be different from last year. One possibility would involve having pre-designated games that would be marked as Sunshine Cup games, so that Orlando and Jacksonville have just as fair a chance at winning as the Everblades.

Travel distance will also be less this year. This is a result of numerous factors including the addition of Jacksonville to the neighborhood and the great number of South Division games. The fact that there will not be a trip to Alaska and Colorado this year will also mean far fewer road miles.

One sad note is that there will not be any games against the Brampton Beast. Trips up to Brampton Ontario during previous years brought the Solar Bears into the range of the team’s affiliates (Toronto Marlies and Toronto Maple Leafs) which always inspired the squad. In addition, Brampton’s affiliation with the Montreal Canadiens made for a nice rivalry with a Canadian flair.

Games by Division

South 58
North 8
Central 4
Mountain 2

The Solar Bears’ upcoming season will see a ton of matchups against familiar South Division rivals such as Florida and South Carolina, but they will also welcome new opponents to the den, such as Jacksonville and Worcester. The team will also make a visit to the Allen Americans of  Mountain Division for the first time in franchise history.

Other notes:

  • The Solar Bears’ first ever school day game in the 2016-17 season attracted over 5000 fans
  • The Solar Bears sold out the Amway Center for their final home game of the 2016-17, their first straight sellout in almost five years.
  • The Solar Bears’ Pack the Den night, held on March 19th, 2016, saw the largest crowd in Solar Bears history, with over 11,000 fans packing the Amway Center. Will we see a similar event this year?
  • Orlando consistently faces the Florida Everblades more than any other team, with an average of 14 matchups per season.

Attendance Figure Analysis

The Solar Bears’ attendance dropped 12% last season, which comes out to 728 less seats per game. Heading into next year, the team should keep attendance goals realistic, but with the squad’s reappearance in the playoffs and its surge in average playoff attendance (currently ranked second in the ECHL), there are hopeful signs that more fans will turn out for the games.

Given that the Solar Bears play second fiddle to the Orlando Magic and major concert events when it comes to scheduling in the Amway Center, the team is always clawing to hold onto as many weekend games as possible. The NBA schedules still have to be finalized, so fans should expect the Solar Bears to be moving a few of those precious games currently scheduled for the weekend.

Here is a breakdown of attendance numbers over the past two seasons by days of the week.

2015-16 season
Average Attendance: 6226

Day of Week # of Games Avg. Attendance
Monday 3 4826
Tuesday 3 5974
Wednesday 5 5828
Thursday 6 4671
Friday 4 6778
Saturday 9 7793
Sunday 6 6129

 

2016-17 season
Average Attendance: 5498
Avg. Attendance Change: -728
% Change: -12%

Day of Week # of Games Avg. Attendance % Change Avg. Attendance Change
Monday 2 3568 -26% -1258
Tuesday 3 4750 -20% -1224
Wednesday 2 5298 -9% -530
Thursday 9 4361 -8% -400
Friday 7 6482 -4% -296
Saturday 8 6563 -16% (-11%)* -1230 (-820)*
Sunday 5 5761 -6% -368

* One factor contributing to the Saturday attendance drop was the “Pack the Den” night on March 19, 2016. That evening involved a major ticket giveaway and the opening of the third level of the Amway Center that is usually closed off. If one discounts that mammoth event which saw attendance reach 11,075, then the attendance drop for Saturday would be -11%, or 820 seats.

Notes:

  • For minor league hockey teams (or sports teams in general), the best days to have home games are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. This is because most people on these days do not have school, work, college, or other commitments that they have to keep during a typical weekday. This fact was demonstrated by the Solar Bears in 2016-17, as the Saturday games had a higher average than the other days of the week. This trend was also due to the special events the team held on Saturdays throughout the season, such as Military Appreciation Night, which attracted over 8000 fans.
  • The most significant drops in average attendance occurred on Monday and Tuesday, but those days account for a mere handful of days on the home schedule.
  • Friday and Sunday saw the lowest drops in attendance.

In the upcoming season, the Solar Bears will be looking to prove to their new owners—the DeVos family and the Orlando Magic―that they have made a wise investment. To accomplish this, the squad will want to achieve more success on the ice and in the stands. Here are two worthy and reachable goals:

  • Goal #1:  Not only make it into the playoffs next year, but move beyond the first round.
  • Goal #2:  Work towards restoring the attendance to 2015-16 levels within two years.

To achieve the latter, the team will need to take measured steps to grow the fan base and to show Orlando the truth—namely, that its professional hockey team is one of the best entertainment values in town.

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