EVANSVILLE, IN – Hopefully everyone had a safe and wonderful Holiday Season.  No matter what you celebrate, your life was probably filled with lots of gifts.  Those gifts range from wants to needs.  Most of us don’t want the socks their mom gives them every year, they need them.  Likewise, we don’t need a shiny new cell phone when our old one still works, we want it.

Now that most of us have our decorations down (Don’t be that guy with them still up in March) and life has returned to normal, it’s time to get back to hockey.

Here in Evansville, we are at a crossroads of wants and needs: fans.

It’s not as if the Thunderbolts are playing in empty arenas.  According to thesphl.com, the Bolts are currently sixth in the league in attendance.  To put that in perspective, if Evansville finished sixth in the standings at year end everyone would consider that a big success.  Yet when we look at attendance numbers, most Thunderbolts are asking “Where’s everybody at?”

That isn’t to say it’s not a valid question.  Last year’s Evansville hockey team averaged just over 4,000 in attendance per night.  That was while drama played out about the team leaving/going dark, owner drama, and a substandard hockey team.  The year before the same team won a whopping fifteen hockey games and still had average attendance over 5,000 per game.  It begs the question: if people will watch an awful hockey team and a team that had given up loyalty to the City, why aren’t they coming to the new team?  I’m going to examine some of the popular theories.

Theory: Hockey fans in Evansville don’t show up until high school football season is over

Rationale: The premise behind this theory is that many casual fans in Evansville are also big into high school football.  They spend their weekend nights attending local football games instead of professional hockey.

Devil’s Advocate: There’s always something that distracts from attendance.  Indiana loves basketball also and there are many more games on Friday and Saturday nights that can be watched from the comfort of their own living room for the cost of cable.

My Take: I understand the theory.  When it’s cold outside people are more inclined to go watch something inside.  Even if it’s a cool building full of ice.  The reason I don’t buy the theory in full is because can people feel going to a Bolts game is a must.  If there’s buzz around it, other priorities slip away.

Theory: There isn’t enough exposure/marketing of the new team

Rationale: The team needs more exposure and/or marketing because casual fans either don’t know there is a new hockey team or don’t know when the games are

Devil’s Advocate: The people of Evansville have to be living in a bit of a bubble to not know there’s a new hockey team.  Yes, the old one leaving attained a lot of press.  The new one forming gathered a lot also and have been featured in the newspaper and on tv.  (And of course at The Sin Bin)

My Take:  Radio commercials were a bit scarce at the beginning of the franchise.  If they were broadcast on the air, I wasn’t hearing them.  Creating buzz with radio personalities is good for the team, most locals hear them during their commutes.  I’ve been hearing more of that and I think it will help.

Theory: The old team ruined it for the new team

Rationale: People either have a bad taste in their mouth about hockey in Evansville or people feel that the old team didn’t get a fair shake from the City and are staying away.

Devil’s Advocate:  Based on that rationale, no one would ever date again after a bad break up.

My Take:  I do know some people have stayed away because they feel the City didn’t treat the old team fairly.  That’s well within their rights and I have no opinion on that.  I will say, I can’t imagine that number is more than 50 or so people.  That isn’t going to make or break any attendance figures.  I don’t buy the “well we got shafted by the last team” theory either.  For the casual fan, going to the Ford Center is nothing but entertainment.  We go to superhero movies after others stink.  We date again after our hearts are broke.  People move on.

Theory: The super fans aren’t super fan-ish enough

Rationale: The “maniacs” aren’t adding to the in-game experience making the game entertaining for casual fans

Devil’s Advocate:  Shouldn’t the hockey game be what entertains the fans?

My Take: I understand this, I get it.  Loud random chants entertain casual fans during long stretches of play for people that might not even understand the rules of hockey.  The tough part is, I don’t blame what’s left of the Super Fans.  They’ve been carrying the torch for years now.  The “asylum” needs some new blood in it.  The next generation of fans that will carry the torch going forward and be as passionate as the current group has been.

In practicality, what’s the answer?  Maybe it’s a little bit of all of it.  Possibly, Evansville caught lightning in a bottle the first time with hockey.  I don’t think that’s the case.  I think the residents of Evansville and the surrounding areas will support this hockey team just like it did the last one.  I do know that innovation tends to happen at the corner of “wants” and “needs” so let’s see what’s on the horizon.

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