Wednesday, February 22, 2017

ECHL Attendance Trending Down, On Pace for Lowest in Ten Years - Team By Team Results

Back in December I took a look at the ECHL attendance numbers which were clearly on a downward trend. Not necessarily an exciting topic but certainly an interesting one if you are looking at the health of your favorite team and the entire ECHL. The conventional wisdom is attendance improves after the first of the year when the weather turns cold and football is over. Now that the ECHL season is over 70% complete it is a good time to look at the attendance figures again.  What you find is the average attendance has increased since December but is still on pace to be the lowest in the last ten years. Attendance has been trending downward since 2013-14.

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.

The figures for this season are obviously based on just the first part of the season as 699 of 972 (71.9%) games have been played thus far. The average ECHL attendance has improved from 3930 in December to 4146 today.  The question is, will it exceed last year's average attendance (4385) and reverse the downward trend? 

Here is the average ECHL attendance over the last ten years:

4146 - 2016-17 (after 699 of 972 games)
4385 - 2015-16
4598 - 2014-15
4706 - 2013-14
4695 - 2012-13
4282 - 2011-12
4339 - 2010-11
4485 - 2009-10
4258 - 2008-09
4174 - 2007-08

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 three years is certainly downward and as it currently stands, the average ECHL attendance is 560 less per game than just three years ago. When you figure most ECHL teams get an estimated 70% - 80% of their revenue from ticket sales that is significant.

The next step was 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 attendance from 2015-16 to 2016-17 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:

+399   Greenville (3790)
+389   Reading (3937)
+309   Utah (5217)
+255   Wichita (4674)
+214   Brampton (3011)
+201   Toledo (7239) 
+169   Adirondack (2604)
+44     South Carolina (3609)
+27     Kalamazoo (2246)
+25     Fort Wayne (7612)
-17     Florida (5013)
-37     Missouri (5043)
-53     Wheeling (2559)
-64     Idaho (4095)
-95    Tulsa (5588)
-126   Colorado (4775)
-136   ECHL AVERAGE (4146)
-183   Atlanta (4661)
-200    Quad City (3915) 
-233    Alaska (3400)
-298    Cincinnati (3880)
-329    Indy (3501)
-352   Allen (4239)
-475   Elmira (2410)
-547   Rapid City (3215)
-734   Orlando (5266) 
-896   Norfolk (2705)
-1049  Manchester (3354)

You get a little different picture if you look at percentage of increase or decrease rather than the raw numbers. Here is the list from the biggest increase in attendance to the biggest decrease from last season to this season in percentage:

+11.8%  Greenville
+11.0%  Reading
+7.7%   Brampton
+7.0%   Adirondack
+6.3%   Utah
+5.8%   Wichita
+2.9%   Toledo
+1.2%   South Carolina
+1.2%   Kalamazoo
+0.3%   Fort Wayne
-0.3%   Florida
-0.7%   Missouri
-1.5%   Idaho
-1.7%   Tulsa
-2.0%   Wheeling
-2.6%   Colorado
-3.8%   Atlanta
-4.9%   Quad City
-6.4%   Alaska
-7.1%   Cincinnati
-7.7%   Allen
-8.6%   Indy
-12.2%  Orlando
-14.5%  Rapid City
-16.5%  Elmira
-23.8%  Manchester
-24.9%  Norfolk


- There are 10 teams with increased attendance over last season and 17 with decreases but the decreases are much larger than the increases. If you add it all together the ECHL average attendance (4146) is down 136 per game league wide. This is a 3.2% decline in attendance when you compare the 699 games played thus far this season to the first 699 games last season. 

- Results don't always tie to attendance increases but it is worthy to note the three teams with the biggest percentage increase in attendance (Greenville, Reading, Brampton) all have higher winning percentages than last season. In the case of Brampton and Greenville they were last place teams last season and are much improved this season.

- At the other end of the spectrum is Manchester and Orlando. Manchester is in first place in the North Division but has the biggest decline in attendance in the ECHL averaging 1049 fewer fans per game than last season. Orlando is tied for second in the South Division but has the third biggest decline in attendance (734).

- Another red flag when looking at the attendance chart above relates to Norfolk (-24.9%) and Manchester (-23.8%) who have the biggest percentage decline in attendance from last season. Both of these teams (along with Adirondack) are former AHL cities who joined the ECHL last season after losing their AHL franchises. To have such big decreases in attendance in the second year of operation has to be concerning.

- There are five franchises averaging less than 3000 per game (Norfolk, Adirondack, Wheeling, Elmira and Kalamazoo). While a few franchises have survived averaging less than 3000 such as Wheeling and Kalamazoo they are the exception not the rule.

-There are eight teams that have had declines in attendance of 6.4% or more. Two of the teams (Elmira and Alaska) have been in the press recently with stories about the viability of the franchises going forward. The financial woes in Allen and Rapid City are a poorly kept secret. As already mentioned Norfolk and Manchester have year over year attendance declines of over 20%. There is little doubt sold or fold may be the story line for some ECHL franchises going forward. With Worcester and Jacksonville starting play this fall the hope is the league doesn't lose any franchises and continues to grow.

DID YOU KNOW: Fort Wayne leads the ECHL in attendance this season averaging 7612 per game. You have to go  back to the 2013-14 season for the last team that averaged over 8000 per game when Ontario averaged 8158. Check out these numbers which is a list of the teams that led the ECHL in average attendance in the 1990's.

1991-92:   9472  (Cincinnati)
1992-93:   7904  (Hampton Roads)
1993-94:   9151  (South Carolina)
1994-95:   8589  (South Carolina)
1995-96:   9775  (Louisiana)
1996-97:   11433 (Louisiana)
1997-98:   11196 (Louisiana)
1998-99:   9857  (Louisiana)


  1. Is there a way to break down attendance by schedule? It seems like we have more weeknight games this year than last, and that we only get decent attendance on Friday and Saturday nights. During the playoffs last year our home schedule was terrible, and the attendance seemed to match.

  2. I would be interested in looking at the PR campaigns for the franchises with the largest attendance numbers. Are they doing anything special that we could 'borrow'? As the previous comment mentions, are most of their games weekend games versus weekday games?

    I would love to see our Americans get more local press. I have written letters to all four local news stations asking why our guys never get a mention in the sports coverage. They talk about the drought of championships in the Dallas area and I always write them to remind them that there is a winning franchise in Allen. Not just winning, but repeat winning.

  3. There are so many sporting options available in the metroplex maybe this is all we can get in attendance? Plus the Stars bring in 18,000 a night, that takes away from possible American ticket sales.
    But, I challenge my own question by saying there aren't any billboards, radio ads or mass emails about the Americans to people who have kids in hockey. I still talk to parents of hockey players and they don't know the Americans exist.
    They also need to stress how easy it is to get to Allen, free parking next to the arena, food and drink is lower than the Stars.

    This might be the case you have to spend money to make money. If the Americans need 1,000 - 2,000 more in attendance a night they are going to have to reach out to the metroplex who doesn't know they exist.

  4. Totally agree !
    Need to advertise our team better.
    Some of the restaurants around the area have never heard of the Americans when I walk in after a game. Sad
    New owners would help

  5. How much of an effect could the AEC be having? Maybe I'm just cheap, but it costs nearly $30 for my wife and me to have a couple sodas and something to eat. I wonder if the casual attendees (and their families) are coming to fewer games because concessions cost so much more than they did just 2 or 3 seasons ago.