Monday, March 17, 2014

A look at WHL attendance for 2013-14

The WHL’s final 2013-14 regular-season attendance numbers are in and, for the most part, they aren’t pretty.
According to statistics compiled by the WHL, the average attendance at a game in 2012-13 was 4,815, an increase of 99 fans per game over 2011-12. This season, however, that number slipped to 4,488, a decrease of 327 per game.
Over the course of the season, that means there were almost 260,000 fewer fans in WHL arenas than there were last season.
And it wasn’t a case of attendance being down in a handful of the league’s 22 centres. It was down in 19 cities.
Two teams, the defending-champion Portland Winterhawks and the Seattle Thunderbirds, showed increases in attendance over last season. The Medicine Hat Tigers maintained their average of 4,006, which is a sellout in the Arena.
With 19 teams showing decreases, you can bet there is concern in almost all corners of the WHL. From Kelowna, where attendance at Rockets games has fallen from 6,131 in 2009-10 to 5,141 this season . . . to Brandon, where the Wheat Kings have lost 750 fans per game in three seasons . . . and many points in between.
I likely have recounted this story here before, but I will tell it one more time.
Back in the day, about the time the VCR (remember your first one?) was coming into vogue, I had a conversation with Ed Chynoweth, who then was the president of the WHL.
“We are going to have to change our ways,” he said. “No longer can we open the doors to our arenas and expect the people to walk in. We are going to have to work harder than ever to get them into our buildings.”
Truer words, it seems, were never spoken.
But in the days of the VCR and even in more recent times, if you were going to rent a movie, you had to leave the warm confines of your home, go to the video store, make your selection, come home, watch the movie and then, at some point, leave home to return the movie to the store.
These days, with the advent of Netflix and file-sharing and so many other things via the Internet, a consumer of movies doesn’t have to leave home. In fact, you are able to sit down and enjoy an entire season of your favourite TV show in one sitting, if you so desire.
On top of all that, viewing of such pleasures in your own home has never been so inexpensive.
As well, the advent of HD television has brought brilliant pictures, from movies or sporting events or just a favourite program, right into our living rooms. Let’s not forget, too, that the price of really good TV sets has dropped like a stone over the last few years.
Combine TV/Internet viewing habits with what was a morbidly frigid winter across the Prairies and, as one owner said: “I can’t tell you how many nights we had below minus-30 . . . I think that makes it easy to stay home.”
There are other issues at play here, too, including a schedule that featured a few quirks. It was the WHL’s first crack at computerized scheduling and there were some wrinkles, such as two teams playing each other in three straight games, that will need to be ironed out.
It’s a good bet, too, that the average fan doesn’t have the disposable income that he/she had just a few short years ago. Perhaps that means a fan, or a fan and his/her family, will attend one game a week rather than purchase season tickets.
The WHL and its teams, then, are going to have to find a way to come to terms with that if it is to increase attendance.
Anyway . . . here’s a team-by-team look, with teams listed according to average attendance this season:
1. Calgary Hitmen -- The Hitmen averaged 8,252 fans per game this season, down 1,048 from last season’s total of 9.300, which also led the league. Last season’s average was up 363 from 2011-12.
2. Portland Winterhawks -- One of two teams to show an increase in attendance, the Winterhawks moved from third to second in average attendance. This year’s number of 7,329 was up 642 from last season and an increase of 1,254 from two seasons ago.
3. Edmonton Oil Kings -- The Oil Kings were No. 2 a year ago, at 7,575. That number slipped by 832 this season, to 6,743. However, this season’s number is up 322 from two seasons ago.
4. Vancouver Giants -- The Giants have been a good draw pretty much since entering the WHL for the 2001-02 season. This season, though, attendance fell by 939 per game, going from 7,205 to 6,266. Last season’s average was an increase of 261 from 2011-12’s 6,944.
5. Spokane Chiefs -- The attendance in Spokane fell for a second straight season. This season’s average of 6,102 is down 266 from last season and a decrease of 341 from 2011-12.
6. Kelowna Rockets -- Where did the Rockets’ fans go? In 2011-12, the Rockets averaged 6,082 fans per game in the 6,007-seat Prospera Centre. Last season, that number slid by 724 to 5,358. This season, attendance dropped by another 217 per game, to 5,141. Don’t forget that the Rockets finished atop the overall standings. From 2007-12, a span of five seasons, the Rockets averaged more than 6,000 fans, peaking at 6,131 in 2009-10.
7. Red Deer Rebels -- The Rebels attendance was down this season but up from where it was two seasons ago. This season, the average was 4,949 and that’s down 226 per game from last season. But it’s up 91 from where it was in 2011-12.
8. Everett Silvertips -- Attendance in Everett slipped for a second straight season. This season, the number was 4,901, down 161 from last season. A year ago, the 2012-13 totals showed that Everett’s attendance was down 216 from 2011-12.
9. Victoria Royals -- Is the bloom off the rose in B.C.’s capital city? Two seasons ago, the Royals were drawing 5,660 fans per game. Last season, the average slipped 471 to 5,189. This season, with the Royals enjoying their first 100-point season, it was down another 389 to 4,800.
10. Saskatoon Blades -- It’s a bit unfair to compare the Blades’ numbers from this season to those of last season when it was the host team for the Memorial Cup. Host teams are able to sell more season tickets by tying those in to tournament packages. Thus, the Blades’ average last season was 6,040, an increase of 992 over 2011-12. This season’s number was 4,719, that’s down 1,321 from last season and 329 from two seasons ago.
11. Seattle Thunderbirds -- Perhaps the talk of a potential NHL team in Seattle attracted some new fans. Or perhaps it was a better team on the ice. Whatever it was, attendance in Kent, Wash., was 4,427, up 391 over last season. Interestingly, last season’s number of 4,036 was down 170 from 2011-12. Still, this season’s number was up 221 from two seasons ago. It would seem the Thunderbirds are trending up.
12. Tri-City Americans -- The Americans didn’t win 40 games for the first time since 2005-06; yes, they had won at least 40 games for seven straight seasons. Still, their attendance has slipped each of the last two seasons. This season’s number of 4,223 was down 272 from last season, which was down 158 from 2011-12.
13. Kamloops Blazers -- The Blazers won 47 games last season and it showed at the gate as attendance improved by 647 (4,178 to 4,825) over 2011-12. This season, however, was the poorest in Kamloops franchise history and the Blazers gave it all back . . . average attendance was down 677 to 4,148.
14. Medicine Hat Tigers -- Three sure things in life today are death, taxes and 4,006 fans at each and every Tigers home game.
15. Regina Pats -- The average attendance in Regina slipped under 4,000, even as the Pats finished atop the East Division standings. This season’s number of 3,956 was down 290 from last season. However, last season’s average of 4,246 was an increase of 116 from 2011-12.
16. Moose Jaw Warriors -- The Warriors missed the playoffs for a second straight season and it showed at the gate as attendance in 4,414-seat Mosaic Place slid to 3,613, down 201 from 2012-13. Last season’s number of 3,814 was down 84 from 2012-13’s average of 3,898 that came in Mosaic Place’s first season.
17. Brandon Wheat Kings -- The Wheat Kings’ averaged 3,529 fans per game this season, down 258 from last season. On top of that, last season’s number (3,787) was down 356 from 2011-12. In other words, Brandon has lost 614 fans over two seasons. Go back one more season, to 2010-11, and you’ll find that Brandon’s average crowd was 4,279. In three seasons, then, the Wheat Kings have seen crowds fall by 750 fans. You know there is concern in the front office.
18. Lethbridge Hurricanes -- The Hurricanes, who missed the playoffs for a fifth straight season, drew 3,089 fans per game this season, down 561 from last season. Interestingly, last season’s average (3,650) was up 367 from 2011-12.
19. Prince Albert Raiders -- Like the Hurricanes, the Raiders’ attendance was up last season but down this season. This season’s humber of 2,496 was a decrease of 178 from last season’s 2,674. That average was up 248 from 2011-12.
20. Kootenay Ice -- In two seasons, the Ice has lost 578 fans, this despite the presence of Sam Reinhart and a competitive team. The average crowd this season was 2,227, down 184 from last season when 2,411 was down 394 from 2011-12. Could it be that all the ‘for sale’ rumours aren’t helping?
21. Swift Current Broncos -- The Broncos play in the smallest market in the CHL and they continue to lose fans. This season’s average (2,119) was down 59 from last season (2,178), and that number was a decrease of 26 from 2011-12. The decreases may appear small but they all add up in a market that size.
22. Prince George Cougars -- In what likely was their final season under Rick Brodsky’s ownership, the Cougars drew an average crowd of 1,693, down 147 from last season when that number dipped below 2,000, to 1,840. That number was down 207 from the 2011-12 average of 2,047. The franchise is expected to be sold to local interests before another season arrives.

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