Sunday, May 13, 2012

There Are No Minor Fans in the Minor Leagues : "AAA" and "AA" Attendance Comparison Charts

The Charlestown Chiefs real dedicated fans, not
those bandwagoners at the end of the movie.  Also, whatever
happened to the multi-colored seats in arenas?
I wanted to title this post "Looking at Minors," but I didn't want to send the wrong message.  This site gets weird traffic as it is.

Anyway, after the jump you will find comparative attendance figures for the American "AAA" and "AA" hockey leagues; the AHL, ECHL, CHL, and SPHL.  "AAA" and "AA" are baseball minor-league designation terms, and that is the reason for the " " marks around those acronyms or letters or whatever.  The charts are not sortable, because really, they don't need to be sortable for you to enjoy them.  When we combine the figures, we get some really fun results.  You should stick around for that.

First, let's see the attendance numbers by league from the 2011-12 season.  Overall attendance on the left, average attendance number per game on the right:


AHL teams play 38 home games, the most of any American minor league.  Their attendance figures will fall well short of the last place NHL team (Phoenix Coyotes: 12,420), but they should remain above the other minor leagues just based on level of competition alone.  Just look where most of these teams are based: hockey-centric areas like the Northeast, and even in Canada.  One would assume these numbers should be well above the numbers of the feeder leagues.  The league saw 6,426,934 fans overall for a 5,638 per game average.


The ECHL, the self proclaimed "Premier 'AA' Hockey League."  Its teams play 36 home games, and the arenas are typically slightly smaller than what you find at the AHL level.  Featuring teams from Canada, Utah, Alaska, and Stockton, CA, it is no longer just an "East Coast" league.  Much like the CHL, the ECHL fluctuates in size each season with members joining, leaving, and suspending operations often.  At 20 members this past season, it is larger than the CHL, but smaller than the AHL.  Many of these players are on the same level of those in the CHL.  The league had 3,082,764 spectators this season for a 4,282 per game average.


The CHL, the smaller of the two "AA" leagues, and home of the Missouri Mavericks.  Merging the "new" IHL and remains of the CHL a few years ago has proven to bring some stability to the league, although, like the ECHL, the league membership does fluctuate each season.  Its teams play 33 home games, and 462 games overall as a league (258 less than the ECHL).  Overall, the league had 1,867,801 spectators attend games this season for a 4,042 per game average.


The SPHL (Southern Professional Hockey League), added to this list due to its number of former ECHL and CHL franchises.  This league does not have affiliations like the ECHL and CHL, and is still fairly new (began in 2004-05).  Its members play 28 home games.  This season, the league saw 704,664 spectators for a 2,796 per game average.

Now, let's look at the combined chart of all four of these leagues 73 teams' attendance figures, sorted by highest average attendance to lowest:

Obviously, the AHL, the league with the highest attendance and higher level of competition has more teams in the top twenty than any other league.  The most surprising stat may be that the ECHL does not have a team until Ontario at #10, or that the ECHL and CHL have the same amount of clubs in the top twenty.  An encouraging thing for the SPHL is its teams interspersed with many ECHL and CHL teams.  Maybe a not-so-encouraging thing is the amount of CHL clubs towards the bottom.  And how about the former KC Blades rival in Fort Wayne?  Maybe that's an AHL town, after all.  Best thing about this chart, and a good sign for the growth of hockey: Knoxville and Huntsville of the SPHL are right there with some of the AHL bottom feeders.  You can look at the chart and infer what you want, though.  It's okay.  Really, you can.

Now, for a local perspective.  First, the Wichita Thunder had a great year on the ice and in the seats, ranking #13 on the list behind only nine AHL franchises.  Also, with over 200,000 fans, they would rank sixteenth in the AHL this season if they played in that league, possibly higher with five more home games.  Second, the Mavericks are number nineteen on a list of 73 teams, and they are only in their third year of existence in the CHL (the smaller of the two "AA" leagues).  They beat out over half of the AHL clubs (18) and almost all of the ECHL clubs (17) in average attendance.  They beat the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons in both average attendance and overall attendance in fewer games (I retweeted a good article from Kukla's Korner on my twitter page about the OKC Barons attendance issues.  Follow me!).  Last season, the Mavs saw 178,425 fans in 33 games, a 5,406 average; and in their inaugural season saw 157,935 fans in 32 games, for a 4,935 average.  The unofficial capacity for the IEC for ice hockey is 5,800, so the Mavs hit a 95.4% full capacity level this season.  The Mavs will need to sell out nearly every game next season to beat this season's total.  

Does this mean that KC can and will support an AHL club?  By no means does this chart say that, but, damn, if the Mavs played in the AHL while still playing at the IEC they would see more fans than half of the AHL just by staying 90% full all season.

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