With the NHL lockout cruising right along and no end in immediate sight, I wondered what – if anything – was happening to minor-league hockey attendance. Would NHL fans, desperate for a hockey fix, start filling minor-league arenas? Last night, almost 13,000 fans attended an ECHL game in San Jose between the San Francisco Bulls and Stockton Thunder (tickets were distributed for free by the San Jose Sharks), but are we seeing increased crowds across the board?
In the AHL, at least, it looks like. Nearly half of the second-tier league is enjoying a boost in average attendance of nine percent or more based on the latest figures from Hans Hornstein’s excellent database on minor league hockey attendance. Seven teams are off by seven percent or more, but, collectively, the 30 AHL teams are up just under nine percent compared to the same number of home games for each club a season ago.
I’m not as familiar with all these minor-league hockey situations as I would be with comparable soccer situations, but you can see that NHL markets (or quasi-NHL markets, like Rochester, Albany and Syracuse, near Buffalo) are seeing healthy increases. Whether it’s all attributable to the absence of the NHL would require more study, but the lockout appears, on the surface, to be beneficial to AHL teams, at least. Checking the other leagues would require more work than I want to do at the moment, but perhaps soon.