Sunday, 1 April 2018

Where Are The Alberta WHL Hockey Fans?

WHL hockey fans were treated to some good and some not-so-good hockey through the first four games of the playoffs. We had a few solid toe-to-toe matches and some unbelievable blowouts.

While combing through some of the pictures and videos from the different barns, I couldn't help but notice empty seats in the front rows. This isn't necessarily a "new" problem per se, but it's certainly something I've always been intrigued by.

Let me first say that there are a ton of elements factoring into attendance at games. How the home team is doing, the rivalry with the opponent, the weather, the economy and what else is going on around town all play a part in determining how many butts are in the seats. So I get it.

But when you look at some of the numbers, it's interesting to see what's happening here in Alberta, where it's actually pretty easy to eliminate two of those factors because the situations are almost identical between 2017 and 2018.

With the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Red Deer Rebels, they played each other in both years and the same sequencing for home games. In Lethbridge in 2017, game one drew 4,118 fans while game two saw 3,380. In 2018, game one featured 3,204 while game two had 3,403. So it was down substantially in game one and up slightly in game two. Again, a ton of factors could have been a part of it.

In Red Deer, the drop-off was a little more noticeable. Game three attendance went from 5,017 in 2017 to 4,227 this year and game four dropped from 5,213 down to 4,289. Now, the Rebels were coming off two blowouts at the Enmax Centre so the pessimism might have been a little daunting for a few people in game three and maybe got worse going into game four down 3-0.

The only other Alberta team in the running has also seen a dip at the turnstiles that's pretty hard to ignore. Gregg Drinnan talked about this in one of his recent posts. For the second-straight year, the Medicine Hat Tigers entered the first round against the Brandon Wheat Kings. Again, they had home ice advantage. Attendance in game one in 2017: 3,583. In 2018: 3,050. How about game two? Even worse, from 3,791 down to 2,943. For a city that prided itself on 4,006 in the old arena come playoff time (even if there were a few empty seats), the new Canalta Centre hasn't exactly been helpful in creating a jam-packed, playoff atmosphere in the 'Hat.

I did go around the WHL for a few more examples. Regina and Swift Current recorded packed houses both years, Moose Jaw has seen a noticeable increase from last year, while we don't have a comparitive for Prince Albert. Over in the west, attendance has been stronger than last year in Everett, Seattle, Portland and Tri-City. Kelowna is down slightly, but I attribute that to facing Kamloops last year and Tri-City this year, so the regional enemy is kind of lacking.

Again, I know a lot of factors play into whether people come to the arena to watch a hockey game. There's no denying that the economy has drained a few people of their expendable income. And the weather also hasn't been the greatest. But the numbers don't lie. Through the first four games of the playoffs, Alberta barns weren't packed to the rafters. Make no mistake that, during the off-season, there will be more than a few conversations had in each of this province's markets to figure out how to get more butts in the seats.

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