One of the things that I was most curious about coming into the lockout was how minor league hockey would fare with no NHL games being played. On the one hand, you know that the league will be filled with better players, and in some cases (like Oklahoma City), the team will be able to market some of the best young players in the game. On the other hand, hockey will be even more under the radar generally, and fans generally don’t care much for work stoppages. So is AHL attendance up or is it down so far this season?
It isn’t going to be one answer for every team, of course, but when we compare each team’s first few games to the first few games they played at home last season, attendance is generally up:
Three of the five big winners are teams playing very close to Canadian NHL markets. This doesn’t come as a big surprise, but it does suggest to me that Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr have absolutely nothing to worry about in Canada once this lockout is finally over. Interestingly, if we remove the four Canadian cities (Abbotsford, Hamilton, St. John’s and Toronto) from the mix, the overall gain in attendance drops to 3.5%, which means that just over half the gain is coming from these three cities.
I’ve been following the attendance patterns in Oklahoma City for a while now, and these numbers really don’t look good at all. The team is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the lockout with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, and Justin Schutlz (and now Taylor Hall) all taking a regular shift for the club, and yet attendance is still down significantly compared to the same set of games last season. At this point, I’ve got to think that the Oilers must be considering a move.