It's commonplace enough to warrant comment: Does it seem odd that some junior hockey teams have attendance go down when the playoffs begin?
Out west, the Kelowna Rockets, who have had 174 regular-season sellouts in a row at Prospera Place, were only at about 75% last weekend, according to Regan's Rant. In one of our previous iterations in Halifax, it was general knowledge that the QMJHL's Mooseheads, who'd had some first-round flops, usually saw scores of empty seats in the opening round. They only got sellouts if they made the second.
(Update: The Chilliwack Progress noted Tuesday: "ticket sales in Chilliwack decreased approximately 13 per cent, one of the bigger dips in the (WHL). But almost everyone saw a drop, including the Vancouver Giants, who went 57-10-2-3 on the ice, but dipped around eight per cent at the gate.")
It's as much a question for the fans as it is for the teams. In the major pro leagues, demand increases when the playoffs begin. There is buzz. The playoffs start in junior and people start to tune out a bit; any and all explanations are welcome.
Once the weather warms up and the snow melts, the casual fans, the parents who might not care tremendously but will take their kids to the rink on a Sunday afternoon, scatter. Oftentimes their children are finishing their own minor hockey seasons, or beginning springtime activities.
It would be great to ask a couple OHL mavens if they just accept the reality that they're going to lose some of their fringier fans once they get past mid-March, especially if their ticketing strategy is anything like the Ottawa 67's. The Soixante-Septs' way of addressing the challenge of playing in a rink which is oversized for the OHL is to distribute a lot of tickets through group sales and vouchers handed out by their corporate partners to fill up a 9,500-seat building.
It is a great approach in the regular season (and, full disclosure, yours truly attended about a half-dozen games for free using vouchers). However, once the playoffs start and fans have to pay full freight, the 67's end up announcing attendance figures like 4,619 and 4,221, as they did last weekend vs. the Niagara IceDogs. In the press box prior to yesterday's doubleheader — the game they actually played and the one described by some fat, dumb and bald guy in the Ottawa Sun — a couple out-of-towners were wondering if the crowd was politely late. The rink was nearly empty at ten minutes to two. One would hope that the 67's made a nice profit off their 34 regular-season dates and a run to the second or third round of the playoffs
The recession isn't a catch-all explanation. It's quite possible people are just smart and realize that, as in the OHL's case, having 16 of 20 teams make the playoffs means the first round is next to meaningless. Maybe everyone's waiting for Round 2, but if they are, it's a lost opportunity for the leagues to whip up interest before the Stanley Cup playoffs push everything else out to the fringe.
Playoff Crowd Numbers (Regan's Rant)
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