Were I a super productive, highly motivated individual that didn’t practically hibernate through the 500-odd days of lockdown (OK, perhaps it’s not been quite that long but at times it’s felt like the last few months were double the length!), then I might have had this out and nipped in the bud already but the most productive thing I’ve done in lock down happened in about week 10 when I painted my fence so that should give you some insight into my motivation levels!
On more than one occasion I’ve toyed with the idea of not actually doing this at all because analysing this the 19/20 season attendance is going to be less than straightforward. The season being cancelled early has meant that the amount of home games completed throughout the league is mismatched which will in turn make the analysis a little mismatched. Some teams didn’t even get to play a home game in March which has made my charts rather unbalanced so on top of everything else, that’s triggering my OCD! (I know, I know, not important in the grand scheme of things!)
I spent a fair bit of time having an internal debate over how best to complete, or not, the attendances for the games that weren’t played, if everyone had played the same amount of home games then it’d have been super easy but that was never going to happen. I settled on leaving them off for the monthly analysis because you can see the general trend even for the teams who didn’t play a home game in March and for the breakdowns I took the average attendance for the day of the week they were supposed to have been played on and added that to the totals, for the majority of teams that was the factor that made the most difference to the gates. This hopefully allows for a more balanced comparison with last year’s data.
The general story is quite balanced, three teams were up on last year, three were down and four held steady, the ups outweighed the downs, by the smallest of margins but it was still a slight upturn for overall capacities in the EIHL.
Here’s how everyone did compared to previous seasons in terms of achieving capacity:
Any lost games are going to hurt the bottom line of any team but I suspect the large travelling contingent of Panthers fans would have made more difference than the travelling Flyers fans, I won’t go into it too much here as we’re talking about Belfast but it’s clear that the Flyers faithful are losing patience with their organisation and they most certainly aren’t travelling as well as they used to.
Both remaining double headers were Friday and Saturday so in the interests of balance I added in the Friday and Saturday averages to see how much of a difference it would have made, the answer is, not a lot!
The capacity figure creeps up to 51% and the per-game attendance creeps up by 7 bodies per game but this assumes that the Flyers double header would have been as popular as the Panthers double header, my personal feeling is that it wouldn’t have been and you’re free to dispute that if you wish!
It was reasonable to expect the rivalry with Cardiff would continue given how close the title race ran between these two teams the season before so a healthy attendance was to be expected, however while that was the standout attendance at the SSE Arena then, this past season games against Dundee and Glasgow have seen a spike and I have no idea why! Perhaps the straight league arrangement as opposed to the conferences was responsible, the numbers from 18/19 would lend themselves to that theory but one thing that goes against the grain for the Clan games is that only one of them was on a Saturday.
The Monday game is a slightly erroneous one as it was during the festive period and for the purposes of analysing the best attended game day of the week it should probably be ignored. The heavy bias for weekend games is a sensible bit of scheduling by the Giants organisation as in the short time I’ve been doing my amateur analysis I’ve seen that weekday games are as poorly attended as Sunday games, if not more so, speaking of which, the avoidance of as many Sunday games as possible is also something they should look to continue, the average for last season’s Sunday games is worse than the season before!
So last year the Devils had 15 absolute sell outs, this year it was 14 with 4 games still to play and given that the chase for the title was still on I’m of the opinion that they would have beaten last year’s total; I wonder if the Devils management are still happy with the capacity of Ice Arena Wales?
Well actually, they may well be because despite this, the overall attendance didn’t improve on last year, holding steady at 96% but a small upturn in overall Red Army per game. It was a slow start in September/October and then jumped up sharply in November, the complete opposite to last year but the business end of the season both years saw consistent interest, amazing what being in a title chase can do for you eh?
Whilst there is some fluctuation of the attendance in games against the Scottish teams from last year, it’s no surprise that all three teams are once again the lowest attended in Cardiff Bay, that is one heck of a journey and only the hardiest of travellers would make it. That being said, I’ll make reference to my earlier comment regarding the Flyers fans, I’d expect that bar to be the lowest and I haven’t even had to estimate an attendance for that series.
Fife and Glasgow were the only teams for which Cardiff didn’t have a sell out game, for the games against Sheffield all three were sell outs and I fully expect they would have added at least 3 more with the two games against Belfast, Coventry and Guildford having all been sell outs. And to reiterate, they were still in the title run.
One thing to note from last year, there is more parity with Coventry games now that there is no conference structure. If you were looking at these numbers and knew nothing about the EIHL, you might have trouble identifying Cardiff’s main rival. Perhaps, at this point, so do they!
I haven’t been to the Skydome for a few seasons now but once upon a time, as much as I hated being present for what seemed like a constant stream of losses, I was there for most Panthers games and I may have commented on a past blog, or podcast that it was noticeable how attendances have dwindled over the years.
However, this year the overall capacity has held absolutely steady and the per person attendance per game is slightly up so perhaps some slight positive news on the attendance front.
Sunday has been the preferred game day of the Coventry faithful for as long as I’ve been hockey spreadsheeting but this season it would appear that Saturday is making something of a petition, I’m not sure if the Blaze have any kind of market research schedule that they direct to their fanbase but if it were up to me, I’d be inclined to explore it. I know results are a big factor in generating interest and the Blaze were in the midst of a plan which has obviously now been ruthlessly halted by a global pandemic, it may even be an anomaly but perhaps it’s the beginning of a shift. Every body counts.
One thing that may or may not be a curiosity is Coventry’s attendance against Guildford, I’ve had to prop the third game up with a guesstimate and as explained earlier I’ve taken the average figure for the day it was supposed to be played on, if I’d taken the average of the other two games instead it would have been a difference of less than 100, I’m personally willing to accept either figure but it’s reasonable to accept that the attendance for the final visit of the Flames would have been around and about the figure of the other two which puts this year’s attendance at over a thousand more than last year. Given that they were in the same conference last season I’d have expected it to be the other way around and it puts a small splinter in the foot of the conference system for me.
Dundee only played one home game in March, which was against the Clan and had a more than healthy attendance, but even so there was already an upward trend in the attendance through the second half of the year. Of the remaining games, the one against Nottingham was part of a double header, I was supposed to be going on it and I’m pretty sure given the feeling amongst the Panthers fanbase there would have been a good travelling support so I personally wouldn’t expect that average to have come down by too much, if at all. The per-game average for the year is quite an impressive jump on the previous season despite a severe dip in November and December, over 150 people extra! Unsurprisingly the improved average per-game attendance has also tipped the overall potential capacity upwards, it’s not a massive increase but it’s an increase all the same.
Absolutely no surprise that the best attended games were against the Stars’ Scottish rivals, it’s an expected effect of their location, so those games are important to their revenue stream and it’s easy to see why they advocated so much for the Conference system but until there are enough teams to warrant one they’ll just have to continue to be savvy with their scheduling.
One slight change to Dundee’s previous seasons is that there seems to be a slight shift to Saturday as the preferred game day. there weren’t any games that were on ‘odd’ nights, their festive season games all seemed to make sense, as it were.
One thing to note that is slightly less savvy with the scheduling, December was the month that Dundee had the most home games and also was the only month which saw any games with an attendance below the thousand people mark, two to be exact, it’s a hard month guys and Christmas presents will usually come before hockey tickets!
If you’re interested in a comprehensive assessment of the Dundee Stars attendance fortunes then I’ll just point you in the direction of a blog that Dave Sweetin, Dundee’s webcast play-by-play commentator, managed to get out in a much more timely fashion than I did!
I’m not going to beat around the bush here, it’s a grim looking picture for the Flyers. Two consecutive years of a visible and obviously consistent downturn in numbers and unfortunately it’s not surprising given the generally poor performance of the team. Without the Capitals to be the whipping boys the Flyers have looked a little exposed and the fans are voting with their feet. You feel something has to change, quite drastically, and (Covid notwithstanding) very soon.
Similarly to Dundee the Scottish rivalry games were the best attended but the per-game average over the course of the year is a down turn of almost 300 people, for any team that would be cause for concern but for a rink team, that’s an astounding hit to the pocket.
Despite one of the two remaining home games for the Flyers being against the Clan I’m not of the opinion it would have made the picture look any better for them.
In previous seasons weekday games haven’t been too detrimental to the Flyers but taking the Wednesday game from last season in isolation against the weekend games, even considering the reduced attendance this season, it’s pretty shocking to see a rink with a capacity into the thousands drop to a three figure attendance.
Sadly, I’m struggling to find a positive to talk about in relation to attendance.
It would appear that the ‘Fitzy factor’ sort of fizzled out towards the business end of the season, at the close of play it was still mathematically possible for the Clan to not make POFW and the frustration was obvious on social media. However, the decent start to the season cancelled out the apparent downturn in February and the per-game average for the year was actually better than the previous season. It would have been interesting to see how that would have actually panned out had the remaining games been played, making ultra-basic predictions is all well and good but as I was basing them on games that had been played in the ‘Fitzgerald honeymoon period’ it’s not necessarily the right indicator in this case.
Unlike their Scottish neighbours, the distinction between those rivalry games and the other UK based teams isn’t quite so prominent, the Flyers games do stick out but not by a large distance.
Also much of a muchness is the game day preference, aside from a festive Tuesday and a slightly less well attended Wednesday evening, there isn’t one really, it’s a positive for the Clan organisation as they have more flexibility when it comes to the fixtures meeting.
When the EIHL does finally get going again and the Clan can make a coaching appointment that meets with the fans approval then they may be able to inject some positivity back into the fan base and treat it like a fresh start. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess but so far the Clan fans have been quite patient with their organisation, they just need to be careful that they don’t stretch that patience too far.
I’m not sure if the Flames organisation will be happy with how the attendance is going, on the one hand it’s steady but on the other hand there’s some capacity for growth. Not much mind as the rink in the Spectrum isn’t the biggest and if they ever did find themselves with a surge of new fans I doubt there’s any way to expand it. I wouldn’t imagine the Spectrum would go for it either, so perhaps it’s for the best that they’re currently remaining constant.
The general trend for per-game attendance over the season was on the up despite the slight downturn in March, given that the remaining games were all against Scottish opposition I don’t think March was destined to have an upward curve as looking at the attendances versus each team, it feels to me like the Flames attendance is more influenced by away support that any other team.
Last season there was a definite spike against Cardiff, it’s a pretty straightforward journey on the M4, last season Cardiff were on a definite high and they weren’t even in the same conference. This season there’s still a spike but it’s closely followed by the Steelers and Panthers so I wouldn’t imagine the Flames would join the Scottish teams to advocate for a return to the Conference System.
The Thursday fixtures were both within the festive/New Year period so can be discounted when it comes to looking at the Flames preferred gameday, the two Wednesday games were well attended but when you look at attendance and number of games played, like last year, it’s still Sunday that ranks top. I’m not sure if Sunday is a preference because it fits in with anything else the Spectrum have going on but interestingly Saturday’s average was exactly the same with less games (what are the chances of that eh?) so perhaps that could be worth some investigation?
Last year I mused on whether the Storm’s attendance had plateaued and based on this year’s figures I’m starting to think I might have been correct. A late surge in March caused an upward curve but it wasn’t enough to drag the per-game attendance or the potential capacity north of last years numbers, I doubt the two remaining home games would have made the required difference either. Manchester also have the dubious honour of a game that fell into a three-figure attendance.
The 18/19 season teams graph has a lovely curve to it with Sheffield being the standout attendance, this time around they are joined by Belfast, however the average attendance for Sheffield last season was actually less than the season before and similarly with Coventry, although the chart makes it look like the average attendance went up, it didn’t. If I were to arrange both season’s charts in the same way there’s only Belfast’s bar that would look wildly different.
One of the Wednesday games was in the New Year period and gives that day a bit of a boost but Saturday is a clear favourite this time, for some reason Friday is absolutely not having quite the drop from weekend games.
As a Panthers fan I can obviously speak with a little more authority than on other teams and frankly I’m baffled, we were down on per-game attendance and potential capacity versus the 18/19 season where we had a team that, largely, I couldn’t wait to see the back of. My opening statement on this section last year ran along those lines and I know I wasn’t alone so either me and the people who agreed with me were in the minority or last season was the proverbial straw the broke the camel’s back and we’ve lost fans who got fed up of watching imports that appeared to be on a jolly rather than being here to win trophies. If the latter is true then the Panthers organisation have some work to do, when we finally get going again, to win those people back again.
It’s obvious where most of the damage was done, September is always full of optimism but in October I recall us doing podcasts and pubcasts early in the season along the lines of, “You can see they’re trying but collectively the team just isn’t very good”, so I suspect there was a sense of, ‘Here we go again’ amongst the fanbase. We did get better and they were still trying and so it picked up but not even to the previous season’s levels and the damage was already done with the October dip.
The games against the Steelers still stick out however only one of them was a sell out! I’d have to look back over my spreadsheets to find the last time that happened in a league game series, most other series were similar to the previous season with a slight dip for Manchester and Cardiff and a slight increase for the Belfast games, nothing too shocking there.
The Tuesday and Thursday games were festive/New Year games so should be discounted when looking at a gameday preference. It’s definitely still Saturday for Panthers fans, the bars themselves don’t seem to indicate a strong preference until you look at the numbers themselves, while Friday and Sunday still held over the five thousand mark it’s still quite the difference from Saturday and the less said about Wednesdays the better! An unfortunate necessity of being in an arena.
One of three teams to improve on per-game average attendance and potential capacity and at least two of their remaining three games would probably have kept that pretty steady being against the Storm and the Devils, they’ve enjoyed a heathy rivalry with both, for different reasons, but they seem to have helped the attendances in the last few seasons. Each month was an increase on the same period last year until February but I don’t think that would be much of a concern and the good start for the rest of the year didn’t put too much of a dent in the numbers.
As I’m strictly talking about the number of people each team gets to sit in their rink or arena it’s not a point of analysis for me that the Steelers had a few five-pound games again last season but I suppose it would be remiss of me to not at least mention it. If those games balanced the books and created a few more fans to bolster the base numbers then they can obviously call that a success, in terms of the actual numbers that you’re looking at in these charts, it’s an obvious win.
So once again the ‘biggest rivalry on the planet’ is reciprocal and sticks out but visually it’s more closely followed by the War of the Roses rivalry with the Storm this past season, the small spike on the bar for Guildford is something of a surprise but after that it’s much of a muchness in terms of opposition.
Moving the festive Thursday aside there is definitely more parity on the remaining game days versus last season, the amount of Saturday games is a strong indicator that Saturday is still hockey night in Sheffield but the Steelers fans are still coming out in numbers when the arena and/or EIHL schedule means that a different night is required but interestingly for two seasons running it’s the same game days so there’s obviously something to be said for consistency.
Following a lot of speculation we now have confirmation that the 2020/21 season is going to be suspended with half an eye on a January start if guidance allows, however, several high profile departures from most teams except the Steelers would certainly make a competitive season difficult. Following the announcement I’d be surprised if the Steelers weren’t morally obligated to allow their players to look elsewhere but if they don’t you’d have to fancy them to take the spoils, how can you look past a full strength team versus everyone else on half power or less?
With the most recent announcement from the Government that we’re being scaled back to ‘the rule of six’ and with the proposed sporting pilot events for getting fans back in to football stadiums having been pushed back there doesn’t look to be much hope for getting back to anything that feels like normal any time soon.
Various football matches in this country have started behind closed doors and when there’s an adequate supply of money behind them, they have that luxury, same for the NHL, the Stanley Cup Conference Finals are in full swing without a single fan in the building but the Elite Ice Hockey League relies on a business model that has bums on seats in the equation. The Panthers have in the past run a webcast that was free to air because a sponsorship deal was obtained to cover the costs, I’m no businesswoman and I’m not privy to the finances that teams of EIHL require to operate but I’m of the opinion that running a season like this would be unsustainable, the money just doesn’t exist for our sport to function like that.
When we do have a season again I have no idea what it’s going to look like, how many faces we’re going to recognise on or off the ice but one thing’s for certain, it’s going to look nothing like any season we’ve ever had and I suspect for my follow up blogs for the next couple of years, instead of analysing the potential growth of the Elite League, we’ll be talking in terms of recovery.