Bums on Seats – The First Post-Covid Effort

I know summer isn’t quite over yet but I have no idea where mine has gone which is absolutely my excuse for this being out so late on! Also, I should definitely apologise for my slightly bizarre decision to have a slight reorganisation of some team colours, I’m going to blame lockdown, not exactly sure it’s going to fly as a justification but I’ve committed to it now so you’ll just have to roll with it.

If you’re reading this having not actually read my previous musings on this subject then you may be a little confused as to what’s going on, you’re under no obligation to go back and read the past chapters but should you wish to then here they are:

2020 – https://thecatswhiskersonline.com/bums-on-seats-the-2020-instalment/

2019 – https://thecatswhiskersonline.com/blog/2019-20-blogs/more-or-less-bums-on-seats/

2018 – https://thecatswhiskersonline.com/bums-on-seats/

(Blimey, this is the fourth one?)

As the previous season was cut short, I decided that it would probably be useful to include some 2018/19 figures here and there to see if teams had managed to recover and get themselves back to the levels they were at in the last uninterrupted season we had. Two teams have managed to better their previous years, some are there or thereabouts and some have a worrying trend they need to address urgently in the upcoming season.

Here’s how everyone did compared to previous seasons in terms of achieving capacity:

I’ll probably talk about these more below in each team’s separate analysis but there are a few things that stick out to me from this table, the contrasting fortunes of Dundee and Fife and the significant losses last season for Guildford and Nottingham, the latter of which didn’t shock me but, because I don’t know the fan base particularly well, the former did!

Belfast Giants

Games with reduced attendance due to Covid restrictions – 0

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Sunday is a bad day for hockey in Belfast, it’s inevitable that they need to have Sunday games but it sticks out like a sore thumb every time I do this as a low point in attendance for them. However, if you compare the two seasons above, aside from an erroneous Christmas period game in the 2019/20 season, they’re very consistent with the days of the week that they play. In short, no mid-week games, you lucky ducks. Clearly the Giants have the kind of relationship with their arena that the Panthers, until recently it seems, could only dream of!

The per-game average is down on the previous two seasons but not by so much as they should have cause to panic just yet, I would venture that social and environmental factors have more to do with this that anything else because the team’s performance has certainly warranted the interest of even the most passive of Giants fans.

The only per-team attendance that really raised an eyebrow was that of the Flyers games, you can normally see spikes with rivalries are or where there are fanbases that traditionally travel well to bolster the numbers, but I’m at a bit of a loss to understand this one to be honest. I was on the Panthers double header this season and I can’t imagine there’d have been more Flyers fans when they didn’t have a double header themselves, in fact having a quick check back, all of the games against the Flyers were better attended than the ones against the Panthers. I would have to conclude that those ones were all down to the home fans.

It won’t have made much of a difference but for one of the games against Manchester, I’ve had to put a fictitious average in because, apparently, the Elite League isn’t too concerned about chasing up missing information on game sheets. Even when a rather annoying amateur statistician sends them an email and a Twitter DM about it.

Cardiff Devils

Games with reduced attendance due to Covid restrictions – 5

Opposition – Coventry, Guildford, Manchester, Fife, Belfast

In the 2018/19 season there were 15 sell outs, in the curtailed 2019/20 season there were 14 with 4 games that went un-played, this past season, 17 sell outs with 5 home games that were played behind closed doors. Come on Todd, admit it, you wish you had a bit more capacity to play with!

So obviously we can only speculate as to the outcomes of the games that were played to empty seats and they may very well have had an impact on the overall capacity, which was a very impressive 98%, but it’s a fair bet that Ice Arena Wales would have seen another sell out or two from those games and it would be ludicrous to suggest that it would have driven the totals anywhere less than the consistent 96% the Devils have achieved over the previous two seasons.

Move along people, nothing to see here!

Coventry Blaze

Games with reduced attendance due to Covid restrictions – 0

I commented above on the Giants average attendance had dipped slightly which was possibly related to factors other than the team performance but I’m not sure I would be able to attribute the same factors to the rather sharp drop in attendance that the Blaze had last season.

Despite the Blaze holding steady over the seasons spanning 2018-2020, they have been on a steady downturn in the seasons prior to that and once again in the most recently completed season. While there may be reasons related to Covid, unlike the Giants, they don’t have the consistent performance in challenging for silverware to give the fanbase any indication that there is something to look forward to if they would choose to come back. As a Panthers fan, I can sort of relate to that.

There isn’t much that sticks out in the rest of the data really, the Blaze have done their best to maximise attendance by minimising mid-week games, they’ve never been afraid of Sundays like most of the rest of us and in fact Sunday has long been the traditional favourite of Coventry faithful and while there are less people attending games on average, any day of the weekend seems to be agreeable to the same people who are still keeping the faith.

Dundee Stars

Games with reduced attendance due to Covid restrictions – 6

Opposition – Fife, Manchester, Glasgow, Nottingham, Coventry, Sheffield

It feels like last season was something of a landmark for the Stars and it showed in the attendances, particularly towards the end of the season when they surely felt as though they were on the brink of something special. Of course, the Covid affected games could very well have swung the pendulum either way but there were two rivalry games and the game against the Panthers was part of a triple header which is traditionally well attended so having to play in front of a maximum of 200 people will have certainly hurt the bottom line regardless of the implications of the attendance statistics.

There were Covid affected games against Fife and Glasgow but just look at how high the attendances were with only two games with the potential for full capacity. Ouch. Just shows how much those games mean to the Scottish teams.

Similarly to the previous season, any weekend game was well attended and like the Devils, not having a multifunctional venue comes with certain benefits that the arena teams aren’t afforded so they can take full advantage of that and for the last few seasons, they absolutely have.

In the upcoming season we’ll find out if Jeff Mason can continue the wave of success started by Omar Pacha, the Stars have been growing under Pacha’s direction, every time I’ve been to their rink the increase in attendances has been noticeable and I’m all for it, despite the fact that I find Dundee Arena very welcoming (it’s my favourite away rink, sorry everyone else!) I have no issue with them packing it with home fans and making it very uncomfortable for my team, that’s what it’s supposed to be like!

Fife Flyers

Games with reduced attendance due to Covid restrictions – 3

Opposition – Belfast, Nottingham, Guildford

So at the top of the page I said you were under no obligation to check out my previous attendance blogs but I’m half tempted to advise you to check out the last one just so I don’t have to repeat myself with what I wrote for the Flyers last season.

It’s not good. I said last time that something needed to change and it doesn’t appear to have done which, I would suggest, is reflected in the figures you see above.

Re-arranging rivalry games that were due to be played under Covid restrictions was a savvy move and has seen them maintain decent figures for those opponents but you could be forgiven for being unsure as to who the Flyers played in front of the 200 maximum attendances if I hadn’t specified it above.

I’m not sure how they’re managing to stay afloat in a league which relies so heavily on live game attendance and so far I see nothing to suggest it’s going to be any different this time around.

Glasgow Clan

Games with reduced attendance due to Covid restrictions – 5

Opposition – Manchester, Cardiff, Nottingham, Belfast, Manchester

I can’t work you Clan fans out this time around, what’s with mid-week games being better attended than Fridays? They weren’t even festive period fixtures. Baffling! Order is only restored when you look at Saturdays, thank god for that!

You can almost exclusively see where the Covid affected attendances were but the attendance for the games against Guildford are a touch on the low side and I suspect it’s a source of frustration that two games against Manchester were played to a 200 strong audience as they continue their never-ending battle for purple supremacy.

As for the Scottish rivalry games, you can see they are as important to the Clan as to their neighbours so it’s good to see that they’ve stuck out here too.

They’ve managed to get themselves back to the average they hit in the 2018/19 but they’ve got some work to do to get themselves back to where they were when Fitzgerald was at the helm. Cameron is lots of fun, can he build a team that’s as fun to watch as him to bring the crowds back in? I suspect this coming season will provide a definitive answer.

Guildford Flames

Games with reduced attendance due to Covid restrictions – 0

The attendance statistics of the Guildford Flames drive me up the wall because they are consistently inconsistent, just when you think there might be a trend building somewhere, the wind changes and it’s gone!

Perhaps the only constant is the prominence of the attendance for games against the Devils but it’s not as exceptional as it has been in previous seasons. The average game attendance has come down quite significantly after two very consistent seasons and the steady climb that was building through 21/22 came to a crashing halt in March for reasons I’m not aware of unless it simply came down to the fact that there were six games in that month and fans money simply didn’t stretch that far, several teams had hasty arrangements to make to ensure cancelled fixtures were fulfilled and there are several corresponding dips in attendance in March.

Tuesday looks to be a gameday to avoid in the future, there were three games, none of which were Christmas period games but the good news is that either weekend day appears to be agreeable.

There is a rather low ceiling to the attendance at Guildford games because there simply isn’t the scope to expand, however, they’re not even close to reaching that ceiling so that’s a discussion for another day I suppose!

Like most teams, I think the upcoming season will be a fair indication of the recovery they’re able to make, or not make as the case may be. I simply don’t have any conclusions to draw from the Flames attendance at the moment, maybe this time next year I’ll have something more insightful!

Manchester Storm

Games with reduced attendance due to Covid restrictions – 0

So from the consistently inconsistent Guildford Flames, to the consistently consistent Manchester Storm. To save you going back and reading my past blogs if you didn’t have the time, spoiler alert, I thought that the Storm’s attendance had reached a bit of a plateau two blogs ago and it would appear that I may have been on to something!

It’s worth noting that the attendance against the Panthers was higher that it should have been due to a hasty Covid re-arrangement for the usual ‘War of the Roses’ New Year battle, that game was sold on the basis of Storm playing the Steelers, however, a Steelers fixture further down the line (possibly the rearranged fixture) only drew a three figure audience, imagine how much more the bar against the Steelers could have stuck out had that fixture been appropriately attended.

They’re a fickle bunch in Altrincham, apparently the weekend is for hockey, Friday just about sneaks in as acceptable and weekdays just do not cut the mustard even with how rare they’ve been. Consider that the New Year fixture against the Steelers has drawn around two thousand people for three seasons running but then stick that fixture on a late season weekday and it only convinces 945 to attend, that’s a very specific set of parameters for the management to work with!

Similarly to the Stars, the Storm have a new face behind the bench this season but, in my opinion, there is less of a weight of expectation for that new face to deliver immediate success, however, Matt Ginn will learn all too quickly that being a fan favourite as a player will fade all too quickly if he fails to improve on previous seasons at all, the Storm have had much better attendances so it can be done, they just need to be consistent in their competitiveness and not just in their attendances.

Nottingham Panthers

Games with reduced attendance due to Covid restrictions – 0

Ok, strap in kids because there’s a lot to unpick here.

Last season was the one where I was almost ready to chuck the towel in, we had an organisation that was dysfunctional, a team of really nice blokes that worked their socks off but got absolutely nowhere, we sacked our coach without having a replacement to take his place, several seasons of mediocrity, a Director of Hockey who was way out of his depth and no sense that it was going to get better any time soon. Did I miss anything?

In the 2019/20 season only one game against the Steelers was a sell-out, last season, none of them were. For the Panthers organisation that should have been the strongest barometer of how the fanbase was feeling and the less said about January the better and while March may have looked like a recovery, the average was bolstered by there only being two games and one of them being an aforementioned non-sell out against our chums up the road so the averages are not always what they seem!

In the grand scheme of things, the figures against the rest of the teams are quite unremarkable, the most telling figure is that there were around a thousand less people attending per game versus the 2018/19 season, the Panthers fanbase has been steadily eroded by passive management and a poor on ice product, were I writing this a few months ago I may have suggested that it was only going to get worse, but then, something interesting happened.

I’ve been tackling this over the course of a week or two and at the time of writing the Panthers have completed their roster following the installation of a new coach, early in the off-season, the acquisition of a new head honcho and suddenly there’s a buzz for the new season.

I’m generally an optimist and I’d like to think that when Panthers put Season Tickets back on the table after the deadline had passed, they did it because there was a genuine demand for it, if this is the case then it’s a good sign and I hope I’m going to see more seats filled in the NIC this coming season. We’ll soon see if the hard yards that Omar Pacha has put in so far are going to pay dividends.

Sheffield Steelers

Games with reduced attendance due to Covid restrictions – 0

In the 2019/20 season the Steelers were pretty much over the top of the previous season in terms of the monthly per-game average so to be within touching distance of that on the return from Covid season is something of an accomplishment to be honest. It shouldn’t be a surprise because they signed a team which created excitement and, annoyingly, was good to watch. For them obviously, the rest of us hated it, especially Panthers fans despite plenty of us (the royal ‘us’) heading up to Sheffield to go and watch because as in every previous year I’ve done this, the Nottingham games stick out like a sore thumb.

Like a couple of other teams, the Steelers fans aren’t too keen on mid-week games so the organisation appears to have attempted to keep those to a minimum, unfortunately it is often inevitable for the arena teams that we have to suffer them, I suspect Panthers and Steelers fans reading this will be looking at the Giants gamedays and wondering how we get a piece of that action in our own arenas! I certainly emitted a small envious sigh.

Both weekend gamedays are nicely balanced and have been for a number of years, the average attendance on weekend days has gone up steadily over the last few seasons but curiously the total capacity has stayed, according to my rudimentary percentage display, exactly the same which just demonstrates that the data can say whatever you want it to if you present it in the right way!

And Finally…

I have renewed my season ticket with fresh optimism, however it’s not the usual begrudging, habitual reaction that I’ve had over the past couple of seasons, thankfully it’s something different. I know of one person who has become a season ticket holder again, I’d be interested to know how many more there have been and what season ticket sales have been like for the Panthers this season, how many are already aboard the Pacha-train and how many are waiting to see how well it rolls down the line.

Attracting your season ticket holders forms the base of your attendances and it seems logical that there is some correlation between a team’s season ticket sales and overall attendances but it’s something I can obviously only speculate on. There are some teams who benefit from their location and can pick up some casual fans who see it as the start of a night out, that’s certainly the case for the Panthers although we didn’t see a lot of that last season.

There are some teams who can’t blame covid for their disappointing attendances because the signs were already there and it needs to be addressed with some urgency, but how many times can they keep inexplicably keep bouncing back? Some teams are have made positive changes, some have made enforced changes and some are doing well enough to justify carrying on as they were although they would do well to not rest on their laurels.

In some ways I think that the upcoming season is going to be even more telling than the one we’ve just had, last season was riddled with postponements, games played behind closed doors or in front of a vastly reduced crowd and I wouldn’t expect to see anywhere near the level of disruption we had again so it should be a more accurate reflection of everyone’s post-covid recovery.

Remember when our biggest issue was One Direction? Seems like so long ago!

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