The last time I wrote about the Barons, I talked quite a bit about the team's attendance throughout the year, and suggested that it's got to be a concern going forward. When the team had just 2,859 fans in attendance for the first home game of the playoffs, this was generally understood to be pretty negative. I actually thought it was a solid step in the right direction, and while that positive sentiment declined substantially with just 1,922 at the team's second home game, it's still far from a disaster so long as they recover somewhat in Round Two. A look at why this is the case after the jump.
At the NHL level, the playoffs are uniformly a hot ticket. Patrons in all of the NHL cities become more interested in the team as they make and then go deeper into the playoffs. Franchises that traditionally struggle at the gate (like Phoenix) are able to get a full house every night, and franchises that traditionally do well are able to jack up the prices. Previously, I (and I think many others) had assumed that this would be the same for AHL teams. But I was wrong.
In the following table, I'll look at the per game attendance in the regular season and playoffs for all of the teams in the AHL over the last three seasons (2009-10, 2010-11, and the first round of 2011-12):
There's a pretty consistent pattern, and it's not the one I expected. Out of forty-eight total playoff seasons, just seven saw attendance increase from the regular season to the playoffs. The average team saw a 22% decline in attendance.
In that context, Oklahoma City's opening game actually looks very good. It was a better raw number than last season's average and a huge improvement in the retention rate to the point that it was meeting the league average. The second game wiped out most of those positives, but if the team can get back to 2,800 or 2,900 that would actually be a big step in the right direction. Anything more than that would be pretty incredible.
As to why this decline is happening so broadly, I really don't know. Maybe teams are giving out fewer freebies, or having fewer promotions, or maybe they just don't have enough lead time to properly promote the games. But that's all speculation. I'd be really interested to hear from the folks who live in the AHL markets. What makes the playoffs so unappealing?