With the AHL season just over a quarter done, many would expect that the NHL lockout has more fans than ever flocking to minor league games to see future stars. A look at attendance numbers so far shows that for the most part few things have changed since last season, with a few teams showing significant gains and others that find themselves near the top of the standings struggling to fill seats.
It is no surprise that the Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals) once again lead the league in fans, averaging just over 9,000 per game. As the oldest team in the league, the Bears have a rabid fan base and have never had trouble filling seats. Following Hershey, the Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal Canadiens), Lake Erie Monsters (Colorado Avalanche), Providence Bruins (Boston Bruins) and Rochester Americans (Buffalo Sabres) round out the top five.
The Bulldogs are averaging over 7,400 fans per home game, an improvement of nearly 1,600 fans per game over last season. With no NHL hockey in the area, it appears that fans are willing to go see young Habs prospects in action instead. Rochester is averaging over 1,000 more fans per game than last season, and the proximity to their NHL counterpart in Buffalo is likely helping drive traffic to the Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial.
The Houston Aeros (Minnesota Wild) and Peoria Rivermen (St. Louis Blues) are each averaging around 1,000 fewer fans per game this season, but fall short of being the league’s biggest attendance disappointment. That distinction falls to the Oklahoma City Barons, who despite featuring Edmonton Oilers prospects Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Justin Schultz, rank dead last in attendance (roughly 3,400 fans per game). The team has even tried a Saturday night giveaway where a fan goes home with a new car in attempts to drive ticket sales.
When news of the lockout first emerged, there is little doubt most AHL executives saw a chance for increased revenue as the highest form of professional hockey left in North America. For a few teams this has been the case, but as shown by Oklahoma City and a few others, it definitely hasn’t had the economic effect many initially anticipated.