Wednesday, 18 December 2013 14:40

Paltry crowds are cause for concern

Written by  Brad Brown, A Bard's Eye View
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Hey, where did everybody go?

Dec. 12 was as tough a day as the Swift Current Broncos have known in quite awhile.
They gave up three goals in the first four minutes against Victoria, lost 4-3 in overtime and — worst of all — no one was there to see it.
The crowd, appearing to number in the dozens but announced at 1,777, was the lowest attendance for a Broncos home game in almost six years. (There were 1,744 seats paid for on Jan. 8, 2008, for those of you keeping score at home.)
It also put the exclamation point (so far) on a campaign where attendance is at its lowest point in seven seasons.
So what gives?
Was it the ugly way in which the Broncos lost their previous game?
Was it because Chili Cheese Fries Thursday doesn’t roll off the tongue like Weiner Wednesday or Taco-in-a-Bag Tuesday?
Was it that annual rerun of Home Alone 2 — must-see TV by anyone’s standards?
Was it doomsday preparations for the looming Friday the 13th?
Take it all under consideration because no better option has been put forward in the week since.
You can’t blame the weather.
There were nearly 2,000 fans at each of the Broncos’ two previous home games — also on weekdays — when the temperature was well into the minus-20s. At puck drop against Victoria it was a balmy minus 17.
You can’t blame the team’s performance.
The Broncos entered the Victoria game with the third-best home record in the entire WHL and having led the East Division for the better part of a month. On Jan. 8, 2008, they were in the midst of their first 40-win season in six years.
Furthermore, the Broncos’ highest total attendance in the last 15 years came during a 42-win season (2008-09) but their second-highest level of support in that time was reached during a 27-win season (2011-12) when it was clear to all from Day 1 that they would not be part of the playoff picture.
You can’t blame the 7 p.m. start times.
While the Broncos did start the majority of their games at 7:30 p.m. in 2008-09, their second and third-highest attendance totals in the last 15 years have come since the switch to 7 p.m. starts across the board.
You can’t blame the entertainment level.
This year’s Broncos games are averaging almost a full goal-per-game more than last year’s grinding, defensive paint-drying sessions. They also have Julius Honka, alone worth the price of admission. There is no correlation over the years between the number of fighting majors and attendance.
You can’t blame the general manager.
There’s been no correlation over the years either between attendance and the number of Swift Current, southwest or Saskatchewan products on the team.
You can’t blame the scheduling, even though we all know weekday games are poison for attendance.
For comparison, the 2007-08 and 2008-09 Broncos were near identical in almost every measure you can name.
Attendance jumped in 08-09 by 195 fans per game as the team enjoyed 22 Friday and Saturday games, compared with 18 the previous year. Yet for those four extra weekend games alone to account for the difference, each would have had to sell out and find seating for another 1,000 fans beyond capacity.
And lastly you cannot blame the people of Swift Current. The Broncos are not entitled to your support by way of your postal code.
Maybe there are larger forces at play.
Attendance is down for 50 of the 60 major junior teams across Canada — 10 per cent or more in 12 of the WHL’s 22 markets. Those aren’t the kinds of losses that will be covered by the typically-larger crowds in the second half of the season.
Maybe families’ schedules are getting more hectic. Maybe budgets are tightening. Maybe the game of hockey as a whole is just getting beat up in the public eye.
And, maybe, the Broncos’ five per cent decrease in fan support — the third-best performance of any team in the league — is actually a small victory.
Still, in a market where the finances are precarious at the best of times and even that marginal decrease will mean a $50,000-plus swing in revenue at season’s end, it’s very much worthwhile for anyone invested in the team to seek answers.
The question is, where to start?

Read 2393 times Last modified on Wednesday, 18 December 2013 14:41

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