by Joe Tasca on 09/25/12 at 05:00 PM ET
With the NHL primed for a lengthy lockout, the media spotlight will shine brightly on the American Hockey League this season. Pundits and commentators who've never watched a minor league hockey game in their lives will be forced to cover the AHL because, well, they won't have anything else to do.
The question is, will the game's top developmental league see a spike in attendance this season while the NHL is shut down? The answer might surprise you:
Thanks to the NHL lockout, the Providence Bruins are expecting a slight increase in ticket sales as die-hard fans look to satisfy their craving for pro hockey.
“Given the choice, I wish the NHL was playing because that gives us our best exposure. But as Mr. Belichick says, it is what it is,” said Jeff Fear, the P-Bruins’ CEO.
According to the AHL, during the last lockout in 2004-05, Providence’s average attendance increased by only 45 fans per game, from 7,497 in 2003-04 to 7,542 the next year.
The fact of the matter is AHL attendance is largely reliant on families and group sales. Five-year-old children and their parents could care less about the prospect of watching Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jeff Skinner in person. They're more interested in the pink thundersticks being handed out at the gate.
Some will point out that the AHL saw a 6.5 percent hike in attendance during the '05 lockout. But that figure is very deceptive because many AHL games were played in NHL arenas that year. In fact, the Oilers placed their affiliate in Edmonton for the entire season. If the current lockout drags on past Thanksgiving, NHL markets will likely be playing host to minor league contests once again.
AHL teams in close geographic proximity to their parent clubs are more likely to get a small attendance boost this season, as the Providence Bruins did eight years ago. That's because a die-hard fan of the local NHL team will have no choice but to satisfy his hockey fix by watching the young prospects down on the farm. But it's a stretch to think the Oklahoma City Barons will attract a slew of new hockey fans because Jordan Eberle is in the house.
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About Tasca's Take
Tasca's Take is written by Joe Tasca. Born and raised in Westerly, Rhode Island, Joe works as a broadcaster for seven radio stations in southern New England. Whether that's a testament to his on-air ability or because he has a desparate need for money is debatable.
Joe spends his summers playing golf, enjoying the beauty of Misquamicut Beach, and wining and dining girls who are easily awed by the mere presence of a radio personality. During the winter months, he can usually be found taking in a hockey game somewhere in North America. In the spring, he spends much of his time in botanical gardens tiptoeing through the tulips, while autumn is a time to frolic with his golden retrievers through piles of his neighbors’ leaves.