Thursday, July 21, 2011

In Defense of the AHL Schedule Matrix

Regional rivalries make up a big part of the AHL schedule, but are dedicated fans forgetting why that is? (Credit: Texas Stars)

As mentioned before, there has been a lot of ink spilled on the topic of the AHL schedule matrix and how unbalanced it is. Instead of piling on to that argument today, I wanted to take a look at the other side of the coin, which was shown to me first by "GM" at the Hershey Bears Hockey blog.

In his post last week "Defending the Schedule Matrix and an Early Look at a Potential Lineup", GM made a lot of good points about why the schedule matrix is the way it is. The foremost of them all is money, and not in a greedy "NFL owners" way but more in a "if we don't make any, we're going to have to shutdown the team" way.

The crux of the argument is that most of the money for AHL team operations comes not from merchandising or TV and radio deals, but instead from the ticket sales. Despite the devotion of many who read this blog to every movement of the team, there are an equal, if not greater, number of people in Austin who just want to watch good hockey and don't care that Sean Backman got scratched tonight in favor of Michael Neal. These are the folks that help get the building to 6,863 on those rocking nights at the CPC.

HBH's argument is as follows: On paper, which matchup is the casual fan likely to be more interested in: San Antonio or Binghamton? With no offense to the Eastern Conference, the fanbase in Texas is more likely to have an emotional connection to San Antonio, Houston or even Oklahoma City.

As proof for the argument, take a look at the attendance data for Sunday afternoon games in Chocolate Town:
Adirondack - 7,000
Binghamton - 7,500
Charlotte - 7,400
Manitoba - 8,000
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton - 10,700
Wilkes-Barre, separated from Hershey by just 2 hours of highway, is the top drawing matchup by almost 3,000 fans.

GM also points to Albany and Adirondack, separated by just 56 minutes:
"One Saturday, [Albany] played Adirondack and drew 5,200 fans (2,000 more than their season average). The next Saturday they played Norfolk and drew 2,200. That is 3,000 fans less, and that makes a huge difference on revenues."
Looking at the data though, the Stars ticket staff seems to do a fine job selling any matchup. This is the data for average attendance for home games against opponents Texas played three or more times. I don't deny there are inefficiencies in the data, such as Peoria playing all their games early in the season and Milwaukee playing all theirs on Fridays and Saturdays. However, it doesn't seem like the trend holds true for Texas.

Team Avg Att. # Games
MIL 5,926 3
OKC 5,625 5
HOU 5,557 6
SAN 5,523 5
GR 5,515 3
RFD 5,296 3
CHI 4,833 3
PEO 4,284 3
Hershey Bears Hockey summarizes the argument thusly:
Casual fans show up when the opposition is a known rival. Simple as that.

And the AHL is built and survives based on the interests of the CASUAL FAN. Without them there would be many fewer teams which would affect the overall hockey landscape as a whole.

So, in the end I would love to see more competitive balance (and honestly without tearing apart every single teams matchups I can't honestly say there isn't SOME balance worked in) I also understand that in order to maintain a successful league and successful teams you have to get people in the seats.

And the best way to do that is to schedule the rivalry teams more than any other.
What do you think? Does this argument make sense for the Stars, given the shown data? And even if it doesn't, does it matter, given that it makes sense for other teams?

6 comments:

  1. There's also the added benefit of selling tickets to the rival team's fans. We're not likely to sell 50 tickets to the Binghamton fans to come down and watch the game, but it's fairly likely we'll sell that many to San Antonio fans...especially if it's a weekend game.

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  2. Fantastic point, as well! The Stars fans travel to San Antonio with regularity, too.

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  3. If this argument is valid, then it must be an integral aspect of leagues such as the ECHL which are purely profit-driven. I don't know if it is or not, just making the point.

    Furthermore, to brush aside desire for money as being only necessary to keep the team alive is incredibly naive. Anyone who's been to the CPC can attest, on anecdotal evidence alone, that the team does a brisk merchandise business. On top of that, it's impossible not to notice the cooperation between the team/league and the arena (assuming they're owned separately) because there is no need for 18 minutes between periods unless the house wants to encourage more trips to the concession stands.

    Finally, you get the fans you deserve. If AHL teams want casual fans, that's who they'll get. I'm a casual baseball fan, and compared to real baseball fans I suck. I wouldn't want me to be any part of any baseball-related marketing campaign because I'm not worth it. But that's just me.

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  4. As a Stars fan in San Antonio, I would much rather come to the CPC and see the Stars kick some Rampage a** than see it happen at the monotone and boring AT&T Center...

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  5. Addison, I went to the last game of the season in San Antonio against the Stars and I agree, that place is awful for hockey.

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  6. Maybe they can have an arrangement to have one division visit us and vice versa for a season. If it works out, then we repeat with a different one. Rivalries are nice, but it would be nice to break up the monotony of playing the Rampage or Admirals. Get a little insight on how the Eastern teams play should we have the good fortune to face one of them in the Calder Cup again.

    I think it would lose less money than those silly 11 AM games few people attending. I only bothered to get the day off because it was the Crunch and I want to see if Ray Emery was still a cancer; he turned out to be classy though. He gave his stick to a fan.

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