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Interactive data: The rise and fall of college hockey conference tournament attendance

One of the interesting subplots to the upcoming conference tournament weekend is how the old attendance hub of the WCHA Final Five will be split among the new-look championships.

The Big Ten tournament and the NCHC Frozen Faceoff will take place 10 miles apart in the Twin Cities.

With much of its former big schools out of the league, the WCHA’s Final Five, once the most-attended college hockey tournament anywhere, is off to Grand Rapids, Mich.

We’re left to see what kind of turnstile counts will come in from the new creations and new locations, but in the meantime here’s a look at how attendance has fluctuated for college hockey’s conference tournaments since 2000. Check below the graphic for some notes on what’s included.

Keep in mind that the figures in the top graph can be skewed by the number of sessions involved — that is, how many tickets a fan needed to see an entire tournament.

In 2003, for example, the CCHA still had three sessions (Thursday, Friday and Saturday) and did reasonably well at the gate so the overall total is a bit higher.

In 2011, a format change dropped the WCHA from five sessions to four, which played a role in decreasing the overall attendance by more than 13,000.

In terms of average attendance per session, which eliminates some of the problems with trying to aggregate all of the conferences, the WCHA and Hockey East both enjoyed strong periods and some dips in the last 14 years.

ECAC Hockey’s tournament has been lagging, so it will be interesting to see whether a move back to Lake Placid, N.Y., starting this weekend will change that fortune.


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  • 4life4america

    Great article. Based upon a sellout of all the available logding in and around Lake Placid, NY I bet you see a jump over Atlantic City, N.J.

  • Quinnipiac Athletics

    Time to think about having more games on campus at the highest seed.

  • bronxbomberz41

    Attendance for these things will largely be based on what teams make it to the conference semis and finals, and how the local economy is.

    Notice how in 2007-11 there were overall declines in attendance, coincidentally, the economy was struggling and even if families weren’t living on a financial edge, there wasn’t really extra money for these things.

    Also, from at least a HEA perspective, having at least three of BC, BU, UNH and Maine will mean you’ll get some good attendance.

    • JakeB

      Then they’re in trouble this year I guess (with just one out of four).

      • Afterfurtherreview

        You are probably right, JakeB. I am sure Notre Dame won’t bring a ton of fans and Lowell and Providence don’t travel well, historically speaking. Maybe now that Lowell has had a couple of good years in a row, they will bring more, since it’s very close to Boston.

        • Rich Lescarbeau

          Lowell had 90% of the fans at the championship game when BU was in it, they travel great

          • Afterfurtherreview

            To very close venues, maybe. Although most years when I go to the Tsongas, UNH fans outnumber UML, even when the River Hawks are having good years.
            I am not sure about the 90% number either, but they did have a pretty good base. I hope all 4 schools bring in big numbers of fans.

          • Rich Lescarbeau

            You clearly haven’t been to Lowell recently, since the last few years Lowell is near the top of the country in attendance. Lowell actually had higher average attendance than bot UNH and Notre Dame this year.

          • Afterfurtherreview

            I go to Lowell every year and yes, their attendance is up. That doesn’t change the fact that when it’s UNH/Lowell, more fans or very close to as many are UNH fans. They also have a bigger capacity than UNH or ND.

          • Rich Lescarbeau

            at best its 30% UNH fans, Lowell does a great job filling the house with their own fans

          • Afterfurtherreview

            This could go on forever… I still disagree, but as I wrote above, I hope all teams travel well and make for an exciting weekend at the Garden for all teams. I wasn’t trying to ‘pick on’ Lowell and as I also said above, the word ‘historically.’ Best of luck to UML and all teams this weekend.

        • bronxbomberz41

          I think that since Lowell has put together some good years, more people are coming out for them.

          A few years ago I went to a NCAA regional in Manchester where ND flew in to play against UNH, and the Irish were surprisingly well represented.

          But I do think that attendance won’t be record breaking or anything this year.

  • dking

    Great article are you kidding me, it’s team driven. The WCHA will never draw what it use to without the MN, WI, ND. Plus the NCHC this year is so lucky ND is playing, and your still going to see a very small attendance. The Big Ten will be sold out due to the teams playing. I do think the WCHA will have a nice attendance due to Ferris, Bowling Green and Minnesota State, but your not going to see many fans from Alaska. Lake Placid will also draw nice but its also due to the folks that are also up there for vacation. The HEA will be large due to the teams playing.

    • I BLeed Maroon And Gold

      I agree that the NCHC is fortunate that UND advanced, especially because St. Cloud and Duluth did not. On the other hand, I will be shocked it the Big Ten tournament is anywhere near a sellout. Maybe the championship if both Wisconsin and Minn advance. Maybe. I’ve been to the last dozen Final Fives and I’d say half or a bit more of the fans in attendance came from schools others than MN and WI, especially at the non-Gopher games. I have a hard time believing that Mich, Mich St, OSU, and PSU will bring anywhere near the number of fans that UND, SCSU, and UMD brought. Attendance was an issue for CCHA tournament games when they were held in Detroit, so St. Paul should logically have worse turnout from the former CCHA schools.
      The one saving grace could be that all 6 teams made it, meaning that fans could plan to travel in advance knowing they will get to see their team in at least one game. Overall, I bet the paid attendance will be maybe 12-14k per game, but the non-Gophers games will be far less than that. Across the river, I bet they’ll get paid attendance of around 10k per game with 75+% of that being UND fans and far less in the stands. Who knows, but that’s how I see it.

      • David Clarke

        Sign of the apocalypse, SCSU fan agreeing with a Gophers fan. And even if St. Cloud would have made it, you probably only add a couple more thousand to what they’ll likely get for the NCHC. The Big Ten will draw because of the Gophers and Badgers this year but watch it go down when the tourney moves to Detroit the next two years. The WCHA is going to be less than 10k this year and I’ll bet worse when it moves to St. Paul next year.

        And to the other poster who commented on timing (spring break) and prices, spot on. I really like college hockey but I’m not going to pay $130 or more to watch four games in any of these tournaments even if my team is in there. I’ll pay the $130 and likely only go to the games my team is in. MAYBE go to the other semi-final if I’m already down there. And for the Saturday games, likely the same scenario.

        Question becomes one of economics. Can you make enough in revenue at a lower per session revenue to pay for the costs of the tournament or is the higher price with less attendance a better result?

        The splitting up of the WCHA is going to end up taking what was one really great event and make it into three pretty mediocre ones. The hockey will still be really good, the atmosphere won’t be anywhere near what it was. My opinion, the pricing needs to be addressed if possible to try to fill the three venues up (more so for the NCHC and WCHA).

  • JakeB

    I have some past history with the organization of one conference tournament in particular and here are 2 huge issues no one is mentioning… 1. In most years, if not all, some of these tournaments fall at the front or back end of Spring Break, particularly with the Ivy league schools… And 2. Tickets Prices. Not conducive to college students, especially lodging. And the cost of traveling to an NCAA regional is even worse. Look at the 5 years after the recession… and tell me cost had nothing to do with it.

  • Mike Peterson

    Also the team at the X is going to draw a lot of fans, its an 19,000 and change seat arena, so its going to hold more than Van Andrel(spelling?) in Grand Rapids, so of course the WCHA will be off. but next year they have Saint Paul so they’ll draw more fans, although I think the Big Ten will draw the most between the X and the Joe its two huge arenas.

  • kenny smith

    Notice that the ECAC attendance spiked in ’03,’05, and 2010. Care to guess which team played in the championship game during those years?
    Cornell travels as well as most any team out there.
    Now before all you western hockey fans get worked up, let’s remember that we’re talking about an IVY school, not one of those minor league teams masquerading as a college(amateur) program.

    • Scott Stone

      Congrats on being smart. We’re much better at hockey, however.

  • lmg6841

    This chart is great. Can anyone pick out the year RIT didn’t make it to the semi-finals in the AHA?

  • MT

    Please update this after the total drops below 100K because of the stupid B1G.

  • jdhockeyboyz

    We sure had something special with the o/WCHA tournament. Here’s hoping the Big10 someday measures up. Those old attendance figures from CCHA tournaments at Joe Louis Arena don’t look so hot, even though Mich played in most of them.

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