Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hello Edmonton... Are You There?

Game 1: Edmonton @ Calgary, Thursday March 19th. Attendance: 10,135
Game 2: Edmonton @ Calgary, Sunday March 22nd. Attendance: 11,122
Game 3
: Calgary @ Edmonton, Monday March 23rd. Attendance: 3501

"Embarrassing", that was the word going around press row last night as the City of Champions flocked to Rexall Place by the thousands hundreds to watch the first ever playoff game of the Edmonton Oil Kings.

Let me get this out right up front - I don't pay to take my seat in the press box. I live in a bit of a bubble when it comes to the Oil Kings because with The Pipeline Show, it's my job to follow the team so I'm at the games regardless of prices, weather, promotions, etc.

If someone out there wants to tell me to shut up because I get through the door for free... you've got me, it's true. I don't know what it's like to pay for season tickets. However, I have purchased single tickets several times this year, taken my kids and sat in the seats like everyone else though so I'm not completely ignorant of the experience (which certainly isn't without it's flaws).


The Oilers weren't playing on the road so fans weren't staying home to watch them on TV. The weather was beautiful, but it's not exactly beach season yet so that wasn't the problem. Ticket prices didn't go up for the playoffs (unless I missed something). So where was everybody last night?

There were 11,410 butts in the building on March 15th when the Oil Kings were hosting Red Deer in the final game of the regular season as they tried to get into the playoffs. Yet a third of that showed up for an actual playoff game, the first one in the team's young history?

Did the organization drop the ball here somehow? The team clinched their playoff spot a week ago in Prince Albert, was there not enough time between then and Monday to promote the heck out of the playoffs? Are the Oil Kings guilty of simply believing that with the big numbers near the end of the year that playoff ticket sales would just naturally follow? If so... was that wrong?

Last night on the catwalk I had a between periods conversation with someone in upper management who told me he had talked to "hundreds" of people last week who told him "congratulations on making the playoffs, you should have great crowds" yet at the same time were not going to be attending the games themselves.

I'm also told that of the 3300-ish season ticket holders, around 1000 didn't pick up their playoff option. There was about the same number of tickets sold in walk up yesterday but all in all, 3501 represents one of the smallest announced crowds of the entire season... and it's the playoffs!

Part of me wants to be saying "Shame on you Edmonton!" but I honestly can't because I don't know who or what is to blame for the poor showing. I was expecting a crowd in the 10,000 range considering the historical importance, the playoff excitement, the quality of the opposition, (the Hitmen are a legit Memorial Cup contender as the #1 ranked team in the country), and the fact that Edmonton is so well known for being an event city. To me, this qualified as an event.

TEAM 1260 program director Bryn Griffiths pointed out that the group ticket sales from the regular season aren't there in the playoffs, a great point by him. It was a school night and the team has clearly targetted families with the teen and younger children demographic so a Monday night didn't help.

But is that it? Will Wednesday be any better? I certainly hope fans aren't waiting for Friday night's Game 5 because there is no guarantee that Edmonton is going to avoid the sweep as Calgary is proving their dominance.

I can only guess about what kept the general public away because as I said earlier, it's my job and I get in free so I'm not facing the same realities as the casual fan. So let this be your forum; you tell me why you didn't go on Monday night and I'll make sure someone in the organization reads your thoughts.

I don't work for the Oil Kings so their P&L statements aren't my concern but watching playoff hockey at Rexall can be an awesome experience, unless the building is only 25% full.

Fans of quality hockey are missing out - the Hitmen are ridiculously good and Edmonton goalie Torrie Jung has been playing out-of-his-mind in the net for the Oil Kings. I wish that was the only story from Monday night.

(all photos courtesy Edmonton Oil Kings and Andy Devlin)


Anonymous said...

Hey Guy,

In my opinion the reason is simple...

The Oil Kings games are Romper Room on ice. The public wanted the WHL product so that it could be an affordable option for families, but the organization has gone too far.

They need to make it an affordable place for HOCKEY FANS to take their kids. Right now, it is being marketed as a place for kids to bring their parents.

Why can't the WHL in Edmonton be taken with the same seriousness as the WHL in Prince Albert, Regina, etc? A great quality product that respects itself enough not to turn into a daycare facility.

The Oil Kings have blown this from the start, and you are going to see fewer fans going forward because of it.

Doogie2K said...

I can't speak to the local marketing, being in Calgary, but maybe part of it is just the lack of tradition. The last WHL playoff game was 30 years ago, so maybe it's just not something that's in the back of people's minds, the way it's become here in Calgary over the last dozen years. Heck, I even wonder if the lockout didn't give the Hitmen a bit of press and momentum within the city; they were the most-attended hockey club on a per-game basis that year, if memory serves, and sold out the first two tiers (17K+) for most of the playoffs. That's something the Oil Kings obviously don't have on their side.

3,501, though...damn, that sounds like an Edmonton Ice crowd. Very disappointing, from the outside.

Coach said...

I had the opportunity to catch a few games last season as well as the Top Prospect Game and Skills and was happy to be able to attend something at Rexall without having to mortgage the farm to afford it! Definitely disappointing number but more so for the players. I'm sure they were ready to go for their hometown crowd after playing the first 2 games in front of massive crowds.
Now that I'm back in SK I'm planning on attending some Blades games during the playoffs, including this Saturday night. The Blades are in the same boat as the Kings when it comes to attendence and they've put an incredible season together in comparison to past years. Yet I think they topped out at 5900 over the first 2 games in an arena that holds 10k+. Junior hockey fans are a fickle bunch, but they are only hurting their players when they stay away. Having big, rowdy crowds can put a home team over the top and God knows the Oil Kings could use some help with a powerhouse Hitmen team.

Anonymous said...

Could it be that since we all know they are gone in 4...what's the point?

Anonymous said...

I enjoy going to games that 'my' team has a hope to win...can you honestly say the Oil Kings have hope to win against the Hitmen? Why would I want to pay for & go watch 'my' team lose? I mean good on the players for getting into the playoffs... but next year may bring better results.

Dean Millard said...

I think Torrie Jung is the reason they have to win a game. 54 Saves Sunday and they lose in overtime proves they have a 'hope'

Anonymous said...

I was a season ticket holder last year, and gave it up mainly because of the atmosphere in the building. By the end of the year I skipped most of the Oil King games, and could not give them away.

The hockey on the ice was decent, but the crowds and events were 100% geared toward the kids, like the first poster stated it's marketed as a place for kids to bring their parents. Because of this I never put them in a serious professional league, but closer to the Edmonton Rush.

Calgary has marketed more to the College students and working class who cannot afford Flame tickets, and they have been successful. When you go to the games in Calgary it feels more like a professional team, and there is more excited in the games. This is why fans get drawn to them, and they get serious fans who actually follow the game. Most people in Edmonton don't follow the Oil Kings, as it's aimed for the kids, and does not have the professional Feeling with all the screaming kids at every game.

I thought about going to the Playoff game last night, but in the end decided against it. As I hadn't followed the team all year, and from everything I've heard and read, they don't really have a chance at winning a game.

Resolute said...

Torre Jung or not, the Oil Kings only have a hope if they manage to score 5 on 5, and based on the two games I saw in Calgary, it ain't likely.

Anyway, it is a disappointing crowd, but I will say that the comparison to the Hitmen crowds in the first two games is unfair to Edmonton, as Calgary sells a 38 game season ticket pack, not 36, as they include the first two playoff games in the deal. I'd expect crowds in the 8-10k range for the second round.

I guess a question here is whether the fans simply don't want to see their team get its ass kicked, by Calgary no less? I think if Edmonton looked like it had a chance, there would be a few more people, at least, but when the post-season was already a lost cause, maybe people just move on?

It will be interesting to see what Prince George draws in comparison tonight. Like Edmonton, they are up against a team that was expected to beat them like a rented mule.

Resolute said...

I thought I might add why the Hitmen include the first two playoff games in their season ticket package, as it does seem relevant.

They started doing this about 5 years ago when the team was touch and go as to when it would make the playoffs, who it would play, and whether or not they would start at home. Like Edmonton this year, Calgary's situation often wasn't settled until the final week or so of the season, making it incredibly difficult to push ticket sales and promotions for playoff games that often started mere days in advance. They added the first two games to the season ticket package to take the pressure off, giving the team an extra week to publicize the post season, as playoff ticket packages then began with game 5 or 6, depending on whether they won home ice or not.

IMO, it is one of the reasons why Calgary's attendance has skyrocketed since the start of the decade. Lessons and ideas that will eventually catch on in Edmonton, I would think.

Anonymous said...

I lived in Medicine Hat for a few years & was a season ticket holder for the Tigers. Totally enjoyed the games & atmosphere! Edmonton's atmosphere, on the other hand, is nothing like it & that was disappointing. It isn't about how many are in the building, it is the quality of spectators in the building (if you know what I mean). Going to a Tigers game was very similar to going to an NHL game - same type of music, intermission games etc, only a heck of a lot cheaper! The players played their hearts out, the crowd was 100% behind them & there were more adults than kids...huge difference.

Maybe if i still had young'uns, I'd take my kids & enjoy, but to go as an adult, no thanks.

Besides, I go to & watch enough Oilers games that I don't need to subject myself to anymore losses. I wish the Kings all the luck in the world, but I don't think they stand a chance against the Hitmen, sorry.

Guy Flaming said...

I was emailed some comments from a person who also posted them at HF:

Vancouver hasn't always had 7,000+ average attendance. Calgary struggled in their first years. Let's look at some numbers people...

Vancouver Giants

Year 1 attendance - 2001/02 - 5,800 average
Year 2 attendance - 2002/03 - 5,084 average
Year 3 attendance - 2003/04 - 4,956 average

It wasn't until their 4th years as a franchise that the Vancouver Giants really began to draw consistently in the 7,000+ range.

Calgary Hitmen

The Calgary Hitmen averaged only 3,384 in their second season (1996/97) and didn't average over 5,000 until 1998/99 - their fourth season - when they won the WHL Championship.

I'm not being an Oil King apologist, however I am trying to bring some perspective into the conversation. I don't have the numbers in front of me because my reference no longer tracks WHL numbers, however I would guess (and this is ONLY a guess) that this year's version of the Oil Kings averaged a number very close to, or even more than, Vancouver's year 2 average and surely they averaged more than the 3,384 the Hitmen averaged in their second year. Yes, 3,500 is poor for a playoff game, but overall the Oil Kings franchise sure looks healthy to me.

Good stuff there, thanks to "Brian"

Resolute said...

Brian is comparing apples and oranges however. The 2nd year Hitmen and Giants were abysmal teams that never came close to making the playoffs. I would agree that the Oil Kings are in good shape though. The playoff crowd(s) are disappointing, but it is going to take time to build a base like that Edmonton's fellow major league rivals have.

As far as the anonymous poster comparing Edmonton to Medicine Hat, I would say it is the building, not the quality of fans. I've been in the Medicine Hat Arena many times, and it is one of the best junior hockey experiences in the Dub. That said, put 4006 Tiger fans in the Saddledome or Rexall, and you will have a building that is just as dead. The only downside to playing in NHL arenas is that it takes a lot more fans to get good atmosphere, no matter how much the fans are into it. In Calgary, I usually notice a significant difference between games that draw >10k vs those that draw less.

Doogie2K said...

I think Torrie Jung is the reason they have to win a game. 54 Saves Sunday and they lose in overtime proves they have a 'hope'

Agreed. I was scared out of my mind that game: it was four minutes from being a 1-0 Oil Kings win. That being said, Resolute makes a good point: Edmonton has 0 ESG in three games, and just 2 PPG overall. That's no way to win a hockey game.

Calgary sells a 38 game season ticket pack, not 36, as they include the first two playoff games in the deal. I'd expect crowds in the 8-10k range for the second round.

I dunno, I looked at last year's playoff attendance, and the first two games were well within the range (5500-9000; the first two games were in the 7-8k range), so I wouldn't expect much of a dropoff, except for the normal weeknight variation. Regardless, attendance is most certainly up significantly this year (winning sells).

Brian is comparing apples and oranges however. The 2nd year Hitmen and Giants were abysmal teams that never came close to making the playoffs.

Sort of, but the third-year Hitmen made the playoffs (starting the streak that carries forward to this day), and the fourth-year Hitmen came within overtime of winning the Memorial Cup, and still didn't draw the way they do now. So his evidence does support the larger point that teams in NHL markets need time to establish themselves.