If current trends continued, the Guelph Storm could have its lowest average attendance in quite some time.
While still a respectable seventh overall in the league in average attendance, the team is averaging 3,838 fans a game, down around 80 fans over the end-of-season average last season, says Storm business manager Matt Newby.
The Storm is not alone. The majority of teams in the OHL have seen a dip in their average attendance this season.
The Storm’s highest ever average attendance came in the 2014-2015 season, when they averaged 4,500 fans a game - almost 700 more a game than it is this season.
It should be noted that the comparison is between current average this season and the averages at the end of previous seasons.
Historically, attendance picks up towards the end of the season and the averages could shift. Newby said the average after 24 homes games is actually ahead of four of the past 14 seasons. So there is time to see the numbers improve.
According to attendance statistics on hockeydb.com, which Newby acknowledges as pretty accurate, the Storm’s attendance in-season average so far this season is lower than any end-of-season average since 2003-2004.
Newby said suite sales and group sales remain strong, even increasing over last year, and season ticket sales are strong. Where the team is feeling a pinch are in single game ticket sales.
“Where we’re struggling most is just the casual walk-up fan,” said Newby, adding that Guelph has one of the highest single game ticket prices in the league.
“It just becomes harder to connect with people.”
Attendance has declined each of the past three years, although to be fair the club has had terrible teams each of the past two seasons, which definitely affects attendance, and in particular that casual fan.
And while the Storm attendance may be down, they still sit seventh overall in the 20-team league overall and have a sound season ticket base of roughly 2,200.
Newby points out that the high water mark of 2014-15 came on the heels of the team’s OHL championship and was also the year Connor McDavid was at his junior hockey peak and it guaranteed sell-outs for the three visits by his Erie Otters, plus the spin-off interest he generated for junior hockey in general.
For further proof that the team’s performance affects walk up attendance, Newby points out that the average single-game ticket sales during the OHL championship season of 2013-2014 were 500 more a game than what they currently are.
Reasons? The loss of the daily newspaper in town, competition for entertainment dollars, a struggling team the past two years and high single-game ticket costs are all part of it, Newby said.
He said the team definitely won’t be raising single game ticket prices next year and is seriously considering lowering them slightly.
“We’re looking to close that gap a bit between season ticket prices and single game tickets,” he said.
The club will also soon be introducing free wifi at games shortly, which will not only provide an increasingly-desired amenity, but also allow the team to better track and connect with fans attending games.
“It is a constant battle, but we think we offer a great, affordable product in a great city,” Newby said.