It is no secret that the OJHL is a league driven by sales at the gate and bums in the seat. Last season the league was pleasantly surprised with the attendance figures given that it was the first season after a contraction of 5 teams to the familiar 22 that the league has had for two seasons now. In 2011/12 the league had 162,746 people attend OJHL games and there was a fear of how far the number would fall given that 4 of the 5 teams being contracted averaged more than 130 fans a game. The final attendance number for the 2012/13 season, was only 8,555 less than the year prior. The 22 team league improved from 25 to 27 home games which helped bridge the gap as well as a surprise push from Oakville who improved their attendance by 130%, and actually lead the league in attendance with 596 fans on average packing sixteen mile creek complex.
With the surprised growth with contraction last season, it would lead the league to hope for another increase following the 2013/14 season. This time however, the league, and individual teams would take a bit of a loss. What is a bit shocking in the analysis is that almost half of the teams in the league increased their average attendance from last season: Wellington, Cobourg, Milton, Lindsay, Buffalo, Hamilton, Mississauga, Pickering, Toronto Lakeshore and Toronto.
So how did this year’s attendance numbers drop 13%?
Before you breakdown the attendance data, you have to remove some extra information. The chart below compares the important information needed to analyze the past three season. Removed is the average attendance per additional home games or Governor’s Showcase games, as well as removing the attendance figure from the contracted teams from the 2011/12 season.
Once you understand that, there are three main reasons that the attendance number dropped.
First off, Oakville is to blame. The Blades had the biggest hit to the overall attendance of the league. Make no mistake that any South West Conference team would love to double their attendance one year and retain at least 10% of that growth the next season. The Blades maintained over 60 percent of that growth from the 12/13 season, averaging 422 people in the stands in 2013/14. That is 174 less fans per game, or 4,524 for the season, 27% of the leagues loss in attendance. Factor two: OJHL franchises lost a home game this season, all teams had 53 games, (26 home, 26 away and 1 Governor’s Showcase game) opposed to last season’s 55 games, (27, 27 &1). And thirdly, hot beds cooled off this season. When you have Kingston, Newmarket and Trenton, drop in average fans per game, it will affect your bottom line. The three teams had an average of 60, 70 and 81 less fans per home game respectively. That is a total average attendance difference of 5,486 fans.
Let’s review. The loss in Oakville attendance, hotbeds cooling off and the removal of one home game from the 2012/13 attendance accounts for a major portion of the loss in attendance, 14,396 or 85.96% of the total attendance loss.
What happened to the remaining 14% when 10 of the 22 teams increased their average attendance? Look at the Georgetown Raiders, they dropped in average fans this season, 3,328 less fans to be exact. Include that number into the total, and that is 17,724 fans out of the 16,748 difference from year prior.
But those are all negatives, so why isn’t the league worried about this attendance drop? 10 out of 22 teams increased their attendance last season. Mississauga increased by 34 on average, Hamilton jumped up 88 on average and Buffalo jumped 35 on average. Mississauga is not a favourite destination for fans, despite the renovations to Port Credit, but with a strong team and a playoff push, the fans responded and started to show up. Hamilton increasing their attendance was huge for a team who won 4 games the season prior. The young team filled with local players got fans interested again. Coming off a division title, the Jr. Sabres increased their fan base south of the border as the team continued to show they are contenders again.
Since contraction at the end of 2011/2012, 10 franchises have increased their attendance and kept their fans at their games.
The league has added inter-conference play, added another Governor’s Showcase game, and also gotten rid of shootouts, which should create more excitement since no one likes a tie.
What could this mean for the bottom line of total attendance in the 2014/15 season? Who knows exactly, but does it really matter? The main numbers that the league will look at is the amount of NCAA scholarships that its players will get this coming year and how many franchises are in better financial positions than the prior season.
As long as those two continue to rise, the OJHL will not worry about attendance figures across the league. When cities like Wellington, Kingston, Cobourg and the like fall below attendance of St. Michaels and the other GTHL teams… that is when this total number will begin to matter.