After whining, crying or complaining about the NHL lockout, fans are turning towards the AHL to get their hockey fix, especially with recent cancellations through December 30.
Often overlooked under the shadow of the NHL, the AHL is taking the spotlight. Competition is of a higher caliber and ticket prices are a lower cost. AHL games are more accessible, and give fans a chance to see some of their NHL players, while of course filling the void.
According to this list from TSN, 71 players were reassigned to the AHL during the NHL lockout. Teams sent as many as six players, though a handful of teams didn’t send anyone.
One of the main goals of the AHL is developing players to be ready for the NHL level. With this in mind, there are restrictions on how many professional games (AHL or NHL) a player can play before they are ineligible to join an AHL roster.
Not all players who were eligible to play in the AHL took that option. Hurricanes center Jeff Skinner is one who chose to skate and train on his own rather than returning to Carolina’s AHL team, the Charlotte Checkers. Risk of injury or benefitting more from a break are often reasons why a player isn’t reassigned to the AHL or decides against it.
Despite reports of higher ticket sales and more sponsorship, attendance is not higher at the AHL level. The 2011-2012 season ended averaging 5,638 attendants per game. Currently, the average is 5,312. After an initial influx, attendance is returning to normal league levels, if not lower. It’s still early in the season, and the longer the lockout lasts, the more likely some fans might be to buy tickets for an AHL game.
Teams must rely on in-game entertainment and promotions to earn new fans in order to establish loyalty that lasts after the lockout is over. Offering $5 children’s tickets, $1 beer nights, free food vouchers, t-shirts and amusement park tickets are luring people to through the gates.
The AHL is by no means suffering like the NHL, but to say they’re benefitting because of the lockout would be an exaggeration.