It's a topic that comes up for discussion every once in a while on the college hockey message boards. Is Boston College Hockey's attendance the best ever!, or is the fan support at Conte Forum a point of embarrassment for the program?
The arguments seriously run the full spectrum of possibilities from those two options to everything in between. Those who argue attendance is a problem take issue with the fact that we only sell games out sometimes despite the fact that we are a national powerhouse that threatens for the NCAA title every year. I get that, but there are a few things to remember here:
- Conte Forum is huge relative to most other arenas. The only arena in the conference that holds more people is UMass' Mullins Center, and they aren't going to be setting any attendance marks any time soon.
- The bulk of the fans who show up are going to be your casual fans. This isn't Minnesota or Wisconsin or North Dakota where college hockey is it over the winter months. College hockey is "popular" in New England relative to most of the country. But that doesn't mean people are going to be stuffing the arena every night.
- BC is the biggest draw in the conference, and possibly the country. Fans come out in droves to see us play their favorite team. There's a reason our road games have the highest attendance in Hockey East. But we can't play ourselves. While our opponents get one or two games a year to pad their attendance numbers because BC is in the house, we don't have that luxury.
Let's take a look at each arena in Hockey East, their capacity, each team's attendance, and percent capacity.
|Program||Arena||Cap.||Avg. '11-'12 Att.||Pct. Att.|
|Boston College Eagles||Conte Forum||7,884||6,171||78.3%|
|Boston University Terriers||Agganis Arena||6,224||4,963||79.7%|
|Maine Black Bears||Alfond Arena||5,641||4,437||78.6%|
|Massachusetts Minutemen||Mullins Center||8,329||4,612||55.4%|
|UMass-Lowell River Hawks||Tsongas Center||6,496||4,904||75.5%|
|Merrimack Warriors||Lawler Arena||3,000||2,460||82.0%|
|New Hampshire Wildcats||Whittemore Center||6,501||5,297||81.5%|
|Northeastern Huskies||Matthews Arena||4,666||2,428||52.0%|
|Providence Friars||Schneider Arena||3,030||1,875||61.8%|
|Vermont Catamounts||Gutterson Fieldhouse||4,003||3,573||89.2%|
Let's just roll with the assumption that these are counting actual tickets scanned at the gate and not tickets sold. This comes up all the time about BC, and yes, BC counts tickets scanned. This is argued ad nauseum, but yes, we count tickets scanned. We'll give the rest of the conference the benefit of the doubt for argument's sake.
What does this chart tell us?
Well, for one thing, UMass really needs to downsize.
Other than that? Not too much. It's pretty worthless to look at most of these numbers in this discussion, so let's take a look at what your brain would tell you the best draws would be.
The Big Four -- Boston College, Boston University, Maine, and New Hampshire -- are all within a few percentage points on percent of capacity, with UNH having at least something of an edge.
UNH has a lot going for it. They have a pretty large arena, put butts in those seats, and on top of everything, did it all while being the worst of the Big Four last year. Definitely an impressive showing. But even with a 'pretty large' arena, the Whit is almost 20 percent smaller than Conte Forum.
A 3.2 percent difference in percent attendance is negligible. It doesn't take a math degree to figure out that between four teams filling their arenas to roughly 80 percent capacity, the one with the higher capacity could pretty confidently say they would draw the most fans on average given an arena with unlimited seating.
This is not to mention that fact that UNH and Maine are both in areas where they are the only show in town. How can anyone reasonably suggest -- and it is often suggested -- that with bigger arenas, these two schools would blow us out of the water with attendance?
"But Grant," you may say, "BC is the only one of those schools that is a perpetual national powerhouse! Surely we should draw more than everyone else!" To which I respond, we do draw more! Significantly more! Where is the argument here?
Should we be selling out more games? Where are these fans going to come from? You have the big hockey fans come out. You have the students come out. The bulk of the seats are going to be filled with casual fans. And like it or not, the number of fans in the Hockey East footprint is the number of fans in the Hockey East footprint. You're going to have more casual fans show up when the team is good, yes, and you can see that happen this year. But the hockey culture in New England isn't such that having a really good team will magically create masses of casual fans to sell out every game.
Who are we supposedly comparing ourselves to here? Clearly we're tops in Hockey East. What more do people want? Are we to be compared to the hockey powers in the Midwest? It just doesn't make sense to compare; it's a completely different culture. It would be like the best team in Major League Soccer complaining about attendance relative to an English Premier League team.
I'm not saying let's not strive for the best crowds possible, but lets get our expectations in check a bit. Just because those of us who are college hockey fans love the sport and go to games doesn't mean Joe Q. Averageguy down the street is going to feel the same way and fill in the seat next to you.