Last night’s game between BC and Northeastern drew a crowd of 3,777 - not terrible for a Tuesday night. But BC vs. Northeastern drew an average crowd of 5,383 over the previous four years- including 6,412 the last time it was played on a Friday night.
BC-Providence on October 28, played at 6 PM thanks to Hockey East’s TV deal with the American Sports Network, drew 5,019. The previous three seasons’ home games against Providence? 7,884, 7,389 and 7,884.
3,028 came out to see BC play UNH on the night of the presidential election. The previous three years, that game drew 5,023, 4,589 and 6,277.
There are a number of reasons why hockey attendance has dipped the last few years - a general trend of declining attendance everywhere and in everything; the end of the Gaudreau bump; a seeming decline in interest from the student body. But the schedule itself seems to be a major culprit, both from the perspective of it being watered down and from it having too many games at the worst possible times.
This year’s home hockey schedule features 14 home games: 5 are on midweek nights, and 2 are on NFL Sundays (a surefire viewership disaster for any sport that isn’t the NFL). Out of the 5 Friday night games (consistently the best night for attendance), 2 are 6:00 PM starts due to ASN TV coverage. So BC has a total of THREE Friday night games at 7 PM - and they’re against UMass, Colorado College, and Vermont. BC also has two Saturday night games, one against Vermont and one against Notre Dame. So basically there’s one marquee game put in at a good time for the gate.
BC’s five most compelling home games of the regular season are: BU - on a Monday, during student break. Minnesota - on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, during student break. Providence - played at 6 PM on a work day. Lowell - on a Thursday night, during student break. And defending Hockey East champion Northeastern - on a Tuesday night.
This is very bad.
Compare this to the 2012-13 schedule, when BC (admittedly bolstered by the Gaudreau bump) drew 6,384 fans per game. The schedule that year: 8 Friday night games at 7, 5 Saturday night games, 2 NFL Sundays, 1 Sunday post-NFL season (drew 6649) and 0 scheduled midweek games. (One game ended up being played on midweek due to being snowed out from its Friday night slot).
In 2011-12, when BC drew over 7200 fans per game, BC had 9 Friday night games at 7 or later, 4 Saturday night games, 2 on NFL Sundays, and 1 midweek.
It’s not rocket science to figure out why this schedule was more attractive.
The expansion of Hockey East and the realignment of college hockey in general has already watered down the home schedule such that it doesn’t need to be further sabotaged by bad scheduling, especially of the few marquee games on the home slate.
Let’s compare BC’s home slate in 2003-2004 to this season. That year, BC had two home games against BU, two against Providence, and one each against UNH and Maine back when UNH and Maine were UNH and Maine. The nonconference home games were Notre Dame, Harvard, and Dartmouth.
Consider this year: the home slate features 1 home game against BU (on a Monday), 1 against Providence (at 6 PM), 0 against Maine, 1 against UNH (on election night), 1 against Notre Dame. You also had the 1 marquee home non-conference game against Minnesota.
The rest of the slate? Arizona State, Colorado College, UMass, UConn, Merrimack, Vermont twice...
It’s probably too late to fix the fact that expansion, switching to a double round robin rather than a triple round robin, and the proliferation of non-conference games - which by definition means some of the games are just going to be less than stellar, since you can’t play ALL marquee OOC games, has watered down the content of the schedule.
It’s theoretically possible that Hockey East could see the light and switch to a two-division format that ensures 3 games per year for teams against some of their traditional rivals, and reduces the number of nonconference games.
But failing that, we can at least make sure the good games that are there are scheduled better.
I understand that scheduling is difficult, but when they sit down to plan out the master schedule, they need to stick by some first principles: pick a few of the most important games and make sure those games are at Friday or Saturday night at 7 PM, on campus - during times when students are on campus.
For BC, that would be BU, Providence, and maybe Northeastern. These untouchable games should also include BU vs. NU, UNH vs. Maine, and UMass vs. UMass-Lowell. If you have to move around everything else to make sure you can play those games at ideal times - do it.
College hockey is not and probably never will be a big TV sport. Its appeal is based around the in-person atmosphere of attending a game, and, especially, drawing in students. You do that best by making sure the best games are set for times when people are going to attend. You don’t sacrifice some of the best home games for the purposes of getting on to the American Sports Network, and you definitely don’t let a schedule roll out with nearly half of BC’s home games taking place midweek.
Hockey East has been using the same schedule template for the past few years, and it’s getting updated next year, especially given that the format is changing slightly with Notre Dame’s departure. Let’s hope they take the opportunity to sit down and really get this right.